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Oil vs water based polyurethane: Which is better for refinishing hardwood floors?

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

We offer both options, but I usually recommend oil basedoil vs water based polyurethane - Dark hardwood oak polyurethane over water based for dark floors 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 based on the color chosen, species of wood, and different customers have different needs.

 

So, let’s explore this a bit further.

 

Please note that this article may contain affiliate links.  You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.

 

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

water borne polyurethane on white oakoil 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 misled 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.

 

water vs oil based polyurethane on hardwood floors3. 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 much better option.

 

 

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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).

 

Now, 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 county - best poly4a. 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.

 

 

 

WAIT!

Debbie Gartner The Flooring GirlAre 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!

 

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

 

Color consultation for Westchester County

Other useful flooring articles:

 

Oil vs water borne polyurethaneWhat brands of poly do we use?

While I do not recommend attempting to Sand and Refinish your hardwood floors yourself (as I have seen countless disasters), I do feel comfortable in recommending polyurethane so that you (or hopefully) your installer uses top quality products. This will help with the outcome and longevity of your floors. But, remember, if you don’t have a great installer and top notch equipment, the job will never come out well.

 

 

Water borne polyurethane –

 

When it comes to water borne poly, there is no dispute, Bona Traffic HD is the best in the market place. It looks great, dries quickly, and doesn’t amberize. It’s perfect if you’re staining your floors gray, or white, or just going for a natural super clean look. It costs more than Bona Mega, but it’s worth it as it looks better, lasts longer and amberizes less. 

Bona Traffic is the only product we use with gray or white washed floors.

 

 

Oil based polyurethane –

 

When it comes to oil based poly, we typically use Duraseal. It comes in different finishes, but most of our customers prefer the satin finish.

 

 

Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors

 

For more info, check out my Ebook – Discover the 6 Secrets to Refinishing Hardwood floors.

6 Secrets of Refinishing hardwood floors ebook

 

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Oil vs water based polyurethane - which is better for hardwood floors

 

 

Oil based vs. water based polyurethane : Which is better for refinishing your hardwood floors?

212 thoughts on “Oil vs water based polyurethane: Which is better for refinishing hardwood floors?”

  1. We just had a friend do our floors with water based poli. It looks AWFUL!!! We want to do it ourselves now.
    Do we now have to sand off the waterbased poli before applying the new oil poli?

    1. Mike – I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not It’s very rare for floor sanding to come out well when it’s not done by professionals and not done w/ professional machines. The ones you can rent at home depot are very low quality.

      Chances are the sanding is not done well and hence it will never look good/nor stick until it’s redone. I would bring in a professional and see what they think. Certainly get their opinion.

      Generally, if you just want to “sand off” the poly, you would be screening or buffing and chances are if you haven’t done this before you won’t get it right (no offense). But, I have a hunch the issue is earlier in the process and you will probably need to start from the beginning.

  2. I have a section of flooring that needs to be refinished. it is a large space of approximately 1500 sq. ft. it was refinished years ago using a water-based polyurethane. The other part of my apartment, separated by a wall and door has an oil based polyurethane which is in excellent condition. The floors in both spaces are red oak.I would need to get special permission from my co-op to use an oil based poly. Are there good points to make? is there materials I can provide to convince them?
    Thanks

  3. I am building a new house and asked my flooring contractor what he was planning on using for the hardwood. He said that he uses 2 coats of oil based and 2 coats of water based with the top coats being the Bona Traffic HD. I was looking for information about using a hybrid system like this and couldn’t find much information. Any thoughts?

      1. When asked, he said that he used the oil to enhance the grain, but he didn’t like the look of the oil alone because it made the wood (hickory) look too yellow. He also said that the water based alone looked too flat so that is why he used the hybrid system. I’m still a little skeptical and slightly worried about the floor de-laminating between the oil and water layers. I’m not sure what to do given that he is highly recommended from a few different builders that I have talked to.

  4. Can I wait 5 days after staining to apply Poly U?
    Because I have to leave town right after staining is finish and have to do Poly U application when I get back. Will it be a problem for delaying that long?
    Thanks.

