Which type of polyurethane is better for refinishing hardwood floors – oil-based or water-based polyurethane?

At Floor Coverings International, we offer both options, but I strongly recommend oil basedoil vs water based polyurethane - Dark hardwood oak polyurethane over water based because:

1. It looks better

2. It lasts longer

3. It costs less.

So, it seems like a no brainer, right? Well, usually it is a simple decision, but there certainly are some exceptions and different customers have different needs.


So, let’s explore this a bit further.

Advantages of oil-based polyurethane.

water vs oil polyurethane1. Oil based polyurethane looks better. It has a more depth – both in color and shine and it looks the way we expect hardwood to look. Water based polyurethane has both a duller color and a duller finish. 
As you can see from this picture, the difference is pretty dramatic. The water based polyurethane (left) is lighter and duller than the oil based poly on the right.





water vs oil based poly over timeThe other issue, when it comes to appearance, is that over time the polyurethane amberizes and darkens a bit…usually giving it a richer look while the water based poly just continues to get duller over time.


Please note that some people have commented that above picture is misleading because the samples shown are not on the same wood (the one on left looks like maple and the one on right looks like oak so it exaggerates the difference in water vs oil based poly.)  This picture (on the right) is from one of my customer’s houses where the previous owners used oil based poly on right and water borne poly on the left. This is not the best picture (esp due to the flash), and it’s time for them to refinish the floors, but it demonstrates the point.


Here are some more pictures – both from the same house.  The are both white oak.  The one on the left is white oak 5″ using water based poly (Bona Traffic).  The one on the right is 2 1/4″ white oak strip using oil based poly.   Note: on red oak (which is lighter than white oak), the water borne poly looks even paler.
Water borne poly (Bona Traffic) on white oak                   Oil based poly on white oak

bona traffic water based polyurethane on white oak

oil based poly on white oak











Also, you can click on these two pinterest pictures to see the impact of water vs oil polyurethane on oak and yellow pine.


2. Oil based polyurethane lasts longer than water based. There is no contest on the durability between the 2 options. Water based polyurethane has lower VOC’s – which is a bit of an environmental benefit (more aborefinish oil based polyurethaneut that in a moment) – but because it has lower VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds), it doesn’t last as long. Water based poly is thinner, and you often need 4-5 coats to equal the durability of 3 coats of oil based.


While I do not have detailed analytical studies, most customers who call me to refinish their floors and previously had water based poly, call me after 5-6 yrs vs. most customers that call me to refinish their oil based polyurethane call me at around the 10 yr mark. And, at those points in time, the water based poly looks way worse than the oil based – in fact, it’s usually peeling off and the hardwood is starting to look gray. What’ s also interesting is that almost all of my customers who have had water based polyurethane tell me they would NEVER do it again. They felt mislead by their previous flooring contractor. While sanding and refinishing is not terribly expensive, it can be rather inconvenient if you live in the home. You need to move all the furniture out and often go away for a week. So, if you’re going to go though the hassle of refinishing your floors, I recommend doing it right so it last longer.


3. Oil based polyurethane cost less than water based. The water-based material is more expensive, so often you will pay around 10-25% more. But, on top of the initial cost, you also need to consider that you will need to redo the whole job sooner…you will probably redo them almost twice as often.


Now, there are several benefits to water based polyurethane and in some circumstances, water based poly is a great option.

Advantages of water based polyurethane:

1. Water based polyurethane dries faster. In my opinion, this is the largest benefit of water based polyurethane. Usually, water based jobs can be done in 2 days and you can walk on it that night; oil based can take 3-5 days (pending on humidity) and you need to wait at least 24 hrs before walking on them. This option can really make sense for commercial businesses such as restaurants or stores as longer drying time means the store is closed, and there is a true business cost to that. But, for regular homeowners, usually, it’s worth waiting the extra 2-3 days in order to have the job last longer.


Brazilian Cherry Jatoba Hardwood Westchester countyI have many customers who are in a rush to move into their new home, but I always recommend that it’s worth delaying move in by a few days and get their floors done right. If they don’t, they will spend more time and money paying for this later. For customers already living in their home, I recommend that they do this while they will be away for a while. I would rather wait 6 months for their next trip and have them pay less and do it right with oil based. Why do I feel this way? Because they will be happier and save money.  I rely on happy customers who recommend me to their friends and come back to me years later for the other flooring in their home.


westchester maple flooring species water based poly2. Water based polyurethane doesn’t smell as bad. Because of this, many co-ops are now requiring their homeowners to use water based poly. I think this is a bit of a shame, but I understand it due to all the neighbors. For a regular house, it will not make much of a difference to your neighbors, and I will also point out that both water based and oil based poly smell, and I still recommend that customers go away or stay somewhere else while this work is being done.


