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Water-Based Vs. Oil-Based Polyurethane Floors – A Guide

When refinishing hardwood floors, it is essential to understand the difference between water-based and oil-based floors. While many try to determine which is better, the truth is that it depends on your needs and overall goals. There is no hardwood floor refinishing that is better than the other, but if you choose one that does not match what you are looking for, then you may be disappointed. Keep reading to learn more about what each floor has to offer and which may be the best one for you when you plan on refinishing your hardwood floors. 


Refinishing Hardwood Floors With Water-Based Polyurethane

While both water-based and oil-based floors offer a good amount of protection, the main difference is the appearance of each. Water-based polyurethane may look milky in the container but will go on clear and won’t yellow over time. If you are looking for a neutral color and tone, this may be the best option as oil-based finishes tend to give a warmer, more yellow tint. 


Regarding the durability of water-based finishes, they are mostly in line with oil-based polyurethane. They resist scuffing, UV exposure, water, corrosion, and mar. If you are short on time, or do not wish to wait any longer than you have to when refinishing hardwood floors, then water-based is the best option as it takes less than half of the time to dry in relation to oil-based finishes. In addition to a shorter dry time, water-based finishes contain little to no hazardous ingredients. 


Refinishing Hardwood Floors With Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil-based finishes offer a warmer or amber hue when applied to a hardwood floor refinishing project.  Keep in mind this yellow color will intensify over time, but oil-based polyurethanes will give your wood a softer feel. In terms of durability, when refinishing hardwood floors, you can expect both water- and oil-based finishes to provide the same level of protection. While oil-based finishes take more time to dry – at least a couple of days. However, it will require less maintenance over time. 


If you are worried about dry times or toxic solvents, oil-based polyurethane may not be the best choice as it does contain quite a bit of exposure to highly flammable and toxic elements. These solvents allow the finish to cure into a protective film, which allows the polyurethane to better protect the wood underneath. With oil-based polyurethane, you may get a bit more bang for your buck as you will need fewer coats to achieve the same desired results as you would with multiple coats of a water-based finish. 


Final Thoughts 

Both finishes have their fair share of both advantages and disadvantages. What matters most is finding something that fits your needs the best. Water-based finishes are best for those who prefer a wood with a cooler or neutral finish, short wait and dry times, and doesn’t contain any hazardous or flammable solvents during application. Oil-based polyurethanes offer a warmer, amber color with a more protective finish and less maintenance after refinishing. 


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