Oil-Modified Polyurethane vs Water-Based Polyurethane

One of the most frequently asked questions we get from our customers is, “What is the difference between water based and oil based poly?” Both oil and water based polyurethanes are like a coat of armor for the hardwood floor below, protecting the wood from damage. Each type of polyurethane is a sacrificial layer that will show scratches and wear marks over time, and both oil and water based polyurethane have their strengths!

DURABILITY: If each product is applied properly using quality products, the difference in durability is indiscernible. A lot of clients think that water based poly is not as durable as an oil based poly, but a newer brand, quality water based poly will last just as long if it is well taken care of! For water based polys, we recommend and use only Pallmann and Bona products, as we feel they are the highest quality water based polys on the market.

COLOR: Oil based poly has an amber hue, whereas water based poly is clear. An oil based polyurethane will continue to amber and darken over time, while water based poly will remain clear for the lifetime of the hardwood floor. This color difference is less noticeable over a stained hardwood floor, but an oil based poly will still exhibit an amber hue that will continue to darken over time.

DRYING TIMES: Oil based poly takes much longer to dry and cure, and only one coat of oil based poly can be applied to a hardwood floor in 24 hours. Water based poly dries much faster, and several coats (up to 4) can be applied in one day. Water based poly can be walked on with socks in about 4-6 hours after last coat has been applied, while oil based poly must dry for at least 24 hours before walking on it with socks.

SMELL: Oil based poly has a very pungent smell and emits a strong chemical odor and noxious fumes while drying that should not be inhaled. Applying oil based poly requires the use of a respirator and your clothes will stink for hours afterwards! We normally advise our clients to be out of the house and also to remove their p