3. Water based polyurethane is a bit better for the environment…but it does depends on how you look at it. Since water based polyurethane has lower VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds), it is a bit better for the environment. As mentioned above, the VOC’s are lower not non-existent. And, importantly, this environmental benefit only has an impact during the DRYING time. Once the poly is dry, there is no difference in smell, off-gassing, etc. And, yes, I did validate this with the manufacturer – and they offer both water and oil based (and they make more money on the water based so they have no reason to mislead here).


water vs oil based polyurethane for hardwoodNow, the skeptical New Yorker in me always sees both sides of the equation.  So, I will point out that while water based is a bit better for the environment, remember that it doesn’t last as long and the floors will need to be redone in a few years, thereby eliminating that benefit.  Furthermore, this will lead to an earlier demise of the wood, which in turn will result in more cut trees…so everything has a flip side.


Because water based polyurethanes only contain 30-35% solids (vs. oil based contain 45-50%) solids, you will need to add more coats of water based poly.  Water based poly tends to cost more than oil based poly.  And, when you add in an extra 1-2 coats, your cost will increase further. Among water based polyurethanes, most experts agree that Bona is the best brand, and specifically Bona Traffic line.  This product definitely costs extra, but if you are going to use a waterborne polyurethane, Bona is the way to go.


maple hardwood flooring from US4.  For Natural maple hardwood, water based poly tends to look better, especially over time.   Maple is lighter than oak, and with oil based poly, it really does tend to yellow a lot over time.  Generally, maple (without a stain) looks better with water borne poly.  The majority of homes in Westchester are made with oak hardwood,  and that is followed by older pine floors.  I would guess that this applies to around 5% or less of the floors in our county.




gray hardwood floor refinishing westchester county4a.  For white washed and gray stained floors, water based poly is a must.  Oil based poly will turn these floors yellow and look tacky and they will continue to amberize (i.e. yellow over time).  Bona Traffic is the best option for these floors as it is stronger/lasts longer vs. other basic water borne polyurethanes and Bona traffic yellows the least so your gray or white washed floors will look better longer.  Bona Traffic is definitely more expensive, but also worth it!  If you’re going to go through the expense of a gray or white washed floor, you might as well have them last longer.


Video – Oil vs water poly and advantages of oil based polyurethane

This is a 2 part video blog. Part 1 discusses the advantage of oil based polyurethane and Part 2 discusses the advantages on water borne poly.

Video – Oil vs water poly and advantages of water borne polyurethane

Flooring poll

Oil vs water based poly - Which do you prefer?


    oak hardwood with walnut border - oil based poly

    Other useful flooring articles:


    If you live in Westchester County NY, and you would like advice on refinishing your floors, please give The Flooring Girl a call at 914-937-2950.


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    My name is Debbie Gartner, and I'm known as "The Flooring Girl." I own my own flooring store called Floor Coverings International, and we serve Westchester NY and Fairfield CT counties.We install hardwood flooring, carpet, tile flooring, laminate, bamboo and cork flooring. We also refinish hardwood floors. We are a shop at home flooring store. You can call us at 914-937-2950 to schedule a free flooring consultation or email us at debbie@TheFlooringGirl.com. Let us "bring the store to your door."If you are calling outside of Westchester/Fairfield Counties, please contact us at 914-407-3899.

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    109 Response Comments

    • New Rochelle Real Estate  December 7, 2011 at 4:54 pm

      Love your new website. Wow, I didn’t realize what a big difference the type of polyurethane can make.

    • Lord  September 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm

      Oil-based polys may be more durable than water-based ones in general, but what about high-end water-based finishes like Bona Traffic HD that specifically claim 3x the durability under abrasion testing?

      • TheFlooringGirl  September 29, 2012 at 1:30 am

        Good question. The oil ones will still last longer.

        • Ginger Lange  January 25, 2013 at 6:55 pm

          Most of the big flooring companies whose websites I’ve read say that Bona Traffic HD is hands down the most durable urethane on the market—if it’s applied correctly by an experienced person. Done wrong, it’s a mess. I’m in Tennessee and most of the flooring companies that I’ve talked with say that they stick with oil because it’s what they know how to apply.

          • TheFlooringGirl  January 26, 2013 at 9:41 am

            Hi Ginger. I’d have to agree that Bona Traffic Master HD is the best of the water based polyurethane. That’s the one we use when we use water based polyurethane. That being said, the oil based polyurethanes last longer. My guys use both, so it’s not a matter of which they feel comfortable with – it’s a matter of which one lasts longer and looks better, and looks better for longer.

    • shelley  October 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm

      i can’t do any oil, i have a severe allergy to it. i was suppristed to find out the water based one also have poly in it. no matter i must do water based in order to be able to live in my house. sooo which water base do you recommend for longest lasting. also, can you tell me why i have black spots coming up on my floors. this is happening in all areas, trafic and non traffic.

