Water vs Oil Based Polyurethane

Water vs Oil Based Polyurethane

Hardwood floor is an investment and should be properly treated. With that in mind, you’ll want to choose a polyurethane finish that is the best for your hardwood floor. If you want to apply the best polyurethane finish on any wood product, you should know water vs oil based polyurethane.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between water and oil based Polyurethane that can help you decide which type is right for you.

What is Polyurethane?

What is Polyurethane

Polyurethane is a chemical coating for applying to wood floors. You can use either water-based or oil-based polyurethane, but some people prefer one over the other because they have unique properties that lead them to be better than the other in certain situations. Oil based and water based are both synthetic finishes which means they come with their own pros and cons. So you’ll need to know whether a particular pro outweighs any con before choosing your finish type. You can use polyurethane products like Amber tint that are available at most hardware stores and woodworking supply stores.

What are the Advantages of Using Polyurethane?

Today Polyurethane is using more than shellacs, varnishes, and lacquers because it has several advantages over other finishes. Polyurethane comprises synthetic resins and solvents which are mixed to make the final product. It’s also very durable, flexible, and non-toxic, resists scuffs and scratches, waterproof surfaces, resistant to heat or cold damage and reduces noise in high traffic areas.

What is Water Based Polyurethane?

What is water based polyurethane

Water-based polyurethane is a wood finish that uses water as the main solvent. It’s typically used for indoor surfaces like floors, furniture and cabinets because it allows them to be cleaned more easily if they get dirty or scratched. Water based finishes are also less likely than oil-based ones to emit fumes in the air which can bother your health over time with prolonged exposure.

When Water Based Polyurethane is applied?

Oil-based polyurethane is typically used on floors when there is a need to seal and protect, or build up the finish. It’s also used on floors that are prone to water damage such as kitchens and bathrooms.

Water-based polyurethane can be helpful in situations where you want to create an aesthetic blend between old flooring and new flooring. For example if you have some ugly carpet patches on your hardwood floors but don’t want to replace all of it because the rest of the wood looks nice enough. Water based finish is also known as waterborne finish can also be good for refinishing existing boards without stripping them first. It is like what might happen after sanding down your kitchen countertop so that it doesn’t look so worn out anymore!

Water based stain is a relief from the time consuming process of oil based stains. You can use water-based stains to finish your project quickly and with minimal mess. It’s important to remember that you’ll need to apply two coats of the product, letting it dry in between each coat for an even application and a beautiful finish.

Advantages of Water-Based Polyurethane

Water-based polyurethane has several advantages over oil-based one:

Environmentally friendly

It is environmentally friendly and does not contain any volatile organic compounds such as benzene, toluene or xylene.

Dry faster

It dries faster than the oily alternative (from 15 minutes). This means that you can apply it in smaller sections if necessary without having to wait for each section to dry before moving on.

Easier to clean up

Oil spills are easier to clean up with water-based polyurethane because they dissolve easily into water.

Absence of an unpleasant odor

Water based finishes do not have an unpleasant odor like their oily counterparts which some people find offensive because of its chemical composition. Most notably hydrogen sulfide gas released when applied.

Disadvantages of Water-Based Polyurethane

There are two disadvantages of water-based polyurethane.

Low Durability

The main disadvantage of water based polyurethane floor finish is its tendency not to be as durable, especially when applied too thinly. This means this type of finishing won’t last as long if there are any surface scratches or abrasions caused by normal wear and tear from traffic through the house (not just kids running around).

Higher risk for yellowing

Waterborne poly also have higher risk for yellowing over time due to UV rays compared with an oil based finish which includes some form of “UV blocker” additive in their ingredients makeup. Oil based products can also take more coats to obtain a “water-resistant” finish.

What is Oil Based Polyurethane?

What is Oil Based Polyurethane

Oil based polyurethane is a type of varnish that has been used in woodworking and furniture making for centuries. It was originally developed by Leonardo da Vinci as an alternative to using toxic chemicals like lead, arsenic, and mercury. Oil based stains are a popular option for woodworkers because they give the surface a deep, and rich color. However, mineral spirits have always been used to clean up oil based floor finish and soaps have been used to remove these stubborn stains. Oil based polyurethane is a clear or pigmented liquid, which can be applied to wood surfaces for protection. It’s used most often on outdoor furniture and decks. It won’t peel off like paint in the sun!

