Refinishing Hardwood Floors with Polyurethane: Water Based vs. Oil Based

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If you have an older hardwood floor that’s starting to be scuffed or damaged, it doesn’t necessarily need to be replaced.  Often, refinishing is the key to extending the floor’s lifespan.  By sanding away imperfections and then applying a new top coat of protective material, wood floor refinishing can easily add years -or decades- to your hardwood with a minimum of waste or expense.

One question that frequently arises when doing hardwood floor refinishing is whether it’s better to use water-based, or oil-based, polyurethane coating on top.  Fundamentally, both can be perfectly good approaches.  Which is “best” generally just depends on the project.  Let’s take a look at the differences between oil- and water-based polyurethane, and the properties of each.

Choosing Between Water- Or Oil-Based Polyurethane for Your Hardwood Floor Refinishing

1. Oil-Based Polyurethane

For starters, oil-based options are going to be less expensive in nearly all circumstances.  Oil-based polyurethane requires fewer coats than water-based solutions, and it’s cheaper to manufacture as well.  If you’re on a budget, that might be the deciding factor right there.

Oil-based poly will tend to darken the wood and give it a more “aged” look.  Whether this is right for your floor just depends on your tastes.  Oil-based coats are also a bit softer than water-based polys.  In short, this means that it’s less likely to get scratched, but it is more easily dented.  You will definitely want pads underneath all your furniture legs if you choose oil.

Finally, there’s the curing process.  Oil-based polyurethanes take longer to cure – up to 48 hours – and will produce significant fumes while doing so.  Evacuating the area, and wearing a respirator, are encouraged.

2. Water-Based Polyurethane 

The big advantages of water-based polys are that they are faster to cure, and do not produce much in the way of dangerous fumes.  A water-based coating is ready for use within around 12 hours of the final coat is applied.

Water-based solutions also dry clear, so they do not alter the look of the underlying wood.

Finally, they are harder than oil-based polys.  This means they are more difficult to dent but more susceptible to scratching.If you choose a water-based polyurethane, frequent vacuuming is a must to prevent the surface from being scuffed.

G3 Hardwood Flooring

Need more advice on your hardwood floor refinishing project?  Contact our team at G3 Hardwood Flooring for more information!