Brands of Polyurethane that I highly recommend
When it comes to sanding and refinishing your hardwood floors, there are 2 main components: 1) The quality of the workmanship and 2) the quality of the materials (i.e. the polyurethane). In this article, I’m going to discuss the highest grade polyurethanes. The polyurethane is the coating that gives your floor its protection. Generally, you would want to add 3 coats of polyurethane for the best longevity.
The brand of polyurethane will have a huge impact on how your floors look as well as how long they last. There are two main forms of polyurethane – oil based and water borne poly. You can read more about them in this article: Oil based vs water borne polyurethane. I’m going to share the best poly brands for both forms. This article also provides links so that you can check out the products further and even purchase them online.
This article is outlined as follows:
- Best brands of water borne polyurethane
- Best brands of oil based polyurethane
- Brands of polyurethane I’d stay away from
- Quick Comparison Guide on Water based vs Oil Based Polyurethane (pros and cons)
Please note that this article may contain affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.
Best water based polyurethane brands for hardwood floors in October, 2019
Best oil based polyurethane brands for hardwood floors in October, 2019
Water borne polyurethane Recommendations:
Bona Traffic HD
Bona Traffic HD (Heavy Duty) is hands down the best water borne polyurethane on the market. It has the highest durability and is considered commercial grade which means it’s great for busy restaurants and retail stores, and will certainly hold up in your residential home. Bona Traffic definitely costs more, but it is worth it. If you ask almost any experienced flooring professional, they will agree.
Bona Traffic is a 2 part product. It comes with a hardener that you mix in, so it becomes very hard and durable. It has a contemporary and upscale look as it doesn’t have the yellow glow that you see in oil based polyurethane. And, compared to other water borne polyies, it just looks cleaner and more natural.
Bona Traffic is the best product for gray and white wash stains, as well as maple as it amberizes (or yellows) the least vs any other product. Also, if you want your oak floors to be as light as possible (and the least yellow), this is the best option.
In addition, Bona Traffic is environmentally friendly. It has very low VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) – less than 150. It has low odor. It’s GreenGuard certified meaning it’s safe for children and pets and it’s school certified.
What’s the difference between Bona Traffic and Bona Traffic HD?
Often the terms Bona Traffic and Bona Traffic HD are used interchangeably (I often catch myself doing this, especially when I’m speaking with a customer). Bona Traffic HD is a little better than the original Bona Traffic. It costs a bit more, but it’s not a significant difference in price. And, I will say that both are top-notch options.
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Here are the benefits of Bona Traffic HD (vs original Bona Traffic):
- Lower odor
- Slightly lower VOCs (Bona Traffic is 150 VOCs and Bona Traffic HD is <125 VOCs)
- It dries and cures a bit faster, especially over the the 1st 24-48 hours. (This can be a big benefit for households with dogs as well as those in a rush to move into a new home as the movers are less likely to scratch the floors).
You can learn a bit more in this video on Bona Traffic vs Bona Traffic HD
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StreetShoe would be my 2nd choice water borne polyurethane. It used to be the gold standard (and we used to use it) until Bona Traffic came along. It’s a strong polyurethane and last much longer than virtually all water based polyurethanes on the market. It costs a bit less than Bona Traffic (and more than your basic polyurethanes) as it’s a higher grade.
Bona Mega is a mid grade water borne polyurethane. We use this when our customers want (or are required by their co-op) to use water borne poly, but their budget won’t accommodate Bona Traffic. It’s a good water borne poly. There are certainly better ones out there (see above), but there are certainly many many lower grade ones out there.
Generally, if you are getting a much lower price on refinishing using a water borne poly, chances are the installer is using an inferior water borne product. See below for some polyurethanes that are lower grade and I would try to avoid.
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Oil based polyurethane Recommendations:
Duraseal oil based polyurethane
We recently switched to Duraseal for oil based poly. Duraseal recently reformulated so it’s harder and has the best durability among oil based polyurethanes. It doesn’t react or peel and it has low VOCs (compared to other oil based poly).
Duraseal comes in 5 gallon buckets or 1 gallon cans.
Fabulon oil based polyurethane
Fabulon would be my 2nd choice oil based poly. We used to use this, and it’s a good brand. But, as they and Duraseal recently reformulated, we found Duraseal to be superior.
Polyurethane Brands I would avoid:
Generally, if you are getting a much lower price on refinishing (while comparing the same type of poly (i.e. water or oil) and same scope of work, chances are the installer is using an inferior polyurethane.