      • TheFlooringGirl  October 1, 2012 at 8:43 pm

        Hi Shelley. If you have to use a water base, Bona traffic is a good choice.

        Regarding the black spots, that’s hard to say without seeing it. It could be that you have water damage and if so, that will not sand out. So, if that’s the case, you would need to get more wood there, weave it and and then refinish. Or, you could use a darker stain to cover it. It is also possible that you are just talking about the natural knots that hardwood has in which case there is nothing you can do about it except stain with a dark color to cover it up. You might want to consult a local expert near you.

      • Safe Mama  August 6, 2013 at 12:07 pm

        We are building a home and we are using Moocoat. It is totally FREE of any VIC’s and if the Europeans, Canadians and Aussie’s are loving you know it’s great! I have researched it extensively and talked to the owners and it is a wonderful non chemical flooring alternative. It is a known fact that chemicals cause cancer. Our bodie re the environment yet the own here touts Polyurethne, how sad when there is a Great and safe alternative for our children, babies ( who crawl all over the floors), and selves. I hope more contractors start using this product. Who cares if you have to redo the floors after a few years if it keeps my kids safe. That is the proper perspective and I am a skeptical American.

        • TheFlooringGirl  August 7, 2013 at 6:28 am

          Safe Mama – Yes, I have heard of this product and have heard that it does not work well nor last long. I agree that keeping children safe is important, and this is why it’s best to do this work while you are away or before you move in, regardless of which product you use. Once the poly has dried, there is no difference in health impacts. And, yes, I do think think it matters if you need to refinish the floors more often. First, this is bad for the environment as you are wearing though the wood twice as fast. And, yes, it will cost you more money, and unnecessarily, and yes, it’s extremely inconvenient. I understand your point of view, and we can agree to disagree. Everything in life is trade-offs, and this may be the better solution for you, but I don’t think it’s the better solution for most homeowners.

    • Christine  October 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm


      Great article…

      IYO…what would be a better choice in dealing with a large dog and nail scratches? Does it matter?

      Also, would a matte option make more sense?

      • TheFlooringGirl  October 12, 2012 at 11:55 pm

        Christine – For sure, I would recommend oil based for dogs.

    • Kristin Kassis  November 20, 2012 at 2:35 pm

      Hi there – our floors were done 8 years ago… two kids later, they need some buffing and a fresh top coat. We use a Poly Oil and it looks great – still does minus the scratches. We are getting new furniture so this is a good time to completely freshen the room. I was considering non-toxic, water-based products but am back to wanting oil for looks and durability. What is the best oil-based product with the lowest VOC rating? Thanks!

      • TheFlooringGirl  November 21, 2012 at 12:13 am

        Hi Kristin – I agree…I would go with the oil based poly. I don’t know the answer to your question. You may want to go to the manufacturer sites and see if you can get that specific info. But, in general the lower the VOC’s, the less long it will last. Personally, I would focus on what’s going to look best and last. Once it dries, the VOC’s are irrelevant. Hope that helps.

      • TheFlooringGirl  November 21, 2012 at 12:13 am

        Hi Kristin – I agree…I would go with the oil based poly. I don’t know the answer to your question. You may want to go to the manufacturer sites and see if you can get that specific info. But, in general the lower the VOC’s, the less long it will last. Personally, I would focus on what’s going to look best and last. Once it dries, the VOC’s are irrelevant. Hope that helps.

      • TheFlooringGirl  November 21, 2012 at 12:13 am

        Hi Kristin – I agree…I would go with the oil based poly. I don’t know the answer to your question. You may want to go to the manufacturer sites and see if you can get that specific info. But, in general the lower the VOC’s, the less long it will last. Personally, I would focus on what’s going to look best and last. Once it dries, the VOC’s are irrelevant. Hope that helps.

    • brad  December 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      Hi, nice article!
      My house was built in 1919 and has maple floors, I just finished sanding a small dineing rm and I found after ripping the carpet out it seems that their must of been (guessing) a 8×7 square throw carpet that someone actually varnished around and left the floor unpertected under the carpet for many yrs. After sanding their is now a 8×7 square shadow in the middle of the floor, shadow actually looks darker and better, whats the best option to blend this, I thought of useing a light stain on 1 out every 4 boards or so before applying oil poly, any suggestions???

      • TheFlooringGirl  December 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm

        Brad – Oh that is tricky. Maple seems to be more light sensitive than oak. Over time (and it may take many yrs), the rest will probably catch up. The floor darkens from the light and without the poly, it’s kind of like going to the beach without sunscreen. I think your gut is the right one – add a stain on some of them and do every few boards or so. If it still looks awkward, maybe put an area rug on top while the rest of floor darkens a bit more/catches up.

        I don’t think I would mix types of poly, but maybe you can apply a slightly thicker coat in this area. Not sure if that will help. Just my thoughts.

