Hardwood Floor Installation & Refinishing

Comparison Between Oil-Based And Water-Based Polyurethane Floor Finishes

hardwoodfloorinstallationNaperville BigBroHardwood

One major FAQ we get from our clients is “What is the difference between water based and oil based poly?” We should know that both of these types of polyurethane perform as a strong protective layer for hardwood floor beneath, both providing protection to the wood from getting damaged. Water based and oil based polyurethane, both have their advantages and strengths. Over time, wear marks and different scratches will become visible on the sacrificial layer present in both of the polyurethane types.


If properly applied through standard quality products, the variation in durability is hardly noticeable. Contradictory to client’s normal view, poly based on high-quality water will last the same amount of duration that a poly based on oil will. According to our team, BONA and LOBA products can be the perfect fit for polys based on water.


Compared to the clear poly based on water, an amber hue is there in polys based on oil. Water-based polyurethane will not show the difference in appearance over time as they will remain steady; on the other hand, oil-based polyurethanes will get darker with the passage of time and they continue to amber. Though the effect is less visible on floors of stained hardwood, still the factor of change in appearance will be in progress as time passes.


Up to 4 coats can be applied to water-based polys as they take lesser time to dry as compared to oil-based polys. Polyetheranes based on oil take up to 24 hours to dry and a single coat can be applied in the span of one day. You can use the floor that had a coat of oil based poly with socks after 24 hours and not before that. Whereas water based polyethylene allows you to use it for walking with socks within 4 to 6 hours.


Fresh washes of oil based poly give a strong chemical smell and pungent odor which is never advised to inhale. Keep in mind that your clothes will give off the same essence for several hours, even after you are done with the wash. Using a respiratory mask is strictly suggested while applying washes of oil-based polys. Presence of clients and their pets is not advised while the oil based poly is applied and also when it is drying up. Now compared to oil based poly, a poly based on the water gives almost no odor and it does not demand the use of respirator nor does it demand the client or anyone to be out of the house while the process is going on.


Comparing the two types of polys, we know that at least 2 coats should be applied in case of water-based polys because they are acrylic and are open to surface scratches. This coating is harder than the other poly but it is thinner as well. For oil-based polys, three layers of coating can be the best selection because though they are thicker than water based poly, but they are softer as well. Therefore, owners of larger pets can apply another additional coat to avoid the dents laying in the susceptibility are of oil-based polys.


A water-based poly bucket of 5 gallons can cost you around $600 and an oil-based polyurethane bucket of the similar amount will end up costing you around $150. Beware that your contractor might be using low-quality water-based polyurethane if he is charging you with a lower bill, and his product might probably not last for long. As mentioned earlier, we recommend on Loba or Bona brand’s water-based polyurethanes to our clients as their products have the best durability and quality.


You have to use water-based poly if you intend for a hardwood floor of white stain, gray stain or white-wash. The reason is that yellow color will be reflected in the use of oil-based poly and their yellowish look will keep increasing. And for the very same reason, water-based poly comes as a perfect choice for certain wood types such as Maple.

The wood types which have a natural yellow tone them are also more likely to increase their yellow tone if an oil based poly is applied to them such as Fir, Ash or Pine. So unless you want to improve the yellow look, go for a water based poly with these wood types. However, it depends on the choice of the customer. They have shown quite positive responses to their water based poly washes.


A successful contractor should be able to provide an honest suggestion to his client as different areas and different climates prefer a different taste and choice for hardwood flooring.