Water Based vs Oil Based Polyurethane

Water Based vs Oil Based Polyurethane

When it comes to hardwood floors most, if not all, are made of oak. However, even if oak is durable, the quality of the finish of the floor depends on what type of overcoat you choose. So, if you are confused about water based vs oil based polyurethane coating you need to know all about it first. Generally, if you see a lot of scratches, water stains, or dullness on your hardwood floor, it is a sign that you need to apply one more layer of polyurethane on it when refinishing the floor. However, you need to know which type of polyurethane you need to choose.

Water Based Polyurethane Over Oil Based Stain

Oil-Based Poly. Find oil-based poly on Amazon.

Water-Based Poly. Find water-based poly on Amazon.

Both water based and oil based polyurethane offer great protection for your hardwood floors. The difference, however, is for the finish of the floors. If you are looking for a natural finish of your maple wood or oak wood floor, then the water based polyurethane would be a good choice. The water based finish might look milky in the can, but when you apply it, it would look clear and remain clear.

Although a water based one would provide a slight bit of accent for your wood they won’t provide an amber tint, which the oil based stain does. Additionally, they dry off fast without much fuss, so you can apply multiple coats in a day and even use that room during the night. You can also clean it up with a water base, which won’t have a strong odor like the oil based stains do.

Different Results

However, as with everything, there’s a flipside to the coin for water based finishes as well. They do have their own disadvantages like higher costs. Additionally, they won’t give your wood the rich glowing feature the oil based polyurethane provides. Generally, the water based finish contains 30 to 35% solids only (which are responsible for the protective finish), compared to 45 to 50% solids in case of oil based polyurethane.

So, for the water based products you need to apply four coats to get the same protective finish as two or three coats of oil based product provides. Moreover, you might also need to repeat this process once every year or every two years when you use water based product.

Compared to this, the oil based stain has some specific advantages and disadvantages. So, let’s deal with the positives of oil based stains:

  • They are less costly
  • They have better percentage of solids and provide a better protective finish
  • You don’t need to apply it at frequent intervals (like once every year)

Now, let’s have a look at the negatives of the oil based products:

  • Oil based polyurethane leave an amber glow to your finish
  • They dry out slowly. You need to wait at least five hours between multiple coats for it to dry, and at least 12 hours after the final coat for the floor to be usable
  • It has a strong odor, so it might not be good for infants

Water Based Polyurethane Application

Water based polyurethane does not match well with oil based ones. However, you can always apply water-based polyurethane over the oil based stain. All you need to do is roughen up the floor a bit first so you can apply it easily. For this, you can use some synthetic steel wool. This will help to stop the polyurethane to bead on the surface as water does on a freshly waxed car.

Water-Based Poly. Compare current prices on Amazon.

So how do you apply the water based finish without any issue? Follow the steps given below:

  1. Apply a very thin layer of the water based polyurethane with a foam pad, brush, or cloth. Make sure that you do not raise the grain of wood and do not apply excessive polyurethane
  2. Once the initial coat is dry (within a few hours) you can apply the second coat.
  3. If you are applying the layers repeatedly, after allowing them to dry you don’t need to sand the surface in between. However, make sure that you apply at least seven to eight coats to get the same protection level as provided by oil based stains.

Tips for the Perfect Finish

Now that you know the difference between water based and oil based stains, you are ready to try staining your hardwood floor. However, while you are at it make sure that you have the perfect finish for your floor. Here are some pointers to help you achieve that goal easily.

#1: Stir but Don’t Shake

While you are using the finish, stir it after regular intervals especially the water based stain. Additionally, do not shake the can of clear finish because it will cause bubbles to rise up, which can be a problem later on.

#2: Apply Thin Coats

As mentioned previously, apply a thin coat of finish only. Once it is dry you can apply another coat, but never a thicker coat.

#3: Remove Drips

If you are applying the finish on a vertical surface, a run or drip might occur even if you are using a thin coat. Before you proceed, remove the run by sanding it out or with a sharp razor blade. After you have used a blade use a feather to remove the blemish and move along with applying the finish.

#4: Look From Different Angles

When you are applying polyurethane, both oil based and water based, make sure that you look at the floor (or the applied surface) from different angles. You can also add a bright light and stand and look at the reflective surface to identify portions you have missed or overbrushed. If you are forgetful, this would work as a good way to find which areas you have missed or need extra work.

The Bottom Line

So, now that you know the difference between water based vs oil based polyurethane you would be able to make a better decision. At the end of the day if you want a floor without odor, and in a hurry, all you need to do is choose a water based polyurethane and your floor is all set!

Check prices for water-based poly on Amazon or read our comparison of Poly, Varnish and Shellac.

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