Finding Eco-friendly Finishes for Your Reclaimed Wood

If you are committed to saving the environment, adding reclaimed wood furnishings to your home décor is a great way to start. Reclaimed wood decreases the demand for newly harvested wood, it is kind to the earth and let’s not forget about how great it looks in your home.

But you can completely reverse all the good you are doing with reclaimed wood by using the wrong type of wood finish. In this article we will explore different options for finding eco-friendly finishes for your reclaimed wood. 

Finishes like nitrocellulose lacquer and varnishes contain volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and hazardous air pollutants (HAP’s) which are harmful to the environment. While there are ways to apply these finishes to reduce environmental hazards, the best solution is to use non solvent based finishes. Here are some we recommend:

Oil Finishes

Derived from seeds, nuts and parts of plants, oil finishes absorb into the wood rather than coat it. There are various oils you can use for wood, but linseed oil and tung oil are the most effective. They absorb oxygen from the air to become solid making them work well on wood products. This is in comparison to mineral oil and olive oil which are basically ineffective and walnut, soybean and safflower oil which fall somewhere in between.

Oil finishes will diminish the appearance of light scratches and scuffs and they are easy to work with and food safe. However, they do not offer as much protection as other types of finishes.


Shellac is a finish that is made from a secretion produced by the lac bug. The resin is processed and dissolved in alcohol to produce a finish that can be sprayed or brushed on wood products.

Shellac comes in various colors that can give your wood an updated look. It also provides protection from contaminants and it is edible so it’s 100% safe. However, it provides limited protection from water, heat and alcohol so it may not be the best choice if you’re looking for a durable finish.

Water Based Finishes

An alternative to solvent based finishes, water-based finishes won’t pollute the atmosphere. They also provide a great clear coat for wood, they dry quickly and they are durable.

On the downside, they are pricier than other types of finishes and they are less resistant to heat than solvent based finishes.

Milk Paint

Milk paint is a biodegradable, non-toxic finish that is made from milk casein, clay fillers, lime and earth pigments. It dries quickly, it’s easy to use and it provides a strong, protective layer to wood. It’s ability to give wood a great antique look makes it perfect if you are looking to give furniture a ‘period piece’ look.

If you are committed to purchasing and creating home décor that is kind to the atmosphere, buying reclaimed wood products are a great way to start. Be sure to follow up by using finishes that are eco-friendly like the ones we recommend above. Hopefully these efforts will pay off in a big way when it comes to saving the environment.