Oil-based kitchen & dining areas

Oil Vs Water-Based Polyurethane: Which One Is Suitable For You?

October 4, 2022
 |  By: 
Improvix Hardwood Flooring

You want a proper finishing for your wood floors to save it from all kinds of physical barriers & to outlook it very brand-new for a long time. But, you don't know how it is possible! Thus, we often face a general question on the internet "which one is perfect for my hardwood floors between water and oil-based polyurethane?".

Well, the answer is quite tricky. But, no worries, as we are here, you will surely get a perfect solution for your hardwood floor. This article will inform you about oil and water-based polyurethanes, their differences, pros & cons, and so on. I hope you will stay with me.

Two Main Types Of Polyurethane

Polyurethane is a protective layer within your hardwood floors and whatever occurs at its peak. Polyurethane, also known as watery plastic finishing, can be applied to plastic or wood finishes. There are mainly two varieties of polyurethanes. One is water-based polyurethane, and another is oil-based polyurethane.

Water-based  hardwood floor

Water Based Poly

Quality water-based poly breaks urethane rosins using acrylic or latex foundations. Rosin and isocyanate joint create urethane which is a plastic or artificial polymer. These give the water-based finishes a significant watery consistency and hasten their evaporation.

Oil Based Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethane hardwood floor

The surface coating known as oil-based poly suspends urethane using a mineral diluent. As soon as the diluents are applied to wood, they help the rosins level out before they vanish. Cross-linking is the mechanism by which the rosins become hard, like a film, after getting in touch with oxygen.

The rosins create a rigid, transparent plastic layer that is heat- and moisture-resistant as well as long-lasting and beautiful, enhancing the depth of the wood's color.

Oil Vs. Water-Based Polyurethane: Main Difference!

There are some main variations between these two types of polyurethanes.


Stability is one of the main concerns of people because they want the best utilization of their money. Oil poly is more stable than water-based polyurethane. The lasting period is approximately 8-10 years for oil-based polys and 4-5 years for water-based polys.

Color Difference

There is a color difference between these two types of products. Oil-based products increase the natural beauty and color of your floor & reduce the chances of a stained hardwood floor. Besides, the oil base gives only one coat of flourishing amber tone.

On the contrary, water-based products remain clear and are light-colored wood. It doesn't turn into a very yellowish tone and remains the same hue before completing any floor finish. If you prefer a white-washed hardwood floor, you can go with a water-based finish.


You can consider oil-based polyurethane a cheap brand because oil-based products are almost 50% less expensive than water-based polys.


Oil base products have a very pungent smell. Also, it may be a cause of discomfort for a while. It would be helpful for you to leave home for some days while undergoing coatings. Nevertheless, every person has a unique nose; thus, some can tolerate the smell.

In the case of water-based products are comparatively lower volatile organic compounds and have almost no smell. Thus, many people like water-based finishes.

Needed Coats

Water-based products paint thinner than oil-based polys. Because of its low density, polyurethane from water includes 30% to 35% solids and 45% to 50% for oil-based polyurethane. It means that you will need 1.5-2 times as much water-based polys to provide the same level of protection.

So, how many coats do you need? When using oil-based polyurethane, you only need several coats (3-4) instead of six when using water-based polyurethane. Water-based finishes need more coats.

Resistant To Damage

Oil-based finishes are more heat and water resistance than water-based. Also, an oil-based stain or scrape is not a problem because these remove it. Water-based polyurethane is resistant to holes and anger.


The hydrocarbon medium applied in oil-based polyurethane makes it explosive, and the smoke can irritate your eyes and nose. Inhalation of this smoke may also be hazardous to your health and harm the atmosphere because of incorrect disposal.

You already know water-based has a latex or acrylic basis. So, it has a scent, and you should abstain from inhaling the smoke even though it is not inflammable and doesn't harm the atmosphere.

Drying Time

Oil-based poly takes a longer time to dry. Oil-based poly takes at least eight to twelve hours to dry, while water-based poly only needs two to three hours to apply the 2nd coat. Temperature and moisture can affect the drying periods as these are approximations.


