oil vs water based polyurethane

Oil vs Water Based​ Polyurethane

Do you need to know the differences between oil vs water based polyurethane? Choosing the wrong type of polyurethane can lead to a different look after your project ages. It is a good idea to educate yourself on the polyurethane types so you are happy with the final outcome.

Below, are two lists of traits for each type of polyurethane.

Oil-Based Polyurethane Traits

  1. Drying Speed Is Slower
  2. Stronger Smell
  3. Less Sensitive To Surface Abrasion
  4. Darkened Look
  5. Lower Cost

Water-Based Polyurethane Traits

  1. Drying Speed is Faster
  2. Lighter Smell
  3. More Sensitive To Surface Abrasion
  4. Clear Look
  5. Higher Cost

Below, I will touch on these traits in depth. I will also explain why your floor type should determine what type of polyurethane that you should buy.

Oil-Based Polyurethane Traits

Oil-based polyurethane leads to a deeply durable finish. However, it is especially easy to apply.

It is heat resistant, chemical resistant, and scratch-resistant. When administered according to instructions, oil-based polyurethane results in a lustrous finish that deepens a wooden floor’s color.

Drying Speed Is Slower

Oil-based polyurethane can be administered in one or two coats per day. This is dependent on the instructions on the can.

Make sure to wait at least twenty-four hours following the last coat before walking on it. Wait forty-eight hours before transferring your furniture back into the room.

Oil-based polyurethane has significantly more solids than water-based polyurethane. This is why you only need to administer around two coats of oil-based polyurethane.

Stronger Smell

Oil-based polyurethane has a fumy, strong smell. Wear a respirator and keep pets and anyone with breathing issues away from the odor of oil-based polyurethane.

Keep the area where oil-based polyurethane is administered ventilated. The odor will remain until the polyurethane is fully cured in one to three days.

Less Sensitive To Surface Abrasion

Oil-based polyurethane finishes are softer and are less sensitive to surface abrasion. However, it dents more easily.

Preventing debris from making contact with the floor is important when you have an oil-based polyurethane finish. You can also put pads under furniture feet to prevent denting.

Darkened Look

Oil-based polyurethane finishes have an amber hue that rapidly darkens the wood. As time goes on, the amber tone deepens significantly.

Lower Cost

Oil-based polyurethane costs around two to three times lower than water-based polyurethane. When coats and costs are calculated, there is a range of 45 to 60 cents per square foot for oil-based polyurethane.

Water-Based Polyurethane Traits

Water-based polyurethane is widespread because of its low toxicity and its light smell. It dries much faster too.

Drying Speed is Faster

Water-based polyurethane can be recoated in four to six hours. Four coats can be administered in a day.

Check the instructions on the can before administering the coats. Furniture should not be placed on the floor for around twelve hours after the final coat is administered.

Lighter Smell

Water-based polyurethane finishes have a lighter smell. No respirator is necessary. However, you may want to open a couple of windows to get some fresh air.

More Sensitive To Surface Abrasion

Water-based polyurethane is much harder which makes it much more sensitive to surface abrasion that is caused by fine debris. For that reason, vacuuming your flooring routinely with a hardwood floor vacuum is recommended.

Clear Look

Water-based polyurethane dries clear and will stay clear over time.

Higher Cost

Water-based polyurethane cost is two to three times higher than oil-based polyurethane. When coats and costs are calculated, there is a range of 90 cents to $1.45 per square foot for water-based polyurethane.

Your Floor Type Should Determine What Type of Polyurethane That You Should Buy

The type and look of your floor are what matters most. The smell, drying times, and prices are less important factors in the polyurethane purchase decision-making process.

The smell of water and oil-based polyurethane is temporary. However, you will have to live with the look of your floor after water or oil-based polyurethane is administered for ten or more years.

You must ask yourself this question: Will your floor look better with an amber coat or a clear coat?

Water-based polyurethane will result in a floor that retains it’s color since it produces a clear coat. Wood that is white, grey, or light looks better with a clear coat.

Woods that have a yellowish hint in them, such as fir, pine, and ash, will become yellower with an oil-based polyurethane finish. Go with water-based polyurethane if that is a look that you want to avoid.

Oil-based polyurethane enriches darker wood tones by adding an oily sheen and an amber hue. Oil-based polyurethane can lead to much more vibrant color in cherry, red oak, or exotic woods such as teak.


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