  5. Interesting article. My question would be considering the long term health effects that the application of polyurethane would have on the health of the installers after years of applying the oil based poly. I know that breathing protection is available, but for those of us actually applying, we know that they are bulky, uncomfortable and difficult to keep from sweating on the floor. I agree with looks of poly, but I consider my health as a factor for using the Bona traffic HD over the poly, as I am off the next day to constantly breathe fresh finish and not he dried finish.
    Really enjoyed your article and professionalism on the responses.

  6. I believe it’s been a couple years since you wrote this piece on oil vs. water. Is there still no oil based poly that can be used on a gray stained floors without affecting the color? White oak specifically.

    1. Dal – Right, there is no oil base that will work well with gray. It was add a yellow tint and continue to yellow over time. It doesn’t matter if it’s white oak or red oak. You should use Bona Traffic with gray hardwood floors.

  7. Excellent information about oil vs water based polyurethane. We chose oil based for our hardwood floors which are being refinished right now. Yes the oil based does smell strong, but we would much prefer to get the best durability and so the tradeoff is worth it. I did try to use the Vote Feature on your website and of course chose Oil, but it came back with invalid entry so you may want to look into that….or could be my browser so not sure.

    1. Brian – Yes, I agree and think it’s worth it.

      Thx so much for the feedback on the vote function. It sounds like I have a glitch, so I’ll need to see if I can figure that out. Thanks for letting me know.

  8. Hi, we have had red oak installed in our new build house. We are not staining the floor and need to decide on water or oil finish. Which one will hold up better? I have read that the water based finish has a duller look. Is that correct?

    1. In general, oil will usually hold up better. But, if you want to do water, Bona Traffic is the way to go as it holds about equally as well as oil based. (It is more expensive, though). If you do a cheaper water based product, it won’t hold up that well.

  9. I moved into a totally renovated apartment two weeks ago. The wood floors were sanded and sealed.(I don’t know what product) I have opened the windows to get fresh air in. I must have an allergy to the floor coating that i never experienced before. I feel fine when outside, or at work, but when in the apartment i am all congested and feel sick. How long will this lingering floor coating last and impact my health?

    1. Sorry to hear that Katy. It is unusual, but some people are extra sensitive to smells…or just anything.

      I don’t know what was used, but generally, by 30 days all smells are gone.

      But, but because you are in an apartment, maybe the circulation isn’t as good. I would suggest fans w/ open windows and/or borrow exhaust fan. I hope that helps.

    1. Barbara – Generally bamboo is done with water based polyurethane not oil. It looks better that way. I think oil would turn it very yellow and not sure how it would be absorbed. Try bona traffic. That’s your best bet.

      Please also note that many bamboos can not be refinished and it is very challenging to do, so be sure to have an installer who has experience sanding bamboo.

  10. IS there a suitable product to apply to a light colored wood prior to using a water-based poly, to give it the same appearance you would get with oil-based ploy?

  11. Hi

    I am a general contractor and have a floor contractor who works for me. Hw swears by oil base poly and I do as well. However lots of high end customers are asking for dark stained hardwood floors with a matte finish. Wecannot find matte finish oil base poly only water based and the satin finish oil base has a little to much shine for interior decorators and high end jobs. Does anyone make an oil base poly with a matte finish

    Thanks
    Norm L

  12. Hello Debbie,
    I am refinishing my red oak floors in my Colorado home. They were done with Glitza 17 years ago. Is Glitza a type of oil-based poly and do they both amberize equally? I love how well the Glitza finish has held up to lots of traffic and dogs. I wish it didn’t yellow so much. I’m wondering if adding a very light brown stain would tome down the yellow over time …. but then there is the dog issue.
    Thanks for your great website!!!

    1. Mary Ann – I’m not familiar with Glitsa. It may be a regional brand and/or not readily available here. But, in general oil based poly will amberize over time and in general, the darker you go with a stain, the less you notice it. I hope that helps.

