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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!

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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. 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?

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. I understand this is a flooring article… But water based is good for doors. No one is walking on them. It’ll last a long time. Oil vs Water look is also a factor. Oil adds yellow. Yellow isn’t desirable all the time. Water will give it a hint of color. I just did five Doug Firs and they look amazing and they are entombed in the water base. It’s more expensive for a reason.

          2. Ben – Yes, that’s a good point. Wood on walls – doors or paneling – gets less traffic (LOL) so you’re right you can get away with most types of poly (and probably fewer layers).

    1. As a flooring company told me, water based polyurethane is harder and so technically resists abrasion better, but oil based polyurethane penetrates and therefore adhears much better to wood, which means it is less likely to delaminate and flake off.

      1. This really isn’t correct. First, they both penetrate equally (and the penetration is not that deep). Generally, the oil based is harder than water borne. It takes more coats of water borne to equate to oil based. Bona Traffic HD is the highest quality and water borne poly and with 3 coats is fairly comparable with oil based, but it does cost substantially more. Where you may be getting confused is that water borne hardens and cures faster than oil based poly.

      2. I realize this is an old post but I wanted to comment. Homeowner…you are absolutely right about oil penetrating. Not only do I work with wood, refinishing furniture almost constantly and hardwood floors often, but I have become almost a near nuisance interrogating hardware stores salesman, woodworking professionals, cabinet makers, etc. Oil seeks to penetrate whereas water based poly dries on the surface of wood. I have searched far and wide for someone experienced to tell me the contrary but to no avail. This is the reason that you can put water based poly top of oil based poly (only after it fully cures) but not the opposite. Although I have come across websites to the contrary, oil based poly cannot just sit on top of a sealed surface (i.e. water based poly) as it looks to penetrate wood which it cannot do on top of an already solid surface, i.e. water based surface. This is also the reason oil based coatings do not require a sealer (as they seal on their own) whereas sealers are recommended for use with water based coatings.

  2. hi
    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.
    thanks
    s

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

  3. Hi,

    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?

  4. 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!

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

  5. 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???

    1. 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.

      1. 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

  6. 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

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

    2. We are looking to get a natural finish for our floors but are concerned that an oil based poly with make them look yellow. Is there anything we can do prior to using oil, such as bleaching the wood that will help prevent the yellowing. We are planning on using 4 inch white oak.

  7. 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

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. I have read all of your helpful comparisons between water based and oil poly, and I’ve swung completely the other way from what I was thinking. We have Brazilian cherry floors throughout our heavy traffic main floor–kitchen, great room, foyer, and the hall to office and master bedroom. The floors are all sanded, and our finisher is telling me there’s no difference in the look of these two finishes–I’m believing otherwise. Would you recommend poly for this type of hardwood floor? I just don’t want to choose wrong! Thanks. Deb

        1. Deb – Sorry for delay…my website was getting moved to a new server. I hope I’m not too late.

          They definitely will look different. With water based it will come out a bit lighter and duller. With oil based poly, it will be a bit deeper and redder in color. Usually on Brazilia Cherry, I would do oil based poly as it is a richer and deeper look and it makes that wood look better given the natural color of wood and graining.

          VERY IMPORTANT: No matter which you do, wait 6 months before adding any area rugs to the surface. Braz Cherry is very sensitive to light and it will darken and redden, and you can easily get marks around area rugs. Most of that happens during the first 6 months, so that’s why it’s better to wait 6 months…so you minimize the impact.

          Also, be aware that with water borne poly, you will see even more of a difference in color between areas covered and areas not covered. Oil based poly is a bit thicker and tends to protect the wood a bit more from the UV rays.

          Also, you

          1. Victoria Michitsch

            Hi Flooring Girl, thanks for all the helpful information! We are moving into a new construction with red oak wood floors, we decided on a combination of 75% weathered oak (Minwax) and 25% classic gray (Minwax). Where I need your help is in choosing oil based or water based. I know for gray you say to stay away from oil based but because this is a combo do you think using an oil based poly would be ok? Thanks so much!

