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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Ok, so I just bought a new 30 foot boat, my first, two weeks ago. I'm having a real problem with it because the previous owner put so much varnish on the interior wood the fumes are driving me nuts! He did this probably 4 weeks ago and I was sure the fumes would go away, but they just don't seem to. The can is some really old antique wood wax varnish, complete with poison symbol and "use only in ventilated area, do not inhale".

It's so bad that if I sit in the boat for an hour, even with hatches, companionway and portlights open, I get a headrush and the rest of the day I'm dizzy and spaced out.

What can I do to get rid of the darn fumes?! Any advice?

Thanks!

PS: I should mention I'm moving aboard next week, so I'm desperate.
 

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A big fan??

Maybe some fabreeze on the fabrics.

I dont consider any paint or stuff to be cured untill all the solvents have evaperated and the smell is gone.
 

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Crack the hatches and leave an electric fan/heater or just fan if it's warm out running 24/7. That should accelerate the solvent evaporation. My guess is that the boat has been closed up pretty airtight since varnishing.
Brian
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Crack the hatches and leave an electric fan/heater or just fan if it's warm out running 24/7. That should accelerate the solvent evaporation. My guess is that the boat has been closed up pretty airtight since varnishing.
Brian
Yeah, if only it would stop raining.

What do you think about using a blow dryer or heat gun on the varnish to accelerate the curing? If I'm careful I won't cause any fires, but I wonder about cracking...
 

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Heat guns are a good way to remove varnish so I wouldn't. If it's raining crack hatch and use canvas to keep rain out.
Brian
 

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This past winter I thought I would varnish the plate holders and magazine racks, all the different items mounted to the inside of the boat. I brought them home to my apartment and sanded them to prepare to varnish. I had 7 items and I put the first coat of varnish on. Holy crap batman, I got such a bad headache from the smell of the varnish. I did everything to get rid of the smell. Opening windows and doors, sprays, nothing seemed to work but time. I feel your pain.
 

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Lots of ventilation

Zar,
Varnish can be VERY slow drying, especially in humid conditions. If the boat is in a slip crack the forward hatch and rig some plastic or canvas to keep out rain. Rig a box fan in the companionway, also covered with canvas or plastic to keep out rain. Set the fan so it's blowing out the companionway and pulling air through the boat. Now go get a beer, some pizza, watch a movie and come back in 12 to 14 hours. That may be enough air movement through the cabin to dry it out (this assumes the boat is in a location where you're not worried about someone breaking in). .

That's the simple solution. There are lots of different varnish types. Some of the old ones have some nasty chemicals, and some when they get old and outdated won't dry properly - meaning you'll have to strip the varnish off to get rid of the smell, or seal it with a coat of shellac.

Depending on what he used and to what extent it did or didn't dry, stripping could be anything from wiping it with rags soaked in thinner to using chemical strippers.

What brand and type of varnish did he use?

The good news is rigging a fan has a pretty good chance of drying the varnish, but you'll probably have to wash the cushions and carpet to get rid of the residual odor.

Don't even think about moving aboard if there is still a strong odor. Solvent fumes can make you VERY sick or even kill you in high enough concentrations. Long term exposure will definitely cause long term problems.

Jim
 

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Varnish takes a long time to cure. The smell will go away, but it can take a long time. I wonder if part of the problem is the soft stuff in the boat like cushions, curtains etc. have ablsorbed some of the stench. Perhaps pulling all that out and ventilating it will help.
 

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It could also be a wood preservative like Cuprinol.

Varnish takes a long time to cure. The smell will go away, but it can take a long time. I wonder if part of the problem is the soft stuff in the boat like cushions, curtains etc. have ablsorbed some of the stench. Perhaps pulling all that out and ventilating it will help.
Creosote, bitumen paint and cuprinol wood treatment products

if it is a wooden boat. Some of this stuff is POWERFUL and takes 6 months to fade inside. It smells outside for months.
 

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Solar powered vent fans will help a lot.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Wow, plenty of good suggestions here. I'm already putting many into practice and I think it's helping. Thank you everyone.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Zar,

What brand and type of varnish did he use?