        • brad  December 26, 2012 at 3:18 am

          Debbie- thx for your reply! I ended up doing small test areas with waterbased and oil based poly both semi gloss, bona oil woodline was the clear winner with its richnes/shine and the way it brought out grain of the wood!

          Shadow concern in previous post is not a issue and blended beautiful. cant wait to refinish kitchen floor this spring

    • Ken  February 23, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      We have parkay flooring in our foyer and dining room. We are sanding it and want to put something real durable like a gym finish. According to your comments it seems we should use an oil based poly and do three coats. s this correct and what brand do you reccomend? Thanks

      • TheFlooringGirl  February 24, 2013 at 11:19 am

        Ken – Yes, I would recommend oil based poly and 3 coats. A satin finish will show dents/scratches better than glossy. (Technically, durability is the same, but is shows less with less gloss). Lenmar is a good brand of poly and I’m sure there are many others.

        • Emery  May 19, 2013 at 8:25 pm

          Gloss will show the dents and wear….not satin. The shiner the floor the less forgiving it is. Over time with traffic the sheen will wear down and have less shine. The areas that do not have as much traffic will stay shiny. Therefor the wear seems dramatic. Since satin finish is duller the wear does not seem as dramatic. Satin finish requires less maintenance.

          • TheFlooringGirl  May 29, 2013 at 7:35 pm

            Emery – Yes, I completely agree! We are both saying the same thing. And, thank you for your added context. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    • Dustin  March 8, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      It appears that in the sample picture above, both samples are not oak. It looks as if the one on the left is most likely water based poly on Maple, and the one on the right is oil based poly on Red Oak

      • TheFlooringGirl  March 9, 2013 at 9:05 am

        Dustin – Thanks for your comment. Yes, it does appear this way, but I’ve been told they are the same “wood.” However, all of the stain samples are “fake” and not on real wood. The best way to view this is on real wood on your own floor. Every floor looks different based on species (e.g. red vs. white oak), grade and age. While I can not attest to the validity of these samples (since I didn’t create them), in my experience, they do approximate the color difference you see in the poly between water and oil based, especially over time.

    • lori  April 20, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      had brazillian cherry on site finished floors sanded and water based put on lift marks everywhere 4 coats on when can he redo with oil based and how many coats does he have to do now he is sayinf only one because of the other water based ones

      • TheFlooringGirl  April 21, 2013 at 7:39 am

        First, if you are switching from water to oil or vice versa, I believe you need to wait a minimum of 30 days in between. I’ve heard it’s safer to wait at least 6 months. You should call the manufacturer to get their advice on this and number of coats. And, I would seek the advice of your installer. 4 coats of water is prob equiv to abt 2 of oil. However, if you are screening, you are removing one layer, so you will prob. need to add 2 coats of oil.

    • terry  May 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm

      two things i would like you to address first i understand that most prefinished companies use aluminum oxide in their finish but if you contact them ,and i have they talk about substantial duarbility compared to after market oil base,( they all use water based) and then you never mention the overwhelming results from a taber test comparison that shows incredible wear resistance because how flexible water is compared to the brittle nature of oil based. not to mention the odd discoloration it puts on some exotics, and cant even be used on some woods

      • TheFlooringGirl  May 8, 2013 at 8:31 pm

        Hi Terry. Yes, first of all most prefinished hardwoods use aluminum oxide and that is what gives them extra scratch protection, regardless of whether they use water or oil based poly. Aluminum oxide can not be added onsite in someone’s house; it can only be applied in the factory. It is the aluminum oxide in those cases, not the poly that is giving it extra protection. Also, BTW, most prefinished, but certainly not all, do use oil based. But, again, it’s not the poly, nor even the number of layers that is making the difference – it’s the aluminum oxide. Not sure what you mean about odd discoloration on exotics. Usually, discoloration is caused from sun/windows, though more often than not for the exotics, the colors darkens over time from light. That has nothing to do with the poly.

    • Emery  May 19, 2013 at 8:17 pm

      Sorry to say that the picture you used to show the difference between oil and water are actually 2 different species of wood. The one you say is water base is a maple and the one said to have oil base finish is oak. Looks to be quarter sawn. I do however agree with you on the aspect of durability and looks. Oil gives a nice amber look and makes the floors glow. It also penetrates and is much thicker. However oil base on maple will yellow very quickly. I prefer water on maple. Other than that I’m an oil guy all the way.

      • TheFlooringGirl  June 1, 2013 at 3:49 pm

        Emery – I agree that the samples look like different woods and one looks like maple, but it does approximate how the colors look. I so agree w/ you on the beautiful amber glow from the oil based. And, I also agree, that oil often does not look on maple for the exact same reason. Excellent point!