  13. Fantastic information and well written responses here. Thanks. I have come full circle as I was all in on oil based yet thought my professional indicated water based. Given the dog and my (likely correct) opinion that oil based was more durable and provided better depth to oak floors, i was surprised and looked into the toughest of water based and came up with Bona traffic/HD or Vermont naturals 3500. The latter of which fueled further research on family safety ,VOCs etc. I surmise it may be less “toxic” in certain areas but likely no less harmless. As it turns out my floor guy was talking oil all along. It will be significantly more costly +50% product and labor for Vermont as it will require more coats per him. Back to oil 100% as you got me through the health concerns! I did speak with a reputable floor dealer who sells/installs it all, has dogs and the Vermont Naturals in his own house 3yrs and he loves the durability and the fact it can be spot fixed if necessary (although he hasn’t needed to). Curious of your opinion/experience with this product for recommended waterbed applications?

    1. Hi Aj. Thank you for your comments. I’m not familiar with Vermont Naturals. It doesn’t appear to be sold in my county. It seems that it’s more available in paint stores than flooring stores and looks like it’s used more for furniture than floors.

  14. Hi Debbie
    Great article, it is a bit dated now but hope you are still responding. I am installing antique heartwood pine floors. They will be 4.5 inches. Wondering if you think oil or water would be better on pine flooring. Thanks

    1. Hi Richard – I would probably do oil based poly with that wood as it will give it a warmer look and a thicker coating. Heart pine one of the hardest pines, but it’s still a bit softer than oak. I guess I’m just used to seeing it with the oil based poly, especially as that’s how most pines are done. It just looks like it goes best.

      On the other hand, if you want a lighter look, then use Bona Traffic HD water borne poly.

    1. No, I have never heard of this, so I can’t comment on the quality. But, in general, I’m not a fan of hybrids. BTW, there are some polyurethanes that are regional and only sold in certain areas of the country.

  15. I had a contractor come in and install 300sq ft of wood floors and refinish another 300sq ft. He blended them and everything. I was happy with his work and whatnot through the entire process.

    He applied the coat of stain and 2 coats of water based poly.

    He told us after 24 hours we could move our furniture around but just don’t slide it around, and maybe another day or 2 to let the dog back on it.

    It’s been a week and I’m finding a ton of scratches from the dog AND my rolling chair (I’ve since ordered silicone wheels for my chair).

    I told him this (after we paid him), and now he’s saying this is uncommon but if we want he can come out and apply a coat of “Bona Traffic Water” to the 600sq ft for $750.

    Am I screwed? Is this guy just running me to the cleaners? We’ve already spent $6,000 for all this work and I’m afraid that my floors will look like s**t in 3 months. Should I get the Bona Traffic put down?

    1. Dean – Sorry to hear this.

      First, I would always recommend that you do 3 coats of poly, especially on water borne poly.

      Second, it sounds like you may have had a lower grade water borne poly on 1st 2 coats…but you will have to find out if that’s the case. This is me simply interpretting what you wrote as it sounds like Bona traffic will be an upgrade to what you had.

      Third, it sounds like the contractor gave you bad advice. I would have waited 3 days before putting furniture back and 2 weeks for the dog (this is what I would tell my customers and what I have on this site. So, that was bad advice.

      Now, most likely putting an additional coat of poly and using Bona Traffic will solve your issues and I would recommend it. And, I would have recommended it even if you didn’t have the scratches yet. The cost of $1.25/sf is actually pretty reasonable as Bona Traffic costs more.

      The issue though is that the contractor didn’t tell you this before and gave you bad advice. So, you may want to go back and see if the contractor would give you a discount for the bad and misleading advice. (BTW, you could call someone else local to get an estimate to see if they think this would solve the problem and get an estimate as rates vary across the country and then go back to the contractor).

      1. He used Bona Mega.

        At this point, if I’m going to have him do the coat of Bona Traffic, it’s going to need to be after the holidays, so I’m going to just let the holidays pass and see if the scratches are just “normal” and I’m just freaking out since it’s new to me.

  16. we just did our floors ( today was the last coat of the sealer) and planning the painting , when can i safely get the painting done on the house without any damage to the floors.

