Oil-based polyurethane or water-based polyurethane finishes for wide plank floors: which one is the better choice?

As is the case with most things, there are pros and cons to each choice, whether you opt for a water-based or an oil-based wood floor finish. There’s no right answer, so the type of finish that you choose will largely depend on your goals and your lifestyle.

Oil-based finishes for wide plank floors

First, let’s go over the pros and cons of choosing an oil-based finish for a wide plank floor. 

Pros:

  • More durable – They generally hold up better to heavy traffic and damage better than waterbased finishes.
  • More affordable – The cost per gallon for an oil-based wood floor finish is typically less than the cost of a water-based wood floor finish. 

Cons:

  • Can have an ambering effect over time – This means that as time passes, these finishes take on a yellowish or amber tone, which impacts the look of the floor. This isn’t ideal if you want to showcase the natural look and color of the flooring.
  • Higher VOCs – VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, which aren’t great to inhale, produce a strong odor, and can be harmful to the environment.

Water-based finishes for wide plank floors

Now let’s move on to the pros and cons of choosing a water-based finish for your wide plank floors.

Pros:

  • Water-based finishes dry clear and unlike oil-based poly finishes, they don’t turn an amber color over time, meaning that the natural color of the wood will be able to show through.
  • Dries more quickly than oil-based finishes. The drying time depends on the properties of the finish and the environmental conditions at the time of application, but some varieties can dry and be ready for the next coat within as little as one hour, as opposed to oil-based poly finishes, most of which can take 24 to 48 hours to dry in between coats.
  • Less VOCs – Waterbased polyurethane finishes typically contain much less volatile organic compounds than their oil-based counterparts, meaning that they’re better for the environment. Some waterbased finishes even boast a zero VOC count. 

Cons: 

  • Typically less durable than your oil-based alternatives. This doesn’t mean that they’re not durable or that they don’t stand up to foot traffic, because some waterbased finishes are incredibly durable. The technology to produce waterbased floors has advanced in recent years, making them more durable than older versions. However, an oil-based polyurethane finish, when applied correctly, will usually outperform a waterbased finish in terms of durability.
  • More expensive – Waterbased finishes are typically more expensive than oil-based polyurethane finishes. This means that a waterbased finish may be cost prohibitive depending on your budget.
  • More coats needed – In order to achieve a comparable level of durability to an oil-based finish, the contractor will need to apply more coats – typically three or four, as opposed to just two coats for an oil-based finish.

If you need help deciding which finish to choose, your hardwood floor contractor will likely have a recommendation based on the needs of your project. You can also contact us to speak with a wide plank expert about your project to help decide which type of finish is right for you.

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