Beware of Danish Oil

What is Danish Oil?

The term “Danish Oil” used today is a general term for a type of wood finish. Danish oil is typically wiped on, allowed to soak in to the wood for a while and then excess remaining on the surface is wiped off. Danish oil should contain a high percentage of natural oil that is classified as a drying oil. A drying oil is very important because the finish will actually cure and not remain “oily” like an olive or canola oil would. Also, non-drying oils have the potential to become rancid over time.

The “Danish” part of Danish Oil seems to appear in general use sometime after World War II, when Scandinavian manufacturers started to export their goods around the world. The finish provided a good-looking, low-sheen finish.

What does Danish Oil contain?

The ingredients contained in Danish Oil is extremely varied with each manufacturer having their own proprietary mixtures and percentages. However, most Danish Oils contain many of the following:

    Toxic Waste

  • Mineral Spirits
  • Aromatic Petroleum Distillates
  • Mineral Oil
  • Stoddard Solvent
  • Tung Oil
  • Linseed Oil
  • Man-made and/or Natural Resins
  • Man-made and/or Natural Varnishes
  • Unspecified Vegetable Oil
  • Dipropylene Glycol Monomethyl Ether
  • Naptha
  • Japanese Dryers
  • Cobalt Dryers
  • Heavy Metal Dryers

A lesser quality Danish Oil will only have a 10% solids content (the actual drying oil) with the balance being primarily Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Higher quality Danish Oils have more than a 50% solids content. For comparison, Dapwood uses natural oils with 100% solids content.

So what is wrong with Danish Oil?

The problem with today’s Danish Oil is not the “oil” at all but the other toxins that are put into it. In the race to make it cheaper and faster, industrial coating makers have cut back the oil and increased the other ingredients which are toxic. This is particularly troubling for the two different groups of people that are subjected to these harsh chemicals:

Working with Danish Oil

The people who apply Danish Oil need to read the application instructions on the packaging very carefully and plan accordingly. They also need to review and understand the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Failure to apply the product in a well ventilated room or have appropriate NIOSH respirators will result in a “buzz” from the fumes which can lead to headaches, vomiting and worse.

Effects Of Overexposure – Chronic Hazards: Reports have associated repeated and prolonged occupational overexposure to solvents with permanent brain and nervous system damage.Danish Oil SDS

Long term exposure to Danish Oil

While the Danish Oil may be cured in a few days, there will be residuals that come off of the finish for the following weeks, months and years. No one should spend 1/3 of their day sleeping and being exposed to off-gassing chemicals. Unfortunately, long-term exposure studies are extremely difficult to study and quantify. Some might like to put their head in the sand and say that since there are no immediate effects, there is nothing to worry about. This flies in the face of the reality of increased cancer rates, mental health issues and chemical sensitivities. Additionally, what about small children who love to put things in their mouths or chew on things they can’t fit? What are they ingesting and to what degree is this “safe”?

There is no definitive answer explaining what exposure will do over time to a person. All indications are that it is not good.

Is Danish Oil really that toxic?

Yes. We couldn’t make this stuff up. The industrial chemical companies knows they produce toxic substances. So much that “Lethal Dose” standards were created to compare toxicity of substances.

Lethal Dosage (LD50) Values
An LD50 is a standard measurement of acute toxicity that is stated in milligrams (mg) of pesticide per kilogram (kg) of body weight. An LD50 represents the individual dose required to kill 50 percent of a population of test animals (e.g., rats, fish, mice, cockroaches). Because LD50 values are standard measurements, it is possible to compare relative toxicities among pesticides. The lower the LD50 dose, the more toxic the pesticide.

A pesticide with an LD50 value of 10 mg/kg is 10 times more toxic than a pesticide with an LD50 of 100 mg/kg.

The toxicity of a pesticide is related to the mode of entry of the chemical into an organism. Oral LD50 values are obtained when test subjects are fed pesticide-treated feed or water. Dermal LD50 values are obtained when the pesticide is applied to the skin of the animal. Inhalation LD50 values are obtained when the animal breathes the pesticide with a mask. Often the inhalation LD50 is lower (more toxic) than the oral LD50, which is in turn lower (more toxic) than the dermal LD50.

LD50 values are not always given on the pesticide label; rather, the relative toxicity of a pesticide product is reflected by one of three signal words: DANGER, WARNING, or CAUTION. The purpose of signal words is to alert the user to the level of toxicity of the product. The signal word is generally assigned based on the pesticide’s inhalation, oral or dermal toxicity, whichever is the most toxic.US EPA

Note that inhalation is often the most toxic method and is the most likely mode of exposure when sleeping at night.

Another item to note is that LD50 values for one particular American made Danish Oil is “Not Determined”. Unfortunately, this is probably “not determined” because of the time required to create a testing protocol and the cost associated with live animal tests. However, we are able to evaluate the individual components of the mixture and draw a reasonable conclusion.

Chemical Name Lethal Dose 50 (LD50)
Mineral Spirits
Aromatic petroleum distillates
Dipropylene Glycol Monomethyl Ether
Stoddard Solvent
4,900 mg/kg (Rat)
Not Established
5,350 mg/kg (Rat)
4,900 mg/kg (Rat)

So, in order to kill one rat in the half of a rat population that died (no explanation on the condition of the surviving 50% of rats) we can calculate the amount of product required. Since rats weigh about 500 to 700 grams, you would only need 1 to 3.5 grams to do the job. That is less than a sugar packet!

Let's compare some of the Danish Oil ingredients to toxic substances you can lookup at the National Institute of Health's Toxnet website.

Chemical Name Lethal Dose 50 (LD50) [Source cited]
3,306 mg/kg (Rat- oral) [Lewis, R.J. Sr. (ed) Sax's Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials. 11th Edition. Wiley-Interscience, Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ. 2004., p. 360]
14,063 mg/kg (Rat Acute Oral) [DHHS/ATSDR; Toxicological Profile for Automotive Gasoline p.47 (1995)]

By being able to directly compare LD50 values, we can see that chemicals in Danish Oil are not as toxic as benzene but almost 3 times more toxic than gasoline. There is no doubt that Danish Oil contains some toxic substances.

Danish Oil Summary

Since the term "Danish Oil" is often used as a general term for a wood finish, not all products labeled "Danish Oil" are toxic. Most, but not all. What we are concerned about are the Danish Oils that contain industrial solvents.

We are concerned that not enough information is provided to consumers to decide for themselves what level of exposure is tolerable. Opponents will say that toxicology information is too complicated and inconclusive. Why scare consumers? And do customers really care? What opponents will not say is what company would want to advertise that their product may cause cancer or death?

At Dapwood, we believe their is no reason to chance it with Danish Oil. We care deeply about our employees as well as our customers. Human health is irreplaceable. Dapwood is committed to using only natural products that are eco friendly and non-toxic. If you decide to not purchase our products, please find something that does not contain a long list of toxic chemicals. You and your family's future health may depend on it.