This article was inspired by a question from Adam. He writes:
“I’m using lacquer to finish a project. I’ve heard a lot about needing to use a respirator when applying lacquer since the fumes are very strong and offensive. I bought some from Lowes (Deft), and it has an almost sweet smell to it. I opened the can and was amazed at how good it smelled. Ha Ha…Could there be something wrong with my lacquer? This is the first time that I have branched off from poly and my first use of lacquer so I really don’t know. I’m just wondering if there is something wrong with it since it doesn’t have the offensive fumes and odor that I have heard so much about.”
Here’s a very important lesson we can all learn from. Just because something doesn’t smell bad, doesn’t mean it isn’t bad for us! I feel the same way Adam does about the smell of Deft lacquer. I love it. I also like the smell of gasoline, so maybe I’m just weird. Now although a lacquer like Deft smells good to me, there are a number of others that are quite foul and offensive. Believe it or not, this is something I have found varies by not only the type of lacquer, but also the brand.
But let’s make no mistake about it. The fumes will destroy brain cells! Here’s a rule of thumb: if you can smell it, its already too late. Your goal is to have that respirator on well before you pop the lid is off the can. Lacquer fumes (as well as other finish fumes), are nothing to mess with. Want a little scare? Read the MSDS on your favorite lacquer. It will probably read something like this, “Vapor irritates eyes, nose, and throat. Repeated exposure to high vapor concentrations may cause irritation of the respiratory system and permanent brain and nervous system damage. Intentional misuse by deliberately inhaling the contents can be harmful or fatal.”
When it comes to finishes, a regular dust mask just won’t cut it. You need something with organic filter cartridges. The one I use is the 3M 7500. Its a very comfortable mask and features a down-firing exhaust, which is great when you wear glasses or protective lenses. I highly recommend you get one of these in your shop ASAP. Your lungs will thank you.