    • jackie  July 1, 2013 at 5:18 pm

      For kitchen floor which one will be better? Is oil based safe for kitchen floor since it is more combustiable and flammable?. In case of fire does oil based produces more harmful smoke? Please reply

      • TheFlooringGirl  July 4, 2013 at 8:17 am

        I would recommend oil based poly for the kitchen as it will hold up much better. I honestly don’t know if there is a difference in the smoke if your kitchen catches on fire. You could call the manufacturers about that. That is a very rare occurrence but if it does happen, I would recommend leaving the house.

        If you’re asking me whether one is more likely to catch on fire, I doubt there is much of a difference at all. It’s wood, so I guess wood could catch on fire. But, I would think the cabinets would catch on fire way more often and easily than the wood floors.

    • Royster  July 5, 2013 at 1:40 pm

      Been refinishing gym wood floors for 16 years. We like to refinish every year to give each season a fresh new look. We also find no issues with screening off a oil based finish & changing over to a water base. We find that trying to go from water to oil does not work well & we experience issues with the finishes not bonding (peeling). We have to sand the floor to change over from water based to oil. 2 coats of water base is all that it takes as long as we apply within 3 hours. The only issue we find with water based is that the finish is not clear through to the wood. Tends to refract the lights over the floor as you look directly down at the surface. We do love the fact we can wet clean the floor with an automop or clean up after events with a damp water process because the finish is no longer water soluable.

      • TheFlooringGirl  July 6, 2013 at 5:30 am

        Royster – Thanks for your input. Yes, I agree, usually it’s best to stick with either oil or water (oil and water don’t mix, right?). Certainly, if you do change, you should wait a long time (e.g. 6 months or more), but in general, yes, it’s best to stick w/ type and use it. And, yes, when you are screening often, it can help with the upkeep on of the floor. I recently did a post on that topic, too.

    • Dee  July 7, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      I just read your advice on oil vs. water-based poly and I am so thankful for your wisdom. I probably should have known that the hardest-working guy is the one who recommended the oil-based poly. I just felt skeptical because I felt like he was basically saying I only had 3 options of stain and at one point he recommended just adding paint thinner to get a lighter color than the medium brown he had on hand. That made me nervous. But I like the idea of using the poly because it will SHOW the character of these old floors that we reclaimed from an old schoolhouse. Is that accurate?

      • TheFlooringGirl  July 7, 2013 at 7:29 pm

        Dee – Thanks so much. Yes, you should be able to get that look with the oil based and it will hold up longer which is even more important if your floors are older (and may have limited number of sandings ahead of them).

    • Natalie Ceja  July 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      Are their pads or protective products out there that can be placed under the feet of furniture, that really work, to minimize scratching the floor? I’ve bought some in the past but they still scratched the floor.

      • TheFlooringGirl  July 20, 2013 at 4:49 pm

        Natalie – Yes, there are felt pads that work better…but I am not an expert on felt pads. Also, it seems that there are some types of furniture that scratch less. You may want to go to a furniture store and ask them for advice.

    • Tracy Gage  July 28, 2013 at 7:28 pm

      Can you tell me how long I should keep my family out of the house after having the floors refinished with oil based poly? Our contractor insisted we use oil-based and now I am feeling worried because I have a one year old baby who spends most of the day at home with me, crawling around on the floors. I understand oil poly is longer lasting but at this point I think I made a huge mistake as keeping the air in our house healthy far outweighs the look of my floors. How long would you recommend we stay out of the house? I have terrible allergies and asthma but so far my two children don’t. I have searched all day on the web and so far your site has been the most informative. Can you share your opinion and experience re: health and air quality here? Thanks!

      • TheFlooringGirl  July 30, 2013 at 7:44 am

        In the long run, there is no difference in air quality – once the floors have dried and smell has gone away. It does take a bit longer for the smell to dissipate for oil based poly. You may want to call a manufacturer of poly to get their opinion, but I would guess maybe 3-4 days. Open the windows to help the air circulate. Hope that is helpful.

    • Jim the Builder  August 5, 2013 at 11:02 pm

      I have heard about using aniline dye to color my oak floors, instead of stain. They offer me water, alcohol or oil based dye. What do you recommend for the dye base and what do you recommend over it? I have heard of some using boiled linseed oil over the aniline dye and under the poly. Thanks.

      • TheFlooringGirl  August 24, 2013 at 9:35 am

        You know, I’m not an expert on aniline dye, but I was just discussing this with an installer. This is a great option if you want very dark/super ebony floors. It’s more expensive and more challenging to do. If you do use it, this is an instance where you need to do water based poly on top, otherwise, it won’t stick properly. Be sure to do at least 3 coats water based poly.

    • Toby  August 13, 2013 at 11:50 pm

      I am not the most leading expert, but I have been refinishing floors for for 30 years. Oil based poly is hands down by far better than water based. Only a fool with no experience would claim otherwise. Everything you state is true, especially the environmental part. It does not make any sense to have less VOC’s if you just have to apply it more often. Common sense? Our government doesn’t have any! Keep up the good work!