When Oil-Based Polyurethane is applied?

Oil-based polyurethane is typically used on hardwood floors that are very dark, with a tendency to yellow over time if not protected by an oil finish. Dark wood will always have more contrast between the grains and so it needs greater protection from UV light. Oil finishes provide this extra protection while also giving your floor a deep luster which can be especially important for darker woods like ebony or sienna oak. The natural oils contain antioxidants and they help reduce moisture absorption into the surface of the wood. It is used for both reducing warping and preventing water damage caused by swelling because of humidity changes.

Unprotected against spills because there’s no way anyone could keep up with them long-term.

Advantages of Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethane is in the top tier of wood floor finish. It has several advantages that make it popular among those who are refinishing their floors:

Eco Friendly

Water-based polyurethanes are eco-friendly but Oil-Based Polyurethane has an even bigger ecological footprint because it contains petroleum, and other chemicals to produce its finish. It’s highly toxic to our environment so keep this in mind when deciding whether you want your wood flooring restored with anything from refined oils or petrochemicals!

Doesn’t require any tools

Oil modified polyurethane doesn’t require stripping or sanding prior to application. This saves on time and labor costs for homeowners doing the work themselves without hiring professionals.

Looks better

If you want to get a better look and clear finish at your hardwood products, then Oil based polyurethane will give you a more glossy and deep look. Water based poly is perfect if your hardwood flooring has been sealed with another type of finish, but Oil-based polyurethane can only be used over bare wood surfaces.

Last longer

Oil-based polyurethane will last longer and protect your floors better than water-based polyurethane. If you are looking for protection, Oil based polyurethane is the clear winner!

Quality assurance

You can depend on oil-based products to provide a protective coating for years before it needs to be reapplied. Water-based polyurethane only provides a protective coating for about six months before it will need to be reapplied again.

Easy maintenance

Oil based polyurethane is easier to maintain as well, since it doesn’t require any water or constant clean up unlike Water-based polyurethane which requires more maintenance for the same reason. Oil-based polyurethanes are also considered eco-friendly because of the natural oils used in its production.

Lower Cost

The cost of Oil based polyurethane is less than Water-based polyurethane. Oil based polyurethanes are also cheaper because they have a higher profit margin than water-based products which means that the price per bottle is lower for oil based products.

Disadvantages of Oil based polyurethane

There are a few disadvantages to using oil-based polyurethane.


It’s a highly toxic material that can cause irritation in humans and animals because of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from the product into the air.


Oil based products have high levels of VOCs which are then trapped inside your home or business when you seal them with polyurethanes so they end up giving off fumes for days or weeks afterwards.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Which polyurethane finish do professionals use?

The choice is yours. But most professionals recommend using water-based polyurethane in most cases.

Should I use water based polyurethane over Tung oil?

Technically, the answer is yes. But the problem is that most people don’t know how to apply a sealant properly and end up with an uneven finish or even worse like bubbles on their floor. It’s not just applying it improperly either; there are some chemical reactions that can occur between Tung oil and certain sealants like urethanes or varnishes. Once those chemicals react, they become trapped under the surface of your floors in air pockets where they can do more damage than good for years to come. 

A woodworker who is refinishing their own floor can use linseed oil to create a rich and protective finish. Linseed oil is easy to apply and dries quickly, so you don’t have long to wait before moving on with the project.

Why is water based sealer more popular than oil-based sealer?

Did you know that water based sealer is a better option for your woodworking projects than oil-based sealers? The advantages of water-based over oil-based finish are many. With the right water based sealer, you can protect your woodworking projects from stains and spills. Not only can it be applied with less mess, but it will also dry much more quickly to help protect against moisture damage.


In the end, it’s your decision to choose which polyurethane finish is best for you. But we can help guide you through all of this overwhelming information and make sure that you’re making a well-informed purchase when it comes to choosing an oil-based or water-based polyurethane finishing product. We want what’s best for your floors!

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