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What is the Best Water Based Polyurethane?

High durability water-borne polyurethane brands – The top 3 choices

Over the years, we have tested MANY brands of polyurethane…on thousands of floors, and I want to share with you the best water based poly that we have found for hardwood flooring.

Best water based polyurethane

Contrary to what many may instinctively think, there are some super durable brands of water-borne polyurethane that are HIGHLY DURABLE…and in fact EQUALLY as durable as the top oil based polyurethane brands.


best water based brand of polyurethane for hardwood floorsThis is because the manufacturers keep testing and improving the formulas.  8 to 10 years ago, I used to recommend oil based polyurethane over water based poly.


But, now due to all the improvements and added advantages to water borne polyurethane, my answer for whether to use oil or water based polyurethane really depends on the look/stain color choice, budget and type of wood being used.


review of best water borne polyurethane brandsIn this article, I will share the best brands of water based polyurethane on the market, where you can buy them, as well as when water based poly makes more sense than oil based poly.


I will also share the poorly rated water borne polyurethanes – the ones you want to avoid by all costs.


And, I will delve into when you should consider oil based poly.


Please note that this article contains affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you purchase them.  I only recommend products we use and love.  You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.


Best brand of water based polyurethane

If you’re curious (or in a hurry)

✅ This specific brand of polyurethane is the most popular with our readers.


It’s the most durable, looks the best, yellows the least, smells less and cures fastest.


review of best water based polyurethane brandsIt does cost more than an oil based polyurethane, but it’s equally as durable, smells way less, dries much faster and has lower VOCs (volatile organic compounds).


It’s specifically designed for hardwood floors and to hold up to heavy traffic, pets…and even commercial traffic. It’s available in extra matte, satin, and semi-gloss finishes (extra matte and satin are most popular).


If you can get it for under $150, grab it. That’s one heck of a deal on a GREAT polyurethane!  (check current price).


Is water-borne polyurethane durable?

best water based polyurethane for floorsYES!!  It may come as surprise to many that when you use a high grade polyurethane such as Bona Traffic HD, it is EQUALLY as durable as a high grade oil based.  This was not the case 10 year ago.  The formulas have really improved.  And, this only holds true if it’s a high grade water based poly (a low grade water poly will be inferior).


Oil vs water based polyurethane

In general, most flooring professionals will tell you that oil based polyurethane is more durable than water borne poly. That is because most water borne polyurethanes are inferior.  HOWEVER, if you are using a top notch brand, such as Bona Traffic HD, this is not true  In this case, they are EQUALLY as durable.


water borne wood finish for hardwoodOil based poly will give you a slightly darker and more yellow look than water based.  This is great for darker colors as it gives you a darker and richer look.  But, on light color (or natural) wood, it makes the wood look more yellow and dated (and it yellows more over time).  If you are going for lighter and more natural color, or using a gray or white washed color, water based poly is a better option.  It will be lighter and won’t amberize as much.


best water based polyurethane for floors | water based urethaneA good water borne poly will cost more than oil based poly, so this is the one big downside.  But, it will smell way less, dry and cure much faster (so it will shorten the process and allow you to move your furniture back faster), and it has lower VOCs (Volatile organic compounds).


You can read more about polyurethane in these 2 articles:  Best brands of polyurethane (both oil and water based) and Oil vs Water based poly – pros and cons.


Best water based Polyurethanes for floors – 2020

Bona Traffic HDHigh Grade water based polyurethane - check price
Loba 2K SupraHigh Grade best water based polyurethane for floors- check price
Street ShoeMid-High Grade polyurethane water based - check price
Bona MegaMid Grade best water based polyurethane - check price


The 4 most durable brands of water based polyurethane

1.  Bona Traffic HD

review for Bona Traffic HD polyurethane - best water borne poly for wood floorsBona Traffic HD (Heavy Duty) is hands down the best water borne polyurethane on the market.  It has the highest durability and is considered commercial grade which means it’s great for busy restaurants and retail stores, and will certainly hold up in your residential home.  Bona Traffic definitely costs more, but it is worth it.  If you ask almost any experienced flooring professional, they will agree.

hardwood floor finishing coat - bona traffic HD

Bona Traffic is a 2 part product.  It comes with a hardener that you mix in, so it becomes very hard and durable. It has a contemporary and upscale look as it doesn’t have the yellow glow that you see in oil based polyurethane.  And, compared to other water borne polyies, it just looks cleaner and more natural.


water based floor finishBona Traffic is the best product for gray and white wash stains, as well as maple as it amberizes (or yellows) the least vs any other product.  Also, if you want your oak floors to be as light as possible (and the least yellow), this is the best option.