The good news is rigging a fan has a pretty good chance of drying the varnish, but you'll probably have to wash the cushions and carpet to get rid of the residual odor.

Don't even think about moving aboard if there is still a strong odor. Solvent fumes can make you VERY sick or even kill you in high enough concentrations. Long term exposure will definitely cause long term problems.

Jim
Hi Jim,

You're right, I think the ventilation idea is working a bit. The fumes aren't as strong now.

Here's what he used:

Antique Oil Finish - Specialty Products

I hope the "oil" in this stuff is linseed oil and not some sort of petroleum distillate.

Mind, I'm beginning to second guess whether it is varnish that I'm smelling. I've been sniffing the wood and while there is a general smell of linseed oil wafting through the boat, the wood itself only smells very slightly of linseed. I found this baffling.

However, today I was taking off the upholstery fabric covers and washing them. I sniffed them and immediately recognized the "fume" smell which has been driving me crazy - it's the plastic-like bottom of all the covers. Vinyl? Pleather?

I think I should start smoking so as to dull my olfactory senses. :laugher

zAr
 

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varnish fume abatement

I am dealing with the same issue 4 months after the aft cabin was totally sanded out & revarnished in our Westsail 42.

The aft cabin air is tolerable during the day when the sea breeze is up but at night the air can go still.

Installing a fan in the forward hatch allows air to be drawn in thru the portlights continuously when there is no breeze maintaining a continuous sweep of fresh air into the boat and then exhausted.
 

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Gelcoat fumes are truly terrible... they blew right through my respirator filter, and fuzzed my brain up. I am generally more sensitive to fumes than anyone else I know. I would suggest investing in a good $50 respirator, and some extra filters. Replace the filters regularly. Suggested once every workday. Now, with your respirator on, go in the boat and work out a ventilation system. It helps to pull all of cushions out and leave them in the sun for a few hours. Open all dorades, hatches etc, put on a few small fans (this is better than one large one) . In the future, use something a little less aggressive as an interior wood finish. I use none.
 

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I second havig a heater on in the boat to keep the temp up and speed up curing. Venting will help.
 

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A heater doesn't actually have to heat the boat much. What really makes it help is that it reduces the humidity. Humidty is more of problem than temperature in most cases.

Gary H. Lucas
 

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Ok, so I just bought a new 30 foot boat, my first, two weeks ago. I'm having a real problem with it because the previous owner put so much varnish on the interior wood the fumes are driving me nuts! He did this probably 4 weeks ago and I was sure the fumes would go away, but they just don't seem to. The can is some really old antique wood wax varnish, complete with poison symbol and "use only in ventilated area, do not inhale".

It's so bad that if I sit in the boat for an hour, even with hatches, companionway and portlights open, I get a headrush and the rest of the day I'm dizzy and spaced out.

What can I do to get rid of the darn fumes?! Any advice?

Thanks!

PS: I should mention I'm moving aboard next week, so I'm desperate.
I’m curious if you were ever able to resolve the issue. I’m facing the same problem.
 

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I use Epifanes... and it does of course off-gas as it dries. I will perhaps do some varnish this winter as it can take it's time to dry. But if it is too cold... I will not do it... Need to check with the mfg. I am only attempting the fiddles... and there are enough of them to want it get it right and build up a number of coats.
 

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Both temperature and humidity can cause varnish to fail to cure properly. Each product publishes it's range. If it's tacky or feels soft, that's what happened. A "do at your own risk" fix attempt might be to gently wipe the surface with a compatible solvent and then get some serious dry air flow over it for as long as possible.

On the other hand, it may just be normal and will dissipate over time. I know I've become much more sensitive to noticing VOCs, as so many things are now developed with limited amounts. We painted the inside of our house with low VOC paint and you couldn't smell a thing. A freshly painted interior was typically noticeable for months.
 

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Why would it matter how long it takes for a varnish or paint to "cure"... Assuming that no weird chemical agents or re actions are introduced.... time means nothing. Time may add / allow other factors like humidity or thermal stress to influence the cure. So there may be optimal conditions for curing.... but do sub optimal conditions mean the cure "fails"?
 
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