Is polyurethane safe around kids?
October 24, 2013 3:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm working on a small wooden rocking horse that I've been painting with what is labeled as kid-safe and non-toxic acrylic paint. So far, so good. I've been planning to finish it off with a couple coats of clear polyurethane, but now I'm not sure. The cans' warning labels talk about not breathing the fumes, using it in well-ventilated areas, don't get it in your eyes.... all the standard warnings, in other words.

That's fine, the kid this thing is intended for is nowhere near here, and she won't even see it until well after it's done & finished, so none of those warnings about the liquid polyurethane is a concern for her.

But what about AFTER it's done & finished? Is dried/cured polyurethane kid-safe, or --- like for example with lead paint --- is this a bad idea, should I use something else, and if so, what?

(If the brand matters: I've been planning to use Minwax Fast-Drying Clear Semi-Gloss Polyurethane.)
posted by easily confused to Health & Fitness (5 answers total)
It's inert once fully reacted. Polyurethane is everywhere and even some diaper covers are made from it.

I wouldn't hesitate one bit.
posted by vapidave at 3:54 PM on October 24, 2013

Best answer: The consensus last time I went diving deep for information on this was that fully cured polyurethane was indeed food safe, but, like you, I'm finding just enough question over that that I'm continually looking for additional finishes.

If you wanted to be that much more sure, you could use shellac (once the alcohol evaporates out it's just bug secretions), or walnut oil (cures to a nice hard finish), or mineral oil (doesn't really cure, but displaces other oils and is easily touched up) or bees wax (kinda like mineral oil). For the puzzle I'm making for my niece, I'm using milk paints with a walnut oil final coat.
posted by straw at 3:54 PM on October 24, 2013

Polyurethane yellows and messes up the paint colors. Acrylic clear coat stuff is supposed to be safer for kids but it wears off faster. I had a kitchen table that I stained white - the poly turned it yellow immediately but the finish lasted for years. (It was still great when we gave it away and got a bigger table.) My painted coffee table and kids furniture looks great with the acrylic - the colors all stayed perfect and bright but I have to redo the clear coat every few years and sometimes even repaint. Supposedly the acrylic was safe enough to use on my baby's painted highchair. In conclusion, they both kind of suck.
posted by artychoke at 4:37 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Would it help to realize that wood floors are commonly polyurethaned, and kids have been crawling on them (and eating off them!) for decades?

I know, kids used to grow up in lead-painted houses, too. But--for what it's worth--there aren't known dangers at this time of kids having contact with cured polyurethane.
posted by torticat at 10:07 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all! So it looks like I'm worrying unnecessarily, but that's okay: extra worry is better than extra risk to the kid.

I think I'll go ahead with the polyurethane; although even this so-called 'clear' poly will give the colors a yellow cast (and yes, I've tested it on a scrap piece), this being a kid's toy, durability is definately a big consideration!
posted by easily confused at 2:07 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

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