Aside from scope of work (i.e. area to be done, stain vs natural, # coats poly, furniture move, carpet rip up, etc.) there are basically 2 components that go into the price: 1) workmanship/skill of labor and 2) grade of polyurethane. And, often, these 2 go hand in hand – lower skilled workers tend to use inferior polyurethanes (both to cheapen their cost, and they may not have easy access to/knowledge of the higher grades of polyurethane. A higher skilled refinisher cares about the quality of the polyurethane and its durability. They rely on repeat on referral business.
Here are some polyurethane brands I wouldn’t use:
- Minwax (Minwax is fine for stains, although I prefer Duraseal over Minwax for stains. I would not recommend Minwax for polyurethane)
- Last N’ Last (and don’t be fooled by their supposed “15 year warranty.” If you read it, you’ll see that it doesn’t really cover anything.
- Anything really cheap…you get what you pay for.
Frequently asked questions about polyurethane, floors and steps
What is the best polyurethane for stairs?d
You would use the same brand and type of polyurethane for you steps as the res of the floors. The best and most durable finish for water based polyurethane is Bona Traffic HD and for oil based poly, Duraseal.
The steps generally get the most traffic and wear and tear (along with hallways), so it’s even more important to have a high grade finish in these areas.
How many coats of polyurethane should you put on the steps?
Generally, I would recommend 3 coats of polyurethane to protect your steps as they are high traffic areas. However, if you are planning to add a carpet runner on top, then 2 coats of poly can suffice.
Does Polyurethane make your steps slippery?
Generally, no, unless the polyurethane is applied improperly. Contrary to what some believe, the finish sheen (semi gloss, satin, or matte) does not make a difference. This is a false perception. But steps can be slippery due to their nature. There are 2 main things that can reduce the slip resistance:
- Bona Traffic HD has an anti-slip line which is a bit less slippery (as it has some more grit. It costs a few dollars more, but worth it if you are concerned.
- Add a carpet runner to your steps. This is great for safety, noise reduction as well as home decor. They are especially helpful if you have dogs, toddlers or old members of the family.
Of course, adjusting your shoe wear can also help (e.g.wear slippers with some traction rather than socks.
What is polyurethane?
Polyurethane is an elastic polymer that creates a protective barrier between the external environment and wood. It protects the wood spills, oils (from your feet), dirt and variety of other things.
Polyurethanes are versatile, modern and safe. They come in a variety of forms such as insulation, furniture cushioning, carpet padding, mattresses, liquid coatings, adhesives, shoe soles and many more items. As it relates to hardwood floors, polyurethane comes in a liquid form, and later hardens and cures over time for a durable finish.
Comparison on Water Borne Polyurethane vs Oil Based Polyurethane (Pros and Cons):
Complementary products for your hardwood floors:
[one_third] [/one_third][one_third]Water Borne Poly[/one_third][one_third_last]Oil Based Poly[/one_third_last]
[one_third]Color impact[/one_third][one_third]- Lighter and clear (not yellow)[/one_third][one_third_last]- Darker and more amber look; darkens and yellows over time[/one_third_last]
[one_third]Sheen level (both available in matte, satin, semi-gloss, glossy)[/one_third][one_third]- Has lower sheen[/one_third][one_third_last]- Color has more depth and more sheen[/one_third_last]
[one_third]Drying and Curing time[/one_third][one_third]- Dries faster (4-8 hours for each coat; cures faster (generally 15 days)[/one_third][one_third_last]- Takes longer to dry (24 hrs between each coat and longer to cure (generally 30 days[/one_third_last]
[one_third]Odor[/one_third][one_third]- Smells less and dissipates faster[/one_third][one_third_last]- Smells more and smell lingers longer[/one_third_last]
[one_third]VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds)[/one_third][one_third]- Lower, esp for Bona Traffic HD[/one_third] [one_third_last]- Higher[/one_third_last]
[one_third]Durability[/one_third][one_third]- Lower for low and mid grade; high for Bona Traffic HD[/one_third][one_third_last] – Higher durability[/one_third_last]
[one_third]Better for[/one_third][one_third]- Maple Natural (yellows less)[/one_third][one_third_last] – Darker stains (gives more depth in color and makes stains look darker)[/one_third_last]
[one_third] [/one_third][one_third]- Grays and white washes[/one_third][one_third_last] – Older woods with more imperfections (hides imperfections a bit better and fills in gaps a tad better)[/one_third_last]
[one_third]Price[/one_third] [one_third]- Higher[/one_third][one_third_last] – Lower[/one_third_last]
Other useful articles on Polyurethane:
- Oil based vs water borne poly – which is better?
- How long does it take to refinish hardwood floors?
- Which sheen level is most popular? Which holds up best?
- How to prevent scratches in hardwood floors and maintain your hardwood
- Recommended cleaning products and accessories to maintain floors and reduce scratches.
- Review of Loba 2K Supra Polyurethane