How To Get Rid of Polyurethane Smell? 7 Ways

Applied polyurethane over a workpiece and can’t seem to get rid of the smell?

You can get rid of polyurethane by improving the ventilation, increasing airflow, using room fresheners, or using absorbents like charcoal, baking soda, and vinegar. Apart from that, you can eliminate the hassle by opting for water-based polyurethane or other low-odor alternatives that provide a similar output with less smell.

We tested a few ways and curated a list of the most effective techniques to get rid of the polyurethane smell.

7 Ways to Get Rid of Polyurethane Smell

Polyurethane is an excellent choice for adding a protective coating over wooden workpieces such as wood flooring and other small artifacts.

Although polyurethane fumes are not toxic when inhaled in small amounts, they can cause dizziness, nausea, and other respiratory allergies upon prolonged exposure.

Let the room air out, or use a fan to remove the smell before using the workpiece.

Method 1: Improve Ventilation

Placing the polyurethane coated workpiece near window for better ventilation
Placing the polyurethane-coated workpiece near a window for better ventilation

Improving ventilation is the most effective way to get rid of the polyurethane smell.

Proper ventilation allows the fumes to escape and fresh air to circulate in the room, reducing the concentration of the odor.

To improve ventilation, open windows and doors in the room to allow fresh air to enter and the fumes to escape. 

Additionally, if the room has an exhaust fan, turn it on to draw the fumes out.

While natural ventilation is ideal, it may take a few days or even up to a week to remove the smell of polyurethane completely. 

However, with efficient ventilation, you can significantly reduce the concentration of odor and make your home more comfortable to live in.

Method 2: Increase Airflow

Using a portable fan to speed up the drying process of PU
Using a portable fan to increase airflow around drying PU

To reduce the smell of polyurethane, increase airflow in the room.

Use a fan, air purifier, or HVAC system to circulate the air. This will help to disperse the fumes and make the smell less concentrated.

Method 3: Use Baking Soda

Sprinkling baking soda on dry PU to absorb the smell
Sprinkling baking soda on dry PU to absorb the smell

Baking soda is a natural deodorizer that can absorb odors.

To get rid of the polyurethane smell, sprinkle it on the affected area, leave it for a few hours, and vacuum it up.

You can also make a solution of baking soda and water and spray it on the area, then wipe it clean.

Method 4: Use Vinegar

Using vinegar to remove polyurethane smell
Using vinegar to remove the polyurethane smell

To remove the smell of polyurethane, place bowls of white vinegar in the room and let them sit overnight.

For larger rooms, use more bowls. You can also wipe down surfaces with vinegar.

Method 5: Use Activated Charcoal

Using charcoal to absorb the smell of polyurethane
Using charcoal to absorb the smell of polyurethane

Activated charcoal is a highly porous substance that has the ability to absorb and trap harmful gases and odors, making it an ideal natural air purifier. 

To remove the smell of polyurethane, place activated charcoal in bowls or containers around the room.

The charcoal will naturally absorb the fumes and leave the air fresh.

Its effectiveness will depend on the amount used, the size of the room, and the level of ventilation.

Replace the charcoal after a few days or a week, depending on the severity of the smell.

Method 6: Use Room Fresheners

Using an air freshener to neutralize the smell of polyurethane
Using an air freshener to neutralize the smell of polyurethane

To mask the strong odor of polyurethane, use a natural room freshener like essential oils or a lemon and onion spray.

You can also slice a lemon and onion and place them in a bowl of water in the room.

Method 7: Turn up the Heat in the Room

To reduce the smell of polyurethane, turn up the heat in the room. This will speed up the drying process and get rid of the smell faster.

Close all windows and doors to prevent ventilation. Be careful, as polyurethane can produce harmful fumes when heated.

Let the room heat up for a few hours, then turn off the heat and ventilate to remove any remaining fumes.

How Long Does the Smell of Polyurethane Last?

Applying polyurethane on a workpiece
Applying polyurethane on a workpiece

The smell of polyurethane can last for a few days to several weeks, depending on the type of polyurethane, surface area coated, temperature, humidity, and ventilation.

Wait for the smell to dissipate before spending extended periods of time in the room.

Some may be more sensitive to the smell, so it is important to take precautions to minimize exposure to fumes.

Are Polyurethane Fumes Toxic?

Polyurethane finish on a cutting board
Polyurethane finish on a cutting board

Although working with polyurethane is not harmful, the fumes it produces can be toxic in high concentrations. 

When polyurethane is applied or cured, it can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, which can be harmful. 

These VOCs include toluene diisocyanate (TDI), which is a known respiratory irritant and can cause asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory issues. 

In addition, polyurethane fumes can also cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

The risk of toxicity depends on the level of exposure and the concentration of the fumes. 

Short-term exposure to low levels of polyurethane fumes may not cause any significant health effects. 

However, prolonged exposure to high levels of polyurethane fumes can lead to serious health problems.

So use proper ventilation and protective equipment when working with polyurethane to minimize the risk of exposure to its fumes. 

If you experience symptoms of exposure to polyurethane fumes, such as difficulty breathing or irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat, seek medical attention immediately.

Alternatives to Polyurethane That do Not Have a Strong Smell

Water-based finishes

Water-based finishes have low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which means they are less likely to produce a strong smell than oil-based finishes.


Shellac is a natural resin that comes from the lac bug and has a faint, pleasant smell that dissipates quickly.

It has a faint, pleasant smell that dissipates quickly.

Tung oil

Tung oil is a natural oil that comes from the tung tree. It has been used for centuries as a finish for furniture, and it produces a hard, durable finish that is resistant to water and scratches. 

Although tung oil coating might not be as durable and resistive as polyurethane, it is an excellent alternative that has a mild, nutty smell that dissipates quickly.


Wax is another natural finish that produces a soft, matte finish that is durable and easy to maintain. 

Unlike polyurethane, wax finish is not resistant to wear and tear under abrasive conditions but can provide a good surface finish for low-traffic areas without producing a strong smell.

UV-cured finishes

UV-cured finishes are a relatively new product that uses ultraviolet light to cure the finish quickly and produce a hard, durable finish. 

They have very low levels of VOCs and do not produce a strong smell.

Final Thoughts

To minimize the smell of polyurethane, provide good ventilation and allow the smell to fade out naturally. This may take 7-10 days.

To speed up the process, combine different techniques with good ventilation, such as using fans, opening windows, and using odor eliminators.

Allow an additional 2 days for the toxic fumes to completely dissipate before using the workpiece or the room for prolonged periods.

If you are highly sensitive to odors and fumes, use an alternative finish that does not produce a strong smell.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What safety measures should be taken when applying polyurethane?

The safety measures that you should take when applying polyurethane are: wear gloves to prevent poly from sticking to your skin, wear a mask to avoid inhaling the fumes, and most importantly, work in a well-ventilated area.

Why does polyurethane smell?

Polyurethane has a distinct smell due to the chemicals used to make it. The smell is caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate from the polyurethane as it dries. The smell can be minimized by using low VOC or water-based polyurethane products, which have less harmful chemicals and a less pungent odor.

Is polyurethane flammable?

Yes, polyurethane can be flammable under certain conditions. It is made from chemicals that are highly combustible and can ignite if exposed to an ignition source, such as a spark or flame. Additionally, polyurethane can release flammable vapors when it is being applied or drying. It is important to take precautions when working with polyurethane, such as avoiding smoking or using heat sources nearby, and storing polyurethane in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area away from sources of ignition.