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Refinishing Hardwood Floors: Oil-Based vs Water-Based Polyurethane

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Refinishing hardwood floors is a great project to maintain value in your house. When starting any home improvement project, it’s important to know your options and educate yourself on the pros and cons of the various products available to you. Today we’re going to look at polyurethane floor finishes, oil-based vs water-based.

Known for its durability and resilience, polyurethane is the most popular floor finish on the market. There are two available types of polyurethane – oil-based and water-based polyurethane. Both have their pros and cons and both are viable options when refinishing your hardwood floors.

Oil-Based Polyurethane

The traditional floor finish, oil-based polyurethane is widely celebrated for its incredible durability. The technical director for Minwax, a polyurethane production company, Lance Hemsarth is a die-hard oil-based polyurethane fan and believes this product is the standard when it comes to performance.

The oil-based finish also offers more wiggle room when it comes to working mistakes out of the finish. Because this option stays wet for longer, it’s easier to return to correct bubbles, bumps, and grooves you may not have seen initially.

Another advantage of oil-based polyurethane is the cost. Oil-based finish tends to be more affordably priced than water-based. And who doesn’t like to save a little money?

So what’s the downside to oil-based floor finishes? It takes a whopping 24 hours for one coat to dry. That means your weekend project just turned into a week-long project. This finish also turns an amber color as it ages, which can change the color of your beautiful wood floor. Lastly, oil-based polyurethane emits toxic fumes, making it less healthy for you and the environment and requiring additional gear to protect yourself during the process.

Water-Based Polyurethane

A newer alternative to oil-based finishes, water-based polyurethane is the more environmentally-friendly version. Not only does this option eliminate the pesky fumes and need for protective-wear, it dries in a mere 2 hours and is sock-ready in only 7 hours! That means refinishing hardwood floors can be done in a quick weekend.

Water-based floor finishes also maintain a consistently clear finish, even over time. While the aging coloration may not be noticeable with certain types of wood, others will show changes very clearly. You don’t have to worry about your elegant maple floor changing appearance over time; it’s a non-issue with water-based polyurethane.

However, because of its fast-drying nature, water-based polyurethane is unforgiving with bubbles and ridges if you don’t work them out initially. You can’t go back and rework water-based finishes. This also makes it crucial to maintain a “wet edge” during the process to avoid ridges. Water-based finishes can also be more costly and aren’t known to be as durable as oil-based, which may mean your next go at refinishing hardwood floors might be sooner than you think.


Different finishes work for different projects and spaces. Know the facts, advantages, and disadvantages to the products you use and make an educated decision before jumping in to a project!

If you’re looking at refinishing hardwood floors for your next home improvement project, learn more about the sanding process and the floor finish application process before getting started. Contact Time Equipment Rentals & Sales today for more information on refinishing hardwood floors and home improvement.


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