          2. Victoria Michitsch

            Thank you! I actually did a test swatch with poly to see and it seemed like it only turned it just a bit more brown. Will it yellow over time? If so were on a bit of a budget and the contractor is going to charge us more for water based, I read that Bona mega clear HD is less expensive than Bona Traffic. Do you have personal experience with Bona mega clear? And I feel like the contractors always use oil based poly so I’m a little insure of their capability using the water based. Water based is suppose to have 4 coats and poly 3, correct?

  9. 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

    1. 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.

  10. 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

    1. 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.

  11. 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.

    1. 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!

  12. 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

    1. 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.

  13. 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.

    1. 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.

  14. 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?

    1. 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).

  15. 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.

    1. 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.

  16. 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!

    1. 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.

  17. Jim the Builder

    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.

    1. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. Tribotech offers Pin on disc machines in various models and in various configurations

    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.

  20. 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

    1. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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!!!

  23. 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 ?

    1. 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.

  24. 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!

    1. 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.

  25. 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.

    1. 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.

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

    1. 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.

  27. 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

    1. 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.

  28. Hi! Nice website. I just read almost every comment and reply and had to laugh about all of the repeat questions you got.
    Anyways I have brazilian cherry stairs and landing that I finish sanded bate wood with 120. Do I need to seal prior to poly? And if so how to I chose a good one? I have read that the oils from cherry wood will make poly peal.

  29. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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

  30. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. Natalie Kiernan

      How did it go with the Tung Oil?
      I am researching it for new white oak floors. Learned its not scratch resistant. Did you use it? How does it look? I want to keep the color of white oak common grade.

  31. 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.

    1. 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.

  32. 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!

    1. 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.

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

  33. 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?

    1. 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.

  34. 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?

    Thanks

    1. 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.

  35. Thanks a lot for your helpful tips.I have to pay my contractor additional money to resand and apply a dark stain since the color that I chose(gunshot) did not cover up the black spots on my floor. He did not demonstrate stain samples on my floor before application.I was given a stain chart to make a choice.

    1. Oh sorry to hear that, Helena. We always test for our customers and we also warn them when the stains may show through and encourage people to either do a darker color…or else we can repair the wood/weave in. (that costs a bit extra. obviously) but if it’s only a couple of areas, it’s usually worth it to get the color you prefer.

  36. Jennifer Malone

    Hi there. Wonderful article and comments. We just had our floors done throughout our home with water based poly. I am finding them very difficult to clean. There are spots from water and dog slobber that I cannot get up. We have tried Murphys Oil Soap and Bona. I never had this problem with oil based poly.

    Do you know if this is a water based poly phenomena?

    1. Jennifer – That is very possible. I would call the manufacture of the water based poly to see their advice. It could also be that it’s a faulty batch. If you don’t know the brand, call the ones that did your floors.

  37. Hi
    I just returned from vacation after getting my very old (150+ year old) oak floors done. I had requested oil finish but they used water. They look awful and will need to be redone. I am not paying them until fixed or another company will do it… Does the water coat need to be re-sanded off before the oil coats can be applied? Or can they put oil coats directly on the new water coats?

    Thank you in advance for your help!

    1. Annelise – You are best off starting from scratch and getting 3 coats of oil based poly. And, if your floors are that old (which is cool), chances are they are pine. If you have a stain, it’s best to use conditioner, too.

  38. Love your article. Thanks you for the information. Is there a ‘compromise’ between satin and gloss finishes? Where you can get a little gloss but not so much it shows scratches and dents?

  39. Trying to pick a med/dark stain for my oak floor. which meets this criteria the best: Spec walnut, med brown, provincial. Or other. Duraseal

    1. Carole – Those would be the exact ones I would test. Take a look at how the stains look on your own floor and then choose. Personally, I prefer special walnut a bit more as it’s brown (i.e. doesn’t have red undertones) so it’s more neutral. But, the stains look different on different people’s floors.

      1. Melissa Vernon

        I am looking to refinish my prefinished Bruce Maple floor to a milk chocolate color and I’ve seen those colors on the duraseal chart and like them. My question is in your opinion is Oil based better when staining a natural maple floor that much darker? I know Maple can be tricky so doing my research to make the best decision. One contractor recommended oil (DuraSeal), the other guy rec (General Finishes) waterborne.

