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Pros and Cons of Oil Based Finish for Hardwood Floors

Are you taking on a hardwood floor refinishing project? One of the big decisions to make before you get started is if you want to use a water-based or oil-based polyurethane finish. In researching the best options, the vital thing to keep in mind is what type of finish will be best for your specific project.

Pros of Oil-Based Polyurethane Floors

Warm finish

For people who are looking for that warm tone that wood floors can provide, you’re going to want to use oil-based polyurethane. When it dries, it gives off that warm, earthy finish that ambers overtime.


When it comes to durability, oil-based polyurethane will stand up to heavily weighted wear and tear much better than water-based polyurethane.

Fewer coats needed

Because it is thicker than water-based polyurethane, fewer coats of oil-based polyurethane are needed when refinishing hardwood floors. Oil-based polyurethane contains 45-50% solids, which are what creates the protective finish.

More affordable

On average, an oil-based hardwood floor finish is going to cost you less money to purchase. As a bonus, because you’ll need fewer coats when compared to a water-based finish, you won’t need to buy as much, which will also save you money.

Less maintenance 

Because it’s much more durable than water-based polyurethane, oil-based polyurethane doesn’t have to be refinished as often. If applied correctly, an oil-based hardwood finish can last longer before needing to be redone.

Cons of Oil-Based Polyurethane Floors

Strong odor

Unfortunately, oil-based polyurethane has a strong odor when compared to water-based polyurethane. If you are sensitive to strong smells or chemicals, then an oil-based finish might irritate you.

Slow dry time

Since it’s thicker, oil-based finishes need to dry for much longer than water-based. Usually, you need to wait about 7-8 hours for oil-based finishes to dry before you can put on another coat. This means that you’ll probably need several days to get the job done and then another day on top of that to wait for it to fully dry before putting furniture on top of it.

More toxic

Oil-based polyurethane contains flammable and toxic solvents. If you’re worried about using harmful chemicals for personal or environmental reasons, then you may need to rethink using oil-based polyurethane.

Hard to clean up 

If you spill or drop oil-based polyurethane, you will need a specialized solvent to clean it up. Conversely, water-based polyurethane can be cleaned up with the correct cleaner.

Oil-based polyurethane is a solid choice if you’re looking for something durable that is going to give you that warm, earthy tone that many people look for in hardwood floors. However, it’s essential to weigh all of the pros and cons outlined above to ensure an oil-based finish is the right choice for your project.

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