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6 Natural and Safer Polyurethane Alternatives

Free yourself and your loved ones from toxic exposure and discover several alternatives to polyurethane that are environment-friendly, natural, safer, and not too hard on the budget without sacrificing efficiency.

Varnishing the surface of a wooden table.

Polyurethane is a synthetic polymer discovered by Professor Otto Bayer in 1930 as an alternative to the expensive rubber during World War II. It’s a versatile material that’s been added to a host of things like diapers, mattresses, crown moldings and can be used from simple DIY projects to large-scale such as home renovations as varnishes, upholstery foam, and adhesives.

Unfortunately, polyurethane is very flammable and toxic. Simply breathing in or coming into contact with this product can trigger asthma attacks, eye and skin irritation, as well as cause a string of respiratory problems. As a result, homeowners are turning to environment-friendly, natural, and less toxic polyurethane alternatives.

Related: What is Polyurethane | Types of Polyurethane | Can I Paint Over Varnished Wood | Types of Plywood | Types of Paint | Types of Paint Brushes 

1. Varnish


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Varnish is a very durable finish that is preferable to polyurethane in some ways. This is a finish that will come out more solidly than many of the other options. You will be able to count on it to protect your furniture or flooring better than many other finishes. For this reason, varnish is often used for furniture and wood projects that are meant to be placed outside.

If you want everything to turn out nicely when you are making something for the outdoors, then using varnish is highly recommended. It is capable of providing furniture with significant UV protection, which means that things won’t fade in the sun so severely. This makes it a perfect finish to use on your deck as well. It should be easy to apply, and you can find a varnish that doesn’t have a harsh odor as polyurethane does.

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This is a finish that you will want to use when you’re making things for the outside of your home. Whether you are putting the finishing touches on a deck or if you are building patio furniture, varnish is going to come in handy. You will be able to apply it to the wood in order to protect it from the elements. It can prevent the wood from fading in the sun and will generally allow it to look vibrant for a long time.


Varnish isn’t going to be the perfect finish for every project. It works excellently for outdoor furniture, decks, and much more. Even so, you may want to pick one of the softer finishes for indoor items. It can look a bit harsh to some and may not fit what you are going for.

2. Shellac


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Shellac is something that people like to use as a finish because it is a natural product. It is made from natural elements and is a lot safer than something like polyurethane. Some people turn to shellac simply because they see it as a safer option, but others like it due to the warm amber color that it provides. It is definitely going to make for a pretty finish.

Working with shellac is easy enough. You’ll be able to apply this finish to various types of wooden furniture. Most people wind up using shellac for fine furniture such as a China cabinet. It can definitely be useful for other types of furniture and wooden works of art, but you may not want to use it on items that will be exposed to heat.

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Shellac is really safe to use, and it can provide your wooden furniture with nice amber coloring. It looks great, and it is really going to keep your furniture as vibrant as possible. This is a pretty easy finish to work with, too. You won’t have any trouble applying the shellac, and you’ll likely love the results.


One of the most unfortunate problems with shellac is that it doesn’t do well with heat. If you use shellac on a piece of wooden furniture that is regularly exposed to heat, then it will wind up forming white rings. This can ruin the appearance of your furniture and is very frustrating. For this reason, you may want to avoid using shellac on wooden dining room tables and other items that will have hot things placed on top of it.

3. Lacquer


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People who want to achieve a glossy finish often turn to use lacquer. Lacquer isn’t going to be as long-lasting as something like varnish or even polyurethane, though. This is a pretty thin finish that is typically applied via spraying. It will give a piece of furniture a thin coat that will shine brilliantly.

The problem with lacquer is that it does not have the longevity of some of the other finish options. Over time you will notice that the lacquer may have some problems with discoloration. This is unfortunate because this finish is otherwise very durable. The smooth finish that it can provide you with is very appealing, but it isn’t going to be perfect.

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People avoid polyurethane due to its toxic nature, and lacquer isn’t necessarily any safer. You will need to use this finish in an area that is properly ventilated. You don’t want to breathe the lacquer in, so be mindful about your surroundings before using this type of finish. It shouldn’t be hard to work with once you get going, but wearing a mask might be a good idea, too.