Water-based poly only needs soapy or running water for cleaning collapses and washing brushes. You need paint thinner or metallic spirit to clean oil-based products. Moreover, these products have difficulties like smoking, inflammability, and secure disposal.

The Best Time Of Use Water-Based Polyurethanes

Oil-based kitchen & dining areas

If you want to keep the natural color of the light species or light-colored maple, use water-based poly.

Water-based products win when you need the latest amount of time before reentering a place.

You can choose water-based finishes if you or other family members have odor sensitivity.

Water-based polyurethanes are an excellent advantage if you avoid metallic-based diluents and need quick cleaning.

Where you put it, polyurethane is not sensitive to heat and dampness but vulnerable to heavy impact.

The Best Time Of Use Oil-Based Polyurethanes

Oil-based poly is the solution if you want to coat darker wood or Brazilian cherry wood. It enriches and improves the wood color.

Oil-based poly is the best option when seeking the least expensive usage. These products save money, last longer, and need lesser coats.

If you are a beginner at painting, you can choose oil-based poly because of its lengthy drying period.

If there is a chance of heat, wetness, or scratching, you can go with oil-based finishes. The flooring contractor prefers to use water-based because of its short drying period. It helps them to start the subsequent coating quickly. But, I suggest you use oil-based if you do floor finish yourself.

Some Pros And Cons Of Oil And Water-Based Polyurethanes

Both products have some pros and cons. Here are these:



  • Quick-drying period
  • Remain clear
  • Almost no smell
  • Easily cleanable
  • Keep the exact color of the wood
  • Eco-friendly
  • Won't deteriorate over time
  • Favorable knock and dent resistance
  • Soft Finishing


  • Several coats needed for a harder coating
  • Greater cost
  • Less stable
  • Tough to detect the place where the product has been used before



  • More significant heat, scrapes, and humidity defense
  • Long-lasting, almost 8 to 10 years
  • Cost-effective
  • Improvement of basal wood color
  • A perfect finishing because of late drying
  • Harder coating
  • Needed lesser coats
  • yellow tones coating


  • It takes a long time to dry
  • Distinct odor
  • Metalic spirits are necessary for cleaning
  • Adhesive before being fully cured
  • Yellow ish tone with time
  • Less reluctant to holes and anger
  • Environmental hazards

Frequently Asked Questions

People are asking various questions about polyurethane on the internet daily. So, answering all the questions in this article is impossible; however, we have tried our best to answer the more common questions below.

Which polyurethane type is waterproof?

Both are not entirely waterproof when used on wood; nevertheless, both help in producing water-resistant wood. Water entry points are created by scrapes, wood extension, contraction, and incomplete covering of the wood surfaces. Maximum moisture can refrain if enough coats are applied and the surface remains good.

Can you cover the oil-based stain with water-based polyurethane?

Sure, but ensure that the stain has completely dried. It would help if you waited for a minimum of 24 hours or more. To provide the polyurethane a locking surface, slowly sand the area.

Is oil-based polyurethane adhesive to water-based stains?

Certainly, but do it carefully. Wait almost 24 to 48 hours for the stain to dry completely. Applying oil-based polyurethane is dangerous to cleaning stains since water-based paint takes a seat on the wood's surface. Most professionals first coat the water-based stain with a light coating of shellac. Before applying the oil-based polyurethane, let it dry completely.

Which polyurethane is more effective for external use?

Water-based poly is less water-resistant than oil-based materials. Additionally, noxious fumes don't bother people as much as they might within the home. As oil-based poly is more heat-resistant, it is the best choice for external use. But one issue is that with time it might start to yellow.

Time To Contact With An Expert

It depends on you which product you will choose. As each product has unique features, you can decide it correctly. Our company Improvix Hardwood Flooring is one of the top companies situated at 3745 W Montrose, Ave Unit 1, Chicago IL, 60618, US.

Usually, we advise people on oil-based products because of their thickness and durability. But you can use a water base if you have an allergic problem with scents and want to stay at home while the process is ongoing. If you face any difficulties, contact us at [773-345--9719]. We have super expert engineered hardwood staffs who provide you with quality products.

Office Hours: Monday to Friday (7:30 am-6:30 pm)

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