Have you ever heard of tung oil? It’s pronounced ‘tongue’ and certainly didn’t make me think of nuts when I first saw the can. My husband bought some after doing in-depth research into the best oil to treat un-oiled oak kitchen work tops for our new kitchen. Have I mentioned the new kitchen? It’s very shiny and new and exciting at the moment – the novelty will soon wear off.
Back to the tung oil, it resists liquid better than any other oil, is far more resistant to mould and it’s environmentally friendly – perfect for a kitchen work top. Or is it?
Well, anyway, the oiling was going well, three coats in and Mr What Allergy suddenly looks a little sheepish when he returns from work. It appears that the fantastic, whizzy, all singing, all dancing, best-ever-for-treating-oak-work-tops, tung oil was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Tung oil is a quick drying oil which is made from the seeds of the nut from several species of Aleurites, primarily Aleurites fordii, a deciduous shade tree native to China and Japan. It can also be found in wood finishings and the composition of oil paints and printing inks, as well as in its pure oil form. Oils sold as teak oil can in fact contain tung oil.
The word that stands out in the last paragraph is that horrible little word that strikes fear into every nut allergic’s life – NUT! People with a nut or tree nut allergy can be allergic to tung oil, either on contact or even inhaling the odour. Watch out because it can be used to treat other things, not just work tops including kitchen items such as chopping boards and wooden bowls.
Castor oil and linseed oil would be a much safer alternative but these both take much longer to dry and can leave an oily residue until they soak into the wood surface.
Now you might be wondering whether I suffered any adverse reactions to said tung oil. I was wheezing a little, but then I was also unpacking boxes which were dusty so can I blame that on the tung oil odour? It has quite a pleasant smell actually and is not too strong. It certainly doesn’t seem to smell at all nutty. I hadn’t done any of the actual oiling myself, luckily, and what a shame, now I cannot take over the role for fear of a nut related allergic reaction. There is always a silver lining when allergies excuse one from nasty, boring jobs. It’s a job that needs to be done regularly, quite often at first, then less often as the wood takes on the oil and becomes completely impregnated. Special care needs to be taken around the sink where more water will come into contact with the work top.
What could be a problem is contact with the oil when wet, especially where food preparation is concerned. Another question is how long does it take to dry, how long do we need to keep oiling the wood for and will the worktops be a danger when dry to anyone with a nut allergy?
Well, so far, so good. I had a very mild swelling on a paper cut where I hauled myself up from stacking stuff in a new cupboard by leaning on the work top and the cut came into contact with the oil. It stung a tiny bit, but paper cuts do that anyway, so after a quick wash under the tap it seemed to calm down pretty quickly. Would it have swollen up regardless as some cuts can do? Was it dust that got into the cut and not tung oil at all?
Detectives are still on the case but so far, so good. Investigations are being done into whether it would be OK to switch to treating with linseed oil instead of tung oil to avoid any potential danger. Bit of a shame that the tung oil cost a lot of money and came in a VERY big can!