  17. Hello and thank you for this site. I have referred to it often and find it very helpful ! my question is, what does oil modified mean ? I asked my contractor to use oil based bona clear coat and found come to find out he used oil modified .. thank you !

    1. Hi Deborah. Thanks for your kind words. In general, oil modified means a mix of oil and water. Generally, these formulations aren’t as good/strong as using oil only or water only. But, I’m making a general statement here. In general, I would use/recommend Bona water borne poly.

      I think Bona may have an option that is more amber, and if that’s the look you’re going for, it can do the job. I’m guessing that’s maybe what you meant or what your installer used. It’s hard to say. In general, Bona products are good. If he used a form of Bona Traffic, then you should be good. I hope that makes sense.

  18. Hi – I read in your informative article here that for white-wash stains you recommend water-based finish only. Because of the durability issues, the floor refinisher recommends oil-based finishes, as you do. My color choice for our red oak ’89 floor refinishing (2nd x) is a mix of about 40% Daly’s stain “Frost” and 60% “Fog Mist”, which looks darker/more red on the red oak than it does in this sample: So, it appears to be a mid-white wash, not grey, but more of a taupe. Do you think I can get away with an oil-based Glitsa on top? I will anticipate some yellowing, but how soon would it be noticeable?

    1. Denine – You definitely want a WATER BORNE poly for ANY whites or grays. Oil based will turn it yellow…right away. And, it will get more yellow over time. You should use Bona Traffic HD. Check out this article (and you can buy it online if you want to save money). Best brands of polyurethane.

      In my article for oil vs water based, I generally recommend oil based..but for standard colors and especially dark colors. If you read the article more closely, you’ll see that for any white or gray, you need to use water based.

    1. Owen – No, there is no way to waterproof your hardwood floors (especially as hardwood can also get water from below and sides). But, putting polyurethane on them will give you a protective layer (and prob oil is a bit better for that). But, this protective layer will only help you for minor spills. If you have standing water (and for a long time) they can get damaged, no matter what you use.

  19. Hello, – Awesome article with tons of info. We are currently in the middle or a renovation and the floor guys are here as I type:) We have original white oak floor throughout and they are laying matching floor in the kitchen and front Hall which was previously tiled. I am leaving towards s darker stain ( Jacobean) with a satin finish. The floor guy is suggesting bona water based and saying that sometimes on a darker floor the oil based poky can leave visible bubbles …. I was set kn oil based prior vand am now confused on WHAT TO DO!? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    1. For dark floors, I would recommend oil based poly. It looks MUCH better. You should not have a problem with bubbles. That can happen if an installer doesn’t mix properly or installer is less experienced. But, I rarely see that happen. Also, with water borne poly on dark, you have the added risk of white line syndrome.

  20. The website is fantastic, which has tons of information.
    I have unfinished Brazilian teak. My contractor recommends the oil base finish because of the durability, but I’m concerned that oil base will add “yellow” to teak floor, which is yellow and golden color already. I want the teak floor looks modern and lighter; please advise which finish (oil or water) can help to reach this goal. Thank you so much

    1. You should be able to use either type. Oil based will probably add a bit more yellow/yellow over time, but with teak that actually looks normal. Either is fine, but if you use water borne, use Bona Traffic for sure. It may just be that your contractor feels more comfortable with oil based as it’s “more forgiving”/hides imperfections a bit more.

      Be sure to wait at least 6 months before adding area rugs as teak is very light sensitive. It’s probably a bit more light sensitive with the water borne poly as it’s a bit thinner. I hope that helps.

  21. Hi,
    What are your thoughts on uv finish. One installer mentioned uv finishing as an option. I’ve searched online but haven’t found any pros and cons or uv vs the rest.

    1. I don’t have any experience with it, so I can’t supply an opinion. But, it is more expensive and requires purchase of additional equipment. I also don’t know if there is any real testing or experience with how it really works over time. I had come across this a few years ago and also could not find any info on it.

  22. Hi, Thanks for all the great information on this site! I’m moving into a house and am debating a screen and finish on the floors. Ideally we would sand down and re-stain to a slightly darker color, but the time the house will be empty is limited. I believe the current finish is water based poly – would I expect to see any color change (even slight) if I use an oil based poly over top of the water based poly? Thanks!