In addition, Bona Traffic is environmentally friendly.  It has very low VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) – less than 150.  It has low odor.  It’s GreenGuard certified meaning it’s safe for children and pets and it’s school certified.

Buy it now on Amazon - best brand of polyurethane finish - Bona Traffic HD


What’s the difference between Bona Traffic and Bona Traffic HD?

Often the terms Bona Traffic and Bona Traffic HD are used interchangeably (I often catch myself doing this, especially when I’m speaking with a customer).  Bona Traffic HD is a little better than the original Bona Traffic.  It costs a bit more, but it’s not a significant difference in price.  And, I will say that both are top-notch options.


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Here are the benefits of Bona Traffic HD (vs original Bona Traffic):

  • Lower odor
  • Slightly lower VOCs (Bona Traffic is 150 VOCs and Bona Traffic HD is <125 VOCs)
  • It dries and cures a bit faster, especially over the the 1st 24-48 hours.  (This can be a big benefit for households with dogs as well as those in a rush to move into a new home as the movers are less likely to scratch the floors).


You can learn a bit more in this video on Bona Traffic vs Bona Traffic HD


Bona Traffic is available extra matte, satin, and semi-gloss finishes (extra matte and satin are most popular).


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2.  Loba 2K Supra

Loba 2K Supra has been coming in at a VERY close second place. It seems to have all the qualities of Bona Traffic – high durability, virtually no yellowing, low VOCs, low smell, quick drying and curing time.


We’ve been testing and using it for about 2 1/2 years at this point and have been pleasantly surprised with the results.  Our customers have been thrilled as well.


The cost of the two products is virtually the same,


The only reason we have Bona Traffic ranked ahead of Loba is due to the longevity of testing. Bona has certainly proven itself over the long term of 10+ years and Loba just hasn’t had enough lapses time to prove itself for that duration (as it’s a newer product.


You can’t go wrong with either of these, and you’ll be in great shape with either selection.  it’s really when you move down a grade to the number 3 choice that you’ll start to see a quality difference.

Loba 2K Supra - polyurethane water based


3.  StreetShoe Polyurethane

best brands of water based polyurethane - Streetshoe finishStreetShoe would be my 2nd choice water borne polyurethane.  It used to be the gold standard (and we used to use it) until Bona Traffic came along.  It’s a strong polyurethane and last much longer than virtually all water based polyurethanes on the market.  It costs a bit less than Bona Traffic (and more than your basic polyurethanes) as it’s a higher grade.

Buy it now on Amazon - Streetshoe polyurethane finish and varnish


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4.  Bona Mega

Bona Mega water borne polyurethane finish Bona Mega is a mid grade water borne polyurethane. We use this when our customers want (or are required by their co-op) to use water borne poly, but their budget won’t accomodate Bona Traffic. It’s a good water borne poly. There are certainly better ones out there (see above), but there are certainly many many lower grade ones out there.

Buy it now on Amazon - water based polyurethane - Bona Mega


Generally, if you are getting a much lower price on refinishing using a water borne poly, chances are the installer is using an inferior water borne product. See below for some polyurethanes that are lower grade and I would try to avoid.<


When is it better to use water based poly (rather than oil)

 best brand water borne poly for refinishing hardwood flooring1.  When you are using a gray stain, white wash, gray or greige blend (ONLY use water borne poly for these and ideally Bona Traffic HD, oil based will turn these yellow and lower grade water based poly won’t be as bad as oil based, but they will be a bit more amber and turn more yellow over time).


2.  When you want a lighter and more natural look…and when you want to avoid yellow in your floors.


3.  When you are refinishing maple and going natural.  While maple is lighter than oak, it’s is more sensitive to the light and UV rays, so if you use an oil based poly, it will turn yellow…and look very dated and worn quickly (often within 1 year).


review of best brands of water polyurethane and varnish finishes4  When smell is a major concern.  This could be because you or a family member would prefer to reduce odor (as well as the VOCs, if you have young ones, or if you live in an apartment, and you are concerned about the smell for the neighbors.  Or it could be if you plan to say in another part of the house while the work will be done.