      • TheFlooringGirl  August 14, 2013 at 6:04 am

        Toby – Thank you so much. Yes, and refinishing less often prolongs the wood for longer as well. I so agree.

    • Tribotech offers Pin on disc machines in various models and in various configurations  September 5, 2013 at 4:58 am

      It’s awesome to have all the info on this site. I didn’t realize what a big difference the type of polyurethane can make.

    • Lainy  September 14, 2013 at 12:44 am

      We are looking for a contractor to refinish the floors on a house we purchased. We want them done before we move in. Some tell me oil poly is better and others say water based poly is better. Your website has been very helpful. I originally thought the oil based was better and you proved it. The contractors who quoted higher, used water based
      . My question is, I have 2 small dogs. the one dog is 13 years and has some accidents once in a while. I use Natures Miracle for cleaning. How will this affect newly refinished floors? I watch him carefully and confine him in the kitchen (has linoleum) when we leave the house the other dog,puppy (2 yrs) and upon leaving the house I put him in his crate.
      Also, I am confused on what Brand and type of oil based poly to use on the floors.Every contractor says the product they use is the best. I want my floors to last a long time This is the first time we have a project done like this.What is the best poly coating to use on floors that will last?
      Thank You

      • TheFlooringGirl  September 15, 2013 at 7:52 am

        Hi Lainy – Yes, there are probably many great oil based polyurethanes. They may even be regional. I’m not sure. We usually use Lenmar or Hartco. I’m sure there are other great polyurethanes as well. Regarding cleaning products, I’m not an expert and you may want to call the manufacturer. If it has oils or waxes in it, I would definitely stay away from that as it can degrade the poly finish.

    • Jeff Fritzson  January 2, 2014 at 9:22 am

      HI Debbie – thanks for sharing this both for my personal knowledge and my clients. It is always great to have a third party expert like yourself help clients maximize their investment. This will provide them great information to make a good decision for their homes.

      • TheFlooringGirl  January 2, 2014 at 11:41 am

        Thank you so much, Jeff. I’m so glad that this is helpful. This is especially important for those moving into new homes.

    • Kat Palmiotti  January 2, 2014 at 10:50 am

      Debbie –
      This was a very helpful overview of the differences between oil-based and water-based. I have to say that based on the oil based lasting longer, looking better and being less expensive, that is definitely the way I would go!!!

    • Christine Smith  January 3, 2014 at 8:36 am

      Debbie….as always, some great information here so people can make an informed decision.

      • TheFlooringGirl  January 3, 2014 at 2:17 pm

        Thanks so much Christine and thank you for sharing on Google Plus. I really appreciate it.

    • Ken  May 31, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      I am surprised that you state Poly Urethane Amberises over time – as on the Poly’s I have read the labels and they say that is false – even on their websites. At least you are honest about it. I used Poly Urethane on furniture and YES it most certainly yellows – I cant say that this is any benefit – I would argue that it is detrimental to the quality – so my question is ; is there anything other than Poly to coat the floor with and get good durability ?

      • TheFlooringGirl  June 1, 2014 at 5:13 am

        Ken – That is really interesting (and surprising) that the products claim they don’t amberize. Almost all do to some extent. I believe it’s just part of the oxidation process w/ light. In my experience, you don’t notice is as much w/ dark stains. And, water borne poly amberizes much less.

        With many colors, the amberizing, in my opinion, does not look bad, but there are some customers that really dislike this. It’s really a matter of opinion. If you are doing a color that has white wash or gray of some sort, the amberizing or yellowing looks really bad, and this is an instance where you really want to use a water borne poly rather than oil based as it will look much better.

    • Jane  July 1, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      Hi Debbie, Love your site! We have had our floors done recently with Polyurethane satin (solvent or oil based, not sure..). If in the future we wanted to change to a water based product (like Bona Traffic), would it work to re-sand the current poly off and put down the water based product? Are there any potential problems in doing that? thanks for any advice!

      • TheFlooringGirl  July 4, 2014 at 9:27 pm

        Hi Jane. Thx so much.

        Yes, you can definitely resand your floors and change over water based product (or even vice versa). If you do a full sand & refinish, you can do this at any time. If you are doing a screen & recoat (where you are not sanding, but you are just buffing and adding another coat of poly), it’s ideal to wait at least 6 months before you change from oil to water. Hope that helps.

    • Evan  July 29, 2014 at 2:32 pm

      Hey Flooring Girl-
      Looking to find a great poly oil based that I can spray on a huge oak tabletop with a large inlayed motif. It is a tribal council table and seats 14 members. Like everyone, I need long lasting durability and abrasion resistance. I’m am after a clear semi gloss or satin. what would you recommend? I’m here because I thought floor finish would be a good start for toughness! Thanks in advance for any tips.

