I'm going to be putting together a crib for over the next few months for our first child. I found a blog that mentions shellac. Only, it doesn't exactly say that shellac is safe, only that it is safer than polyurethane.

My question is whether shellac is, in fact, safe and what are some other options?

I'm also curious about whether it is important to finish the crib at all. What are the downsides to just leaving it as sanded lumber? Is this just an aesthetic concern?

  • 2
    You want a food-safe finish. Mar 17, 2015 at 21:40

7 Answers 7


Some unfinished woods can be toxic: http://www.wood-database.com/wood-articles/wood-allergies-and-toxicity.

Any commercially available finish will have a publicly available material safety data sheet. Just google "finish MSDS."

Bob Flexner devotes a section of Understanding Wood Finishing to food grade finishes. According to him, these "salad bowl finishes" are generally just varnish. Check out the book, it's an excellent reference.

  • I second Bob Flexner. He also says that just about any finish (except for those containing led) are "food safe," provided they've fully cured.
    – dfife
    Mar 18, 2015 at 4:43

Per @ratchet-freak's suggestion, I looked up "food-safe finishes".

Options include:

  • Pure tung oil. Extracted from the nut of the china wood tree. Used as a base in many blended finishes. Available from catalogs and hardware stores. Difficult to apply, requires many coats, good water-resistance.
  • Raw linseed oil. Pressed from flax seeds. Not to be confused with boiled linseed, which contains metallic driers. Listed as a food additive by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Very long curing time, good looks, low water-resistance, frequent reapplication.
  • Mineral oil. Although derived from petroleum, it is colorless, odorless, tasteless and entirely inert. Sold as a laxative in drug stores and as a wood finish in hardware and kitchen-supply stores. Simple to apply, low waterresistance, frequent reapplication.
  • Walnut oil. Pressed from the nuts of the walnut tree. Sold as a salad oil in health food stores and in large grocery stores. Walnut oil dries and won't go rancid. Easy to apply, frequent reapplication.
  • Beeswax. The work of the honey bee. Can be mixed with an oil to create a better-smelling, slightly more waterrepellent finish. Sold in woodworking and turning catalogs.
  • Carnauba wax. Derived from the Brazilian palm tree. Harder than beeswax and more water-resistant. Can be used straight on woodenware as a light protective coating or a topcoat polish. Sold in woodworking and turning catalogs.
  • Shellac. A secretion from the lac bug. Harvested in India. Super blond shellac in flake form is the most waterresistant variety. A film-forming finish. Sold in woodworking catalogs and hardware and art supply stores.
  • I'd add that shellac is used as a shiny coating for sweets/candy and also pills I think.
    – Jambo
    Dec 3, 2017 at 15:34

I would say shellac. It's heavily used in the pharmaceutical industry to coat pills. It's an excellent all around finish, but it not's incredibly durable. My next choice would be mineral oil and bee's wax. You really can't go wrong with either of these choices.


I would certainly finish the crib with something. It will take a lot of abuse, particularly if it's used by more than one child, and some of that abuse will be (as you note) chewing/etc., which will introduce moisture and other damaging things. It also will be more vulnerable to splintering, which will be painful for your child if it occurs.

The main thing I look for in a crib finish:

  • Low or no VOCs; your child will sleep in it, and you don't want carcinogens in the air where you can avoid them.
  • Non-toxic; many are labeled this way on the can.
  • Non-chipping types of finishes, so either stains or similar that will primarily go into the wood rather than lying on top.

Naturally derived oils are a good example of this; walnut oil, linseed oil, hemp oil, etc., are good choices. Waxes like beeswax are good also, but may need to be re-applied periodically.

We used a combination of linseed oil and beeswax on our child's furniture, and it seemed to work well so far.


There are several soy based paints available on the market. I have had good results with the Durasoy brand. While Soy based paints start with a non-toxic foundation, additives can change that, so you will want to check what is in the specific brand/type you choose.

Leaving the wood untreated is also an option. Research on plastic vs wood cutting boards found little risk of contamination from untreated wood exposed to Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella.

disease bacteria such as these were not recoverable from wooden surfaces in a short time after they were applied ... although the bacteria that have disappeared from the wood surfaces are found alive inside the wood for some time after application, they evidently do not multiply, and they gradually die.

Untreated wood will be more susceptible to stains and as saltface mentions in their answer and supporting reference some raw wood can have adverse impacts.


Most of the common furniture finishes are safe AFTER CURING. Lacquer, polyurethane, shellac - dangerous if ingested in liquid form due to the thinners, there is no evidence of danger in a cured finish. Furniture finishing guru Bob Flexnor has addressed this, see here.


I just finished a small sidecar sleeper crib for my baby. The sidecar sleeper is made from red oak and finished with beaswax and tungoil blend at a 4:1 ratio. The beaswax and tungoil had a strong smell that took a few days to go away. Looks great and is totally safe provided she doesnt have a tung oil alergy, so far we are good.enter image description here

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