5  When timing is tight.  Often, when you use water borne poly, it can save you 1-2 days in the process, and you can move the furniture back sooner.  Also, because it cures faster than oil based poly, dogs can go on the floors sooner, and they are less likely to cause scratches over the first few weeks.


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When it makes more sense to use oil based poly

best brands of water borne polyurethane for floors | oil modified polyurethane1. When you want a very dark stain.  If you are going for a dark stain, oil based poly tends to look better.


2.  When you have a dark species.  Often darker and redder woods, such as Brazilian Cherry and Brazilian Walnut, tend to look better and richer with an oil based poly.


brand reviews for water based polyurethanes3.  When money is a concern.  Oil based poly is generally less expensive than water borne poly, especially if you are comparing it to a high grade water based poly such as Bona Traffic HD,



DEBBIE GARTNERWAIT! Are you about to sand your floors? Not sure how long to wait before using them? Avoid these common pitfalls that can impact your floor’s durability! DOWNLOAD YOUR FLOOR TIMELINE HERE!



Water based polyurethane brands to avoid:

minwax water based polyurethaneWhile I love high grade water based polyurethane brands (as they are durable, smell less, dry faster and have lower VOCs), I have to warn you that there are many inferior brands out there.  In fact, there are more bad ones than good, and more and more brands enter the market each year.


last-n-last water based polyurethaneIf you go with one of the brands I mentioned above, you are in good shape.  (And, there are a few other new ones we are testing, but it’s too soon to give an objective opinion on those).  But, below are several brands that are inferior, and you need to avoid.


Some flooring contractors use these because they are cheaper or locally made.  Some use them because they buy their products from Home Depot, and not a real hardwood flooring distributor (they just don’t have access to the right products or know any better).  In these cases, you are truly getting what you pay for.  They will not last as long.

  • hartco water based polyurethaneLast-n-last
  • Minwax
  • Bona Novia (note Bona Traffic HD is excellent and Bona Mega is good)
  • Hartco


Related polyurethane articles:


color consultation for paint and stain colorsIf you live in Westchester County NY, I offer color consultations to advise customers on paint colors and stain choices. My designer discount at the paint stores usually more than offsets the cost for the hour consultation. Read more here.

Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors


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What is the Best Brand of Water Based Polyurethane?

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Bona Traffic HD Water based polyurethane
Author Rating

4 thoughts on “What is the Best Water Based Polyurethane?”

  1. If I may ask for some advice. I have Berkshire County, MA cherry floors that have a coat of oil base poly and three coats of a Benjamin Moore water borne poly install (9 years ago). The surface has been prone to showing friction scuff marks from grandkids sliding knees and feet. Can a single coat of the Bona be applied over the existing coats as a refresher coat and would it get rid if the friction scuff issues?

    1. Rick – I’m not familiar w/ Benjamin moore poly, as an FYI. I didn’t even know they made one.

      Anyway, most likely you could do it (and you may want to confirm with Bona). But, it depends how deep the scratches are. If it’s gone through the color or they are deep scratch marks, those may still show. Sometimes doing 2 coats will help. But, bear in mind that a screen and recoat doesn’t change the color; it’s just a top coat. You should have a local professional look at the floors in person to let you know if it will work.

  2. We refinished our floors 10 years ago and went with oil based poly because of $ and the limited experience I had with minwax water poly was that it was near impossible to apply without bubbles, even using their specified water poly brush. now the floors are yellow and we are thinking of just replacing them with LVP or engineered wood.

    I just purchased a new highly distressed grey washed pine dining table and need to better seal it from spills, any suggestions? I’m hoping the manufacturer will get back to me on the last product they used.

    1. Justin – Yes, minwax is not a very good polyurethane, and the oil based poly does make lighter stains or unstained woods look yellow or orangish. Also, it sounds like you may have done this yourself, and that is the cause of the bubble (from the mixing). I’d recommend that you use a professional this time, and I’d probably use Bona Traffic HD for a lighter look without the yellow. that will go much better with you gray washed pine table.

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