      • TheFlooringGirl  July 31, 2014 at 5:23 am

        Hi Evan. You know, I’m not sure if it would be ideal to use a flooring product on tables. I would recommend that you ask the manufacturers about this. It’s possible that they have different blends. I’m not sure. Personally, I think Lenmar is a great brand and so it Hartco, but there are probably others that are good, too.

    • Rolfe  August 11, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks for the help on my wood floors…. very good and accurate information!

      • TheFlooringGirl  August 13, 2014 at 7:33 pm

        Rolfe – Thank you so much. It was a pleasure speaking with you on the phone. I hope you can find someone local to do a great job.

    • DJ Prole  August 14, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      HI, our Polyurethane Coating has been flaking off our floors, is this toxic if eaten? we are worried about our pets and baby

      • TheFlooringGirl  August 16, 2014 at 9:10 pm

        Hi DJ. I would guess that would not be healthy if eaten in the same way that it’s not healthy to eat paint. I would dry to sweep it up. I kind of doubt the dog or cat would eat it, but for babies that explore and learning things through touch and eating, it could be more of an issue. Maybe place the baby on an area rug until the time you can go away and refinish the floors.

        You could call some of the companies directly to see their thoughts and advice.

        All that aside, if your poly is flaking off, it’s probably time to refinish the floors. It could be that whoever did the floors (if they were done recently) did not do them correctly.

    • Bruce Andrew  November 7, 2014 at 2:14 am

      Hi Debbie – it was really great to read your comments on oil versus water based polyurethane. My previous home was originally done with oil based and when I had another room done the contractors recommended water based – the floors looked rather dull compared with the oil based floors. I moved house (this one built around 1925) six months ago and lifted the old carpet in the lounge to discover a beautiful matai (NZ native tree) floor that had been polyurethaned many years ago. I am getting it sanded etc next month and your comments have assured me that oil based is the best way to go. Again many thanks – Bruce, Auckland NZ

      • TheFlooringGirl  November 9, 2014 at 1:15 pm

        Bruce – Thank you so much. That means the world to me. Oh, and I’ve never seen those types of floors. Must be native to your area, and not very common here in the US. Congrats on your new home and great discovery.

    • Joe I  December 1, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      Hi Debbie, first of all might i say how inciteful your article was. I have found it extremely helpful being a long time researcher of the best finishes to use (you definitely know your stuff). My wife and I just bought a home and i am currently redoing the floor. After stripping away the tacky finish that was currently there, i found that the foyer is oak and the dining room and living room appear to be some type of Puritan Pine. So two things, do you recommend a sand sealer if you keep the floors natural (no stain at all) and more importantly, what are your thoughts on water based oil-modified poly? I have read many different reviews stating that it is about as durable as regular oil-based with the positive properties of regular water-based such as odor and such. Being as we are not staining them, your article was swaying me to just go with oil given the added ambering properties, however i still like the idea of the clean-up, dry time and less odor of water based thus the water based oil-modified. What would you say?

      • TheFlooringGirl  December 2, 2014 at 6:26 pm

        Hi Joe. Thx so much for your comment and question. BTW, Puritan Pine is a stain color…I think you may mean that you have some species of pine. Either way, pine is softer than hardwood, so I think that the oil based poly is the better way to go. I will ask my head foreman what he thinks on modified water/oil based. My guess is that is is somewhere in between the two. He has used it at times, but often to get a desired color and/or to go on top of water based (i.e. to make it darker. I don’t know instances where it would be better to solely use it, but I’ll ask him and get his thoughts. I am not surprised that you are reading mixed results. It seems to me that the drying and curing time would be faster, but lower durability.

        • Joe I  December 2, 2014 at 8:47 pm

          Debbie, Thank you so much for your feedback, ahh yes i guess it would just be pine then, thank you for the clarification. Yes that would be excellent, after your article I definitely think i am leading more and more towards the regular Oil. Thank you VERY much again! Joe

    • Jean  December 23, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      I wish you were down in NJ… I am putting in white oak and I think I want a waterlox finish (tung oil). I would love to hear your opinion on it.

      • TheFlooringGirl  December 27, 2014 at 8:35 am

        Thx Jean. Wish we lived closer to each other. Waterlox is a good product but rather expensive. I would do a search online to see if you can find some good pictures of wood with this finish.

    • Diane  February 13, 2015 at 8:50 pm

      Debbie, Thanks so much for your informative website. It has really helped me out a lot. You just don’t know how much.I live in Virginia otherwise I would call you for an estimate to do my floors. I’m going to try to do it myself. I’m terrified to us the drum sander and was wondering if I use the random orbital sander from Home Depot would it do the same job to sand the finish off but just take longer? I’m going to use the Lenmar poly and they have on their instructions to”remove all sanding dust with a DRY cloth”. Everywhere I read say to use a cloth with mineral spirits on it. Do I use the mineral spirits on the cloth? Someone above asked the question about if I’m not going to stain after sanding should I use their sealer for the first coat? Then two coats of the uncut poly? Ideally I should stay away from the house a week after the last coat, but approximately how many days after the last coat will I be able to safely (or tolerate) the smell? Thanks so much for your time and input.

