The smell of varnish can be a bit overwhelming, both while you're working with it and waiting for it to cure after application. Open windows and ventilate the space as much as possible while working to help cut down on the odor. If you've varnished a project or purchased an item that still smells of varnish days or weeks later, take it outdoors on a dry, sunny day, if at all possible.
Reduce Odor While Applying Varnish
- A well-ventilated work area is necessary when working with any varnish with a strong odor, but to keep dust and debris off your project, fans cannot be near the project area as you work. Instead, turn on an exhaust fan or place a box fan in a window to draw air out of the room. Another box fan can be placed in a window on an opposite side of the home, in another room, drawing air in. Leave windows open and fans on as you wait for the varnish to dry and cure.
- If you are concerned about the fumes in regular varnishes, opt for an eco-friendly version instead. Some companies manufacture low-odor varnishes and paints that emit far less chemicals and far less fumes than the usual off-the-shelf products.
- Wear a respirator while working with varnish -- you'll be up close and personal with the material, breathing in potentially harmful fumes.
Removing Odor From Previously Varnished Pieces
Varnish odor lingers long after the varnish dries; it may be noticeable even months later, especially in areas such as the insides of drawers or wooden chests.
- Take the item outdoors, if at all possible, to allow it to air out for most of the day. If the odor is particularly strong, air it out for several days, bringing the piece back indoors at night to prevent moisture from condensation. Open drawers, doors and lids while you air out the piece so every area can air out. If drawers can be removed completely, take them out of the varnished piece and air the items separately.
- Place bowls of baking soda -- or an entire opened box of baking soda -- inside drawers or atop shelves in a varnished cabinet or dresser to help remove lingering odors.
- Activated charcoal or dried coffee grounds placed atop a sheet of newspaper can be used as well. The paper itself absorbs some of the odor. Replace both the paper and the odor-absorbing material as they take on the scent of varnish.
- Leave drawers and doors open on varnished objects for several days once you bring the items indoors to help dissipate the scent.
Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.