Can I Stay In My House While Floors Are Refinished?

Refinishing your floors makes them look and protects them from everyday wear and tear. However, the process can be inconvenient for your everyday life.

A common option is to leave your home while the refinishing is happening. But having to be out of your house for days on end while the refinishing occurs is a hassle.

So, are you able to stay inside while the refinishing is happening?

You shouldn’t stay in your house while your floors are refinished. Finishes contain solvents that irritate soft tissues and cause headaches during sanding and curing. Avoiding the curing floors is also inconvenient, so it’s better to leave your home for at least 24 hours. You can also use a few tricks to speed up the drying and curing processes.

Stay Safe By Staying Out Of The House

Refinishing floors can be a lengthy process, whether you’re starting from scratch or just adding a new coat of finish.

There are also potential hazards for each step. These include inhaling dust from sanding the hardwood and irritating fumes from the finish.

Because of this, many experts recommend staying out of the house during the process. The exact length of time varies depending on the extent of the project and the type of finish you use.

Overall, experts recommend waiting at least 24 hours for the finish to cure. But curing and drying are two different processes. Some finishes may only take four hours to dry, so you can technically use the room after that period.

Drying is when the finish is no longer wet or tacky. You can touch the floor without leaving a mark or removing any finish.

If you’re careful, you’ll be able to walk around and even put some furniture onto the floor once it’s dry.

Type Of FinishDrying Time
Hard wax oils4-24 hours
Water-based finishes4-8 hours
Oil-modified polyurethane12-24 hours

It’s the curing process that will make your house easier to be in after refinishing, though.

Curing Removes Irritating Fumes

Even if it’s dry to the touch, a finish isn’t complete until it goes through a full cure. Curing means the finish hardens all the way through.

It also means that the solvents (the chemical compounds that give the finish the proper consistency) evaporate. These solvents are often volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.

These chemicals can have both short-term and long-term adverse effects on your health if you inhale them. These include headaches or migraines, eye and lung irritation, dizziness, and nausea.

Prolonging your exposure to VOCs can even lead to liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. The EPA states that some compounds could lead to cancer.

Solvents and VOCs release during off-gassing, which leads to the sometimes nauseous smell of various finishes. These odors are irritating at best and actively harmful at worst.

Once the solvents evaporate during curing, so will the odors. 

Types Of FinishCuring Time
Hard wax oils1-7 days
Water-based finishes7-14 days
Oil-modified polyurethane30 days

Curing is an extended process, however, and you don’t need to be out of the house for the entire time. Most of the fumes will evaporate within a few days.

You should be safe to return to your home in one to three days after the project is complete. You may still be able to smell the finish, but it will be much weaker and less hazardous.

Sanding Creates Harmful Dust

Another reason to be out of the house while the floors are in the process of refinishing is sanding. If your floors are going through a complete refinish, you’ll likely have to sand any old finish away.

This creates dust that floats through the air and, like drywall dust, can get into your eyes, nose, and lungs. In the same way that off-gassing releases VOCs, these finish particles can cause irritation if you inhale them.

Wearing a mask or respirator is common practice if you’re sanding anything, indoors or out. But if someone is sanding an entire floor inside your home, the sawdust is much harder to contain.

You may have to wear a mask or respirator inside your home even if you’re not the one sanding. This is obviously inconvenient, and if you don’t wear one, you put yourself at risk of respiratory and eye problems.

If someone else is refinishing your floors, it’s often easier and safer to leave your home during the process.

Staying In The House Can Be Inconvenient

Being in the house while refinishing your floors can be a huge hassle. Even without concerns about fumes, it’s inconvenient to avoid certain areas of your home for long periods of time.

It’s even worse if you’re finishing multiple floors at once. Being out of your house will be much easier than trying to avoid such large areas.

Larger areas also mean the odor of the finish could be much stronger. You may need to wear a mask or respirator even if you’re not in the room being refinished.

Tips For Faster Drying And Curing

If you’re not on vacation, being out of your home for an extended period of time can be a nuisance. The faster your floors dry and cure, the sooner you can get back to your normal routine.

Follow these tips to speed up the drying and curing of your refinished floors.

1. Keep Your Floors Warm

Keeping the rooms where you’re refinishing the floors at the right temperature is key to the curing process.

The ideal temperature is between 68-75°F (20-24°C). You should also maintain this temperature at least a day beforehand if you’re refinishing will require sanding.

2. Don’t Cover The Floors

Fumes from floor finishes come from off-gassing, which is part of the curing process. If you cover your floors with rugs or large, flat surfaces (boxes, shelves, etc.), you’ll impede airflow to the floor.

This will slow down the curing process, and the fumes will linger for longer.

3. Ventilate

The most important step in quickly finishing your floors is ventilation. Give your finish some time to dry, at least six hours. Then, open any external doors or windows to the rooms with the new finish.

Let the room or rooms cross-ventilate as much as possible for between 15 and 30 minutes. Then close them up again to protect them from the elements.

The next day, or whenever you can return to the space, cross-ventilate again for about half an hour.

You can repeat this process a few times over the course of a couple of days. It should help bring the odor of the finish down to a more tolerable level.

In Summary

Being out of your house for a day or more is annoying. But it may be even worse to stay inside while your floors are being refinished.

Even finishes with low levels of VOC can still have odors that cause headaches, breathing problems, and eye irritation. Some finishes even have solvents that can cause cancer with enough direct exposure.

It’s also just a hassle to avoid walking on the floors while they dry, plain and simple. This is especially true if you’re refinishing multiple rooms or large areas at once.

While it is possible to stay in your house while the floors are refinished, most experts don’t recommend it. Instead, wait at least 24 hours until the finish is at least dry, and the odor level reduces.

And in the meantime, use the handy tricks above to speed up the process and return home sooner.

Katherine Ann

Katherine is a freelance writer who enjoys DIY home décor and refurbishing tired furniture. In addition to writing for PlumbJoe, she blogs about books and movies and writes creatively in her spare time.

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