      • TheFlooringGirl  February 22, 2015 at 6:01 pm

        Diane – Apologies for the delayed response. I was away. First, let me say that if you rent equipment from Home Depot, no matter what, your floors will not come out the same. Their machines are lighter and inferior and you will not have the proper weight on the floor so there is no way that you can get a professional finish. That doesn’t even factor the skills of the person using the machine. If you just use the orbital sander, your results will be even worse as this is just used for the buffing and not the sanding.

        I would recommend that you hire a professional refinisher in your local market. If you can’t afford it, then just have them do a smaller section…reapply the money you would spend on renting the equipment and the materials. Then, later when you have more money, do more.

        Most people that I’ve spoken to that refinished their floors (or tried to) would NEVER do it again.

    • Joann  April 8, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      Your site is fantastic, thank you! I am having my floors sanded as I speak and was going to have the water poly used, but not now. My question is about cleaning- I have cats and love to use a whisk type broom (handmade) for sweeping up the hair, works great. Will this scratch the floor? Second, do I need a special attachment when using a vacuum? The attachment I have has a brush but it is not really soft. Lastly, what do you recommend as a cleaning product? Thank you very much!

      • TheFlooringGirl  April 10, 2015 at 6:14 am

        Joann – Thx so much for the compliment. I would definitely stay away from brooms, esp a whisk type broom (regardless of type of poly). That will scratch of the floor. I’m not an expert of vacuum attachments, but in general be careful and soft is better. You may want to research this online and/or call a manufacturer. they may recommend staying away from vaccuums all together or they may know right attachment. But, in general, softer is better. Try swiffer.

        Bona is a great cleaning product that I would highly recommend.

        • Joann  April 11, 2015 at 9:45 am

          Debbie, thank you for taking the time to respond!
          I will try the Bona and I will keep my broom cleaning in the kitchen!

    • rachel halpern  April 29, 2015 at 12:32 am

      Never read such an informative column.Had bona traffic applied on brand new oak floors 3 years ago. It’s peeling in so many areas not necessarily all high traffic areas. Have you ever heard or seen that before?

      • TheFlooringGirl  May 3, 2015 at 10:51 pm

        Rachel – It is most likely because the floors were not properly sanded. They need to sand 3 times finer and finer grits. If the stain and/or 1st coat of poly does not adhere/absorb properly it can peel prematurely.

    • dana  May 16, 2015 at 2:35 am

      So, it sounds like its the lighter colors that will yellow with oil based poly. But, is there a dividing line or shade as to when you need to worry about that?

      My place has a lot of windows and light that I need to be concerned with that. Are there any other woods other than maple that I have to worry about yellowing a lot?

      I have a rental that I’m considering in putting in wood flooring in the less trafficked rooms like living room and bedrooms upstairs. And, in a previous post, you wrote about using lighter colored floors to hide scratches.

      It seems like I’m facing two conflicting choices. If I go with a lighter color to hide scratches, then I have to use water based poly which isn’t as durable. But, if I go with something darker which will work with oil based poly, then scratches will pop up more with that.

      Do you have any recommendations for a wood or shade so I can have the best of both worlds- something light enough so scratches won’t show but not so light that I’d need to use water based poly for it?


      • TheFlooringGirl  May 16, 2015 at 3:21 am

        Dana – Yes, oak is a great solution. It’s light (just a bit darker than maple) and works well with oil based poly (as well as a wide range of stains). The graining hides the scratches better than most woods. Hickory is another option, but more expensive and a bit “busier.” oak is very reasonably priced and widely appealing.

    • Lexie  March 27, 2013 at 12:34 pm

      Believe it or not , I have 3 boys and 3 girls. We also have an active 2 year old female Boxer in our home. Our oak floors were finished with a water based finish 6 years ago. It still looks great. They used a satin sheen and added a hardener to the finish. They sealed the floor and applied 2 coats and it looks great.

      I think it comes down to maintenance rather than which finish is stronger. By the way we don’t remove our shoes, but we sweep dust and debris away twice a week. takes only 3 minutes to do but the floor doesn’t get scratches from sand and dirt.

    • TheFlooringGirl  March 29, 2013 at 6:21 am

      Lexie – I’m so glad to hear that. I agree that maintenance is key, and I have a separate post on that. It’s actually a combo of the poly and the maintenance. Also, satin sheen tends to look better longer, so good call on that. And, lighter colors tend to last longer.


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