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Water Based vs. Oil Based Polyurethane Floors

Looking to refinish your hardwood floors? The hardest part of the hardwood floor refinishing process can be deciding which finish to go with: water based or oil based polyurethane. While both are known to be durable and leave your floors looking beautiful, there are differences that you should take into account before making your final decision. 

Before we get into the pros and cons of each type of finish, let’s discuss the importance of choosing polyurethane finishes for hardwood floors. When it comes to refinishing hardwood floors, the main thing to keep in mind is the level of protection and the end look you want to achieve. Polyurethane offers floors a higher level of protection that other finishes such as shellac and varnish can’t compete with. 

Now that we’ve established the importance of choosing a high-quality finish, let’s take a look at the key differences between water based and oil based polyurethane. 

Water Based Polyurethane Floors


  • Easier to apply multiple coats of finish in one day due to faster drying time 
    • Most water based polys will dry within two hours, giving you enough time to finish the project in one day
  • Gives floors a raw, natural look that is on trend for 2021 
  • Odor is not as strong as oil based polyurethane


  • Offers less protection than oil based polyurethane 
  • Cool undertone may make floors look colder as opposed to oil based poly’s warmer tones 
  • Waters based polyurethane finishes require more coats to fully protect wood floors
  • Your floors may need additional coats every two years
  • Water based finishes are more expensive that oil based finishes


Oil Based Polyurethane Floors


  • Has a higher level of protection than water based finishes 
  • Gives untreated wood floors a beautiful warm glow that can’t be achieved with water based poly
  • More affordable than water based finishes 
  • Less upkeep involved over time 


  • More time consuming process due to the drying time 
    • For oil based polys, you have to wait multiple hours between coats and a full 12 hours after the last coat
  • Oil based polys have a stronger odor
  • Warmer undertones may be perceived as old-fashioned and more traditional than today’s trends

Overall, both options offer some promising characteristics depending on the style you are looking to add to your home. Keep these pros and cons in mind when you are making your final decisions. Good luck with your project! 

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