        1. I would definitely use dura seal for the stain. Test it…it will look different than the stain charts which show it on red oak. For dark colors, you can use either oil or waterborne poly. On natural, you would only want waterborne poly as the oil based will make it look yellow (not the way it’s supposed to look on maple). If you used water borne use Bona Traffic HD. But, as I said with darker colors either will work. Oil will make it a bit darker. I hope that helps.

  40. Fabulous web site! Great information! My oak floors were refinished with 2 or 3 coats of oil-based 6 years ago. Now have damage (caused by blue tape applied by bathroom remodel contractor to hold down ram board) in the entryway. All floor companies recommend sanding the damage, and applying oil-based to the damage or entire entryway. Followed by rescreen (buff and coat) of entire floor so the entryway will blend in with living and dining rooms. HOWEVER, and here is the question — one company told me that high quality water-based poly will adhere better to the existing oil-based floor when rescreening. The other 4 or 5 companies who provided estimates all said to stick with oil-based as that is what is already on the floor. Is the assertion correct that water-based will better adhere to floors in a rescreen than will oil-based — on an existing oil-based finish? P.S. I live in Washington, DC or I would hire you. 🙂

    1. I would agree with the majority – You’re best bet is to sand and refinish that area and do oil based to match what you had. Yes, you may need to screen & recoat to blend, and I would still recommend oil based to be consistent. I believe that is your best bet. While you may have found a water borne poly that can adhere well to oil based (and many will work after 6 months), it probably will not look consistent.

      Oh, and you might have been the one calling me yesterday from a 202#. I kept trying to pick up (I was driving) and my cell phone wasn’t working correctly.

  41. Thanks for all the helpful advice. I am refinishing my red oak floors. I’ve stained them w/ an oil based Minwax stain. Is it imperative to use a oil based poly over oil based stain? I used oil poly before, but had a lot of trouble w/ bubbles. I know oil is more durable, but it seems to be more difficult to work with. In the interst of time, will water based poly adhere to oil based stain?

    1. Connie – You can use either type of poly over stain. The bubbles that you’ve seen before are generally due to poor mixing and/or application. (you may have the same issue on water borne poly). Also, water borne poly is thinner and tends to show imperfections of wood (and/or sanding) more.

  42. We’re having our red oak floors redone and new flooring added. I’m sure an oil-based product was used before (20 years ago) because of the luster and amber tone. I’m not pleased with the “dull” finish of the Bona samples created for us. So we want to ask about using oil-based again. What are your favorite oil-based products for red oak? And would you say that a flooring expert who is great with water-based should also be great with oil? Or are they two different specialties?

    1. Jean – The color selection depends on your preference and style of home. Here in NY, dark is most popular and stylish e.g. jacobean, 50/50 blend ebony/jacobean, dark walnut, followed by light (generally natural or golden oak). In terms of finish, I prefer satin finish on oil based products. Generally, installers can do either oil or water borne poly well. The sanding part is the same process.

  43. Thank you for this fantastic explanation of the pros and cons of oil vs water floor poly. My general contractor was insisting that I get water because I am pregnant. Thanks to your article, I know that I want oil and that it is perfectly safe for me, and my fami!y, after it dries. I would have been so disappointed and angry if I had allowed them to use water based products. My beautiful quarter sawn red oak floors would have looked horrible.

  44. I wish I had discovered this site years ago ! Here is my question..I had red oak floors installed and chose special walnut stain..My contractor put an oil based finish for the first coat and I got nervous about the fumes and so he put water based for the second and third coat….How will this wear ? I went with a satin finish and there is hardly any sheen..Thank you so much..

    1. Deborah – I don’t think this is such a hot idea to mix oil and water. I don’t know how long it will last. Assuming there is no reaction and no adhesion issues (and there may be issues), then it depends on what grade of water poly he used. Bona traffic lasts longer, but most of the other ones won’t last as long as oil. It’s hard to say how long it will last, but I suppose eventually you will find out.

  45. Thanks for the info. Does the bona traffic have any color? I like the color of the white oak strip with bona traffic you showed. Was that stained and then treated with bona? Or does the bona go on absolutely clear? Thanks for all the info.

    1. Trevor – Thx for the added info and link. I appreciate that. And, yes, we have done this method as well. I think the issue comes in when you mix the poly and do some oil and some water.

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