Lacquer can provide your furniture with a very smooth and glossy finish. If you want to make your wooden furniture pop visually, then using lacquer is a good idea. It works nicely when you are going for a flashier look in your home. Applying the lacquer shouldn’t be tough but you will need to find a properly ventilated area before proceeding.


The longevity of lacquer isn’t going to be the greatest. It can start to become discolored over time and will lose a lot of its visual appeal. Sometimes people choose to apply lacquer again after several years to avoid some of these negatives. You should consider whether or not lacquer is worth the hassle as a polyurethane alternative.

4. Tung Oil

Tung Oil

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Tung oil is used to make finishes that can replicate what polyurethane is capable of. This is a natural finish that is non-toxic and will turn out excellently. If you are looking for a polyurethane alternative that is more environmentally-friendly, then you should certainly consider tung oil. It can really provide a lot of character to any wood that you apply it to.

This type of finish is made from the oil of a nut. These nuts come from the tung tree that is native to China. It’s a remarkable product that is very easy to use and is so much safer than polyurethane. If you need to find a finish that will look great without putting you in danger, then give tung oil a try.

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This is a natural product that you can feel good about purchasing. It will be able to provide a great finish for your floors. This tung oil is pretty affordable and should work on most budgets. If you need a good alternative to polyurethane, then this will work nicely.


This tung oil finish may not perfectly replicate what polyurethane does. You need to think of it as its own thing. It will be a very good finish for you even if it doesn’t look exactly the same as a polyurethane finish. Many people use tung oil on hardwood flooring to great effect.

5. Linseed Oil

Linseed Oil

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Linseed oil is another commonly used natural alternative to polyurethane. People use linseed oil to treat their wood. It can help it to look better while also increasing the overall durability of the wood. This is a non-toxic product that you will be able to use without hesitation.

Companies make linseed oil by drying out the seeds of flax plants. Some people buy the linseed oil by itself in order to treat their wood. Others will make use of linseed oil inside of other products. Either way, it makes for a good alternative to the toxic polyurethane that you would rather avoid.


Being able to have more natural options to replace polyurethane is always a good thing. This is a product that can work well by itself in its natural form. It can also be used as an ingredient in other products to create non-toxic finishes. It’s a versatile alternative to polyurethane that you need to be aware of.

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Pure linseed oil may not be as useful for certain things as polyurethane. Whether or not this is going to work for your needs depends on what you are trying to do. This is great for treating wood, and it can be a good ingredient in some wood finishes, as well. Just be sure that what you are buying is meant for the job that you are trying to get done.

6. Candelilla Wax

Candelilla Vegan Wax Flakes 8 oz 100% Pure and Natural For Skin, Face, Body and Hair DIY Creams, Lotions, Lip Balm and Soap Making Supplies. Beeswax Substitute

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This is a wax option that is incredibly popular among vegans. It actually works quite similarly to beeswax, but it is a product that is derived from the Candelilla shrub. They take the leaves from this shrub and use it to make the wax. All of the shrubs are properly grown and monitored to ensure that using the leaves will have as little impact on the shrub population as possible.

It works very nicely to wax your hardwood floors. It can really make your floors look nice and will provide them with some protection. If you want to purchase a non-toxic polyurethane alternative that is specifically for flooring, then this wax will really appeal to you. It’s not too hard to get a hold of it, so you should consider buying some if you have hardwood flooring.


This is very environmentally-friendly, and you will be able to use it effectively. If you need something to wax your floors with, then this is a great option. It will provide your floors with great shine and some protection. You’ll be able to feel good about your purchase, and you won’t have to worry about using toxic products that are bad for your health.

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This is really only useful for waxing your floors. It isn’t an ingredient that is incorporated into stains or finishes. Regardless, this is a good polyurethane alternative that will help you to avoid using toxic products. It’s environmentally-friendly, and that is enough to make it desirable to many people.