The Difference Between Water-Based and Oil-Based Polyurethane Finishes

Sanding Abrasive Products 1-800-860-SANDAfter you have installed and sanded your new wood floors, it is time to add the finishing touch: a sealant. There are several types of wood floor finishes available on the market, so it is important to educate yourself on the differences among them all in order to choose the right one. A common choice you are likely to face will be to decide between water-based polyurethane finishes or oil-based polyurethane finishes. Although they are mostly similar in terms of performance and protection, they deliver many different results. Continue reading to learn the differences between the two before applying your final touches to your wood floor project.

Water-Based Polyurethanes

Also known as acrylic polyurethane floor finishes, water-based polyurethanes are known for their clear coat and fast drying time. When they dry, they dry much lighter and quicker than alternative sealants. And they render a much milder odor. After initial application, you only have to wait 2 hours in between coats. So if you start your project early in the morning, you can sleep in (or utilize) the room the same night. But be aware, there are a few obstacles with water-based polyurethanes.

Water-based polyurethanes generally contain between 30 and 35% solids, whereas oil-based finishes contain between 45 and 50% solids. So although they can offer the same amount of protection, water-based finishes require more coats to do so. In fact, the manufacturer recommendation is four coats, along with additional coats every 2 to 4 years. Another drawback is that they are more expensive, almost twice the cost of oil-based sealers.

Oil-Based Polyurethanes

Oil-based polys provide a much warmer, almost amber-colored finish. They bring out the “richness” in wood. Because they contain between 45% and 50% solids, they do not require more than 2 or 3 coats, however, they do require longer drying times in between applications. Generally, you will need to wait 5 hours between coats, 12 hours after the final coat, and at least another 12 hours before utilizing the room again. Oil-based finishes have much stronger odor too, so it is important to keep the room well-ventilated and vacant.

Overall, the biggest and most influential difference between water-based polyurethanes and oil-based polyurethanes is appearance. If you want a rich, warm glow to your wood floors, then you would likely prefer an oil-based finish, but if you desire a natural look to your wood, then a water-based sealer is probably right for you.

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