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Sealing earthen floors

Earthen or adobe floors, made of compressed dirt/sand/clay with a polished finish, are usually sealed using drying oils, which form a plastic-like seal that is washable. The most common oil cited in instructional books and articles is linseed oil. Of course, this oil isn’t available everywhere, and can be quite expensive.

Does anyone have any experience using other drying oils, with or without additives, to seal earthen floors?

The startup EarthEnable in Rwanda uses flaxseed oil but with a proprietary additive. Any ideas on what readily available additives could act as catalysts for drying oils?

Someone on this thread on Quora gives good details from Ghana, but still uses linseed oil as a base.

Some sources also cite the historical use of ox blood as a binder for floors, but it’s unclear whether this is in addition to, or as an alternative, to an oil or wax finish.

Other often-cited drying oils include tung, safflower, perilla, poppyseed, and walnut oils. Most of these are from temperate crops - are there any tropical oils that are known to be “drying” oils? Any chemists out there who can help me know what to look for in a potential oil? Do all oils high in polyunsatured fatty acids “dry” well? Sunflower oil, for example, is available here.

Any thoughts or experience appreciated!


I’ll be interested to follow this conversation, Noah. A quick review did not reveal formal study, but this may be helpful.

Evaluating oils for earth floors – The Sustainable Home

“… The drying oils can absorb oxygen and on exposure dry into thin elastic films. These oils are importance in the paint and varnish industries… Drying and semidrying oils are more common in plants of temperate climates, while nondrying oils and fats predominate in plants of tropical areas…”

Drying Oils

“Niger Seed Oil
This oil is pale yellow and comes from the seeds of Guizotia abyssinica, an annual plant in tropical Africa. It is cultivated in India, Africa, Germany and the West Indies. Higher grades have a pleasant aromatic odor and are used for food, while poorer grades are made into soak or serve as illuminants. There has never been a widespread use of this oil in the Western Hemisphere…”

looks like your best option.

Hemp seed oil might be another possibility.

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Hey Noah!

Good question. I don’t have a lot of experience with this, but check out this article by Practical Action. They have some suggestions of oils you may be able to find/make locally. Additives to Clay - Organic - Practical Answers