    1. Thomas – Congrats on your new house. If you do have water borne poly on there, oil based poly will just make it a little bit darker (but not a lot darker). I suppose another solution would be to add a bit of tint with the screen and recoat to make it a bit darker, but the tint does weaken the poly (and it will still only be a little bit darker). But, if you want it substantially darker, the only way is to fully sand the floors and use a darker stain.

  23. Hi! Thanks for the great website! Was just wondering how water based products have changed since this article was written a few years ago. My wood floor guy claims that water based Bona Traffic HD is now as durable as oil based. What are your thoughts on the technology improving over the last couple of years?

    1. Mike – Yes, I agree that Bona Traffic HD is comparable to Oil based. I have another article or two on the topic. I prob. should update this article. Note: other water based products are inferior. Bona Traffic HD is a great choice for durability and for low odor. But, it doesn’t it give the best look for dark colored floors. For that, I prefer the oil based for a darker and richer tone.

      See this article: https://theflooringgirl.com/hardwood-flooring/which-are-the-best-polyurethane-brands-for-floors-which-do-i-recommend.html

  24. I strongly disagree that there is no difference in the smell. I moved into a house that was varnished with oil one month ago, and it smells and hurts my throat. I have an air purifier and the AC running.

    1. Julia – Yes, this is a big difference in the smell between oil and water based poly. I never said that there wasn’t and in fact in many blog posts on here I state that is one of the big advantages of water borne poly. Once the poly cures (which can take 30 days), there is generally no difference in smell and usually not much of a difference after a week. That being said, there is also the stain…and the stain, in my opinion smells worse than the poly. And, as I have learned over the years, many cheaper contractors use very cheap poly which smells for much longer. So be careful about who you hire. Read the article I wrote on best brands of polyurethane (and the ones to stay away from). https://theflooringgirl.com/hardwood-flooring/which-are-the-best-polyurethane-brands-for-floors-which-do-i-recommend.html

  25. Hi! Im in the process of finalizing refinishing options for my floors and Im a bit confused. I want a dark stain for oak floors (1/2 jacobean 1/2 ebony). My contractor will stain with but I thought oil turns the wood yellow??

    What are you suggestions? Do they stain with oil and finish with Bona Traffic hd?

    1. With dark, most people prefer the look of oil. The oil gives it a darker and richer look; Bona traffic makes it lighter. Oil makes light wood look yellow. You don’t see the yellow on dark wood. Hope that helps clarify.

  26. I read your article and it did answer some of my questions but I have two more If you can answer please…I have heavy traffic with dogs what is better for scratching and less to scratch Oil or Water and how may coats would be best for this. Next question I have is which yellows more oil or water…Do you have a better poly that you recommend so not to yellow.

    1. Hi Jill. First, either use Duraseal Oil based or Bona Traffic HD. Those are the two best options for your dog. You should have 3 coats of poly. The oil based will yellow more, so if that’s a concern go w/ Bona Traffic HD.

  27. Amazing information here! Thanks for taking the time to respond to all the questions!

    I am in the process of refinishing old oak floors that I found under the carpet of the place I just purchased.

    I want to use Bona’s ‘Driftwood’ colour. I looking to give it rich Satin finish. I also have a big dog so durability is a must. What would you recommend for a high a traffic, durable finish for the rich driftwood satin effect? Oil or water?

    I’m leaning towards Oil based on your information.

    Thanks in advance! Really appreciate the help

    1. Brian – Actually, you’re better off with Bona Traffic HD, rather than oil based. The oil based won’t look right with that color as it will add yellow. Use Bona Traffic for both look and longevity. Bona traffic HD is excellent in durability and will match oil for durability. (It’s really the only one that will). It’s more expensive though.

      Also, I’d probably get Bona Traffic HD in semi gloss…because that will look like satin in an oil based poly. It’s either that or extra matte. Both are great, but if you want a satin look, the semi in water will get you there.

      You can read more here: https://theflooringgirl.com/hardwood-flooring/which-are-the-best-polyurethane-brands-for-floors-which-do-i-recommend.html

      In above article, it explains Bona traffic better and has a link to amazon where you can buy the product.

      Here’s a link direct to Amazon (I hope it works) for the product. If it doesn’t work, just check out above article as it will link to it. http://amzn.to/2yP1qGN

      1. Thank you for the quick response!

        Thanks for the recommendation and I’ll look into using Bona Traffic HD. As for the Satin vs. Semi-gloss; I wanted to go for Satin because I believe it will wear better than a higher gloss and look better since I have a dog who will be walking all over it with his paws. Glossy is too much since it will be impossible to keep clean and the same goes with Matte since I’ve heard it will always look dirty.

        May I ask what you prefer for Bona Traffic HD specifically for this Driftwood? Satin or Semigloss? I prefer less sheen but don’t want to enter the Matte territory. What is more trendy these days?

        Also, would you happen to have a picture or link to picture of the effect of the oil yellowing on lighter floors?

        Oh! and how many coats of Traffid HD do you recommend?

        Thanks again for your response! I really appreciate it!

        1. Brian – You need water based with driftwood. Oil based will look terrible! It will be too yellow.

          Satin finish is great and that’s what I prefer. But Waterborne poly looks less shiny. So waterborne semi looks like oil satin. And waterborne satin looks like matte in oil. (Also, I was tired when I wrote that comment and for some stupid reason, I thought there wasn’t a satin option in Bona Traffic HD, but there is…so either use satin or semi for Bona. I would NEVER recommend semi gloss in oil based, but it actually does work in water because it’s not glossy).

          You should use 3 coats of poly…at least for 1st/main floor. You can get away with 2 for the 2nd floor as it gets less traffic. But, 3 will definitely last longer.

          Oh, and sorry I don’t have pictures.

  28. Hi Debbie. Thanks again for recommending the Bona Traffic. Our blue floors are stained and one coat poly down. I see here that you recommend 4 coats. Should we do anything in between? I may need to order more to get enough coats. What is recommended when recoating after more than 48 hrs? Do we need to do a light sanding? Best, Vibeke

  29. I appreciate your thorough and balanced look at both oil based and water based finishes. It’s helping me go with oil-based.

  30. I forgot to mention that we are living in the home while the floors are being refinished. Initially I was thinking water based, but with Brazilian cherry throughout the main floor, I’m thinking the poly will hold up better and longer. Our finisher is saying we can be gone during the day and then be ok in the house at night after the coat is dry. Just want to choose wisely and be safe too. Thanks!

    1. I just saw this. As I mentioned a moment ago, I would tend to go with oil based poly. It is true that water borne will dry faster and you can walk on it sooner, but I would wait at least 24 hrs from last coat of poly.

      If you are going natural (and I’m guessing you are since it’s brazilian cherry), you should be able to the the work done over 2 days either way and walk on it after 24 hrs from last coat. With the oil based poly, you should wait 4 days before putting furniture back and with water, 2-3 days (3 days is better), so you’re really just saving 1 day on returning furniture.

      But, the oil based will smell more and for longer.

  31. Buying a new home and want to refinish the floors to a color I like. Based on comments above, I think I’d like to paint after the floors are done. Since we can take our time moving in, how long would you wait after the floors are done before we have painters come in?

  32. My house is on a slab with radiant heat so I need to use an engineered hardwood. I found a mill up in BC Canada that makes a 5mm engineered CVG fir floor. My plan is to glue and float the floor. I then plan to lightly sand and finish with oil poly. Because I will need to use glue during the installation I am thinking to seal the wood first with a clear sanding sealer so I don’t have any issues with glue residue. Do you have any recommendations for clear sanding sealer to use on the wood before installation?

    I don’t mind the amber tone of Poly on the fir but would like something that yellows less overtime. Is there any difference in yellowing over time betweeen a matte oil and satin? Which brand of oil poly has less yellowing over time?

    1. Okay, you really need to be careful here, and I would probably involve a local professional.

      First, most adhesives CAN NOT be used with radiant heat.

      Second, I’ve never heard of putting poly on before you install the floor and that seems really odd an risky. I don’t understand why you would do that. You need to sand the floors after installed.

      Third, you need to make sure that whatever wood you have is approved for radiant heat.

      Fourth, Douglas fir is very soft. So it dents and scratches very easily. You would need to refinish it much quicker than other woods, and I doubt that you will be able to sand that if it’s engineered and just 5mm. That is very thin and very flimsy and the wood isn’t very strong.

      Fifth, as I think you understand, Douglas Fir is amber already…and gets more amber over time. It is more sensitive to light than most other woods. That being said, I would use Bona Traffic HD for least amberizing and highest durability (which you need.) They also have a sealer you can use, if you are going natural. There are 5 levels/colors, so you’ll want to look at those. The lightest/whitest would be Nordic seal…a tad of whitish tint. But, I don’t know how that would look on Douglas Fir, so I would recommend you test that first.

  33. We are looking to install red oak flooring with the Duraseal Poly (oil based). It says on their website after the application of 3 coats to let it cure for 30 days before putting furniture on it. We would be doing our entire first floor so that would mean we have to be out of the house for 30 days…and we also have 2 large dogs. In your experience have you had to wait the full 30 days before putting furniture on the floors?

    1. Maggie – It does take 30 days to fully cure. That is correct. But, you can put furniture back on floor after 4 days.

      Wait 30 days before putting area rugs back (as those smother the floor and don’t allow it to cure properly. But, it’s fine to move back after 4 days. Dogs should stay off the floors 2 weeks…unless you get doggie socks (you can find a link for them in resource section on upper right).

      People can walk on floors w/ socks only (no bare feet and no shoes) at 24 hrs. Even if dogs are wearing doggie socks, I’d wait a bit longer – at least 2 days, maybe 3.

  34. Hi!
    Great site! Can we use an oil based stain with water based poly (Bona Traffic)? How much time between products? How many coats?
    Thx!

    1. Yasmen – That is fine. It depends when the stain dries and this will vary based on brand and color you used as well as humidity. If you used Duraseal, wait 1-2 days. If it’s minwax, it could be much longer (up to 1 week if a dark stain). The time to wait is based on the stain, not on the poly being used. I would do 3 coats of polyurethane.

  35. Hi Flooring Girl. Thank you for posting so much useful information. I am going to sand the entire floor which is red oak. Currently it is the natural red oak color, but it is very yellow. I dont really like it. Should I choose water based? But my contractor said oil based looks nicer and recommended Bona oil based poly. Is Bona oil based poly good though? You only recommend Bona water based. I am not sure about the brand selection too.
    Thanks!

    1. Faye – Yes, if you want to avoid the yellow, use Bona Traffic HD. Any oil based poly, including Bona oil based poly will turn the floors yellow. And, Bona oil based is not a good polyurethane. And, it sounds like your contractor is up on the trends. Oil based poly does NOT look nicer and is VERY dated.

      So, if you want yellow floors use Duraseal oil based poly. If you want to be more stylish and avoid the yellow, use Bona Traffic HD water borne poly.

      1. Hi Flooring Girl! I appreciated your response so much. I also read your Discover the 6 Secrets of Refinishing Hardwood Floors. Does Bona Traffic HD come in several sheens? You recommend that satin is the most popular now.

  36. Hello I asked you a question regarding Arboritec vs. Bona Traffic a couple of weeks ago, and you answered. I followed up with another question using your reply function, but it did not seem to show up. You said Bona Traffic is much better than Arboritec and is somewhat more expensive. But my potential contractor said Arboritec is ceramic whereas Bona Traffic is acrylic and the former is better. Could you tell me the difference b/w ceramic and acrylic and if acrylic Bona Traffic is still a better product? Price wise, he’s charging the same. Thank you.

  37. Jasiu Wawrzkowicz

    Are you an influencer or do you actually own and operate a flooring refinishing business? It seems to me you are a “designer” trying to sound knowledgeable about floor refinishing by parroting what you’ve learned and doing online research. Do you actually use these products and techniques or do your subcontractors.

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