The Differences between Oil-Based and Water-Based Polyurethane Finishes

Welcome back to our Foxhound Floors Atlanta blog all you good folks in Metro Atlanta and beyond. Today’s article is based on a frequently asked question (Differences between Oil-Based and Water-Based Polyurethane Finishes) that our Foxhound Floors Atlanta teams answer pretty much on a daily basis and seeing the opportunity to clarify and put this into perspective, it will allow me to share my insights to include clearly defining this much asked question with lots of invaluable details so let’s get started. 

There are differences between oil based and water based polyurethanes but you would be surprised that it’s not about which product is better than the other but that it clearly comes down to the request, specifically the project or work requested by our clients that determines what our Foxhound Floors Atlanta team ends up using. There is tons to be said about developing new technologies and the opportunities presented when it comes to water-based polyurethane as there was a time in the not too distant past that oil-based finishes lasted longer but because of the advances in new technologies as I stated earlier, there really is no real difference in how long both oil-based and water-based polyurethane finishes last so that in itself is simply awesome.

So now let’s talk about the nuances between oil-based and water-based polyurethane and how to apply them to different and or specific wood types per the client request but before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s discuss the fundamentals. We should first start discuss how long it really takes to dry (number one question on all our client projects) and if you are using water-based polyurethane, it can be recoated about 4 to 6 hours and the maximum allowed coats that can be applied in one day would be up to 4 coats. Also, you need to be very aware that furniture of any kind should not and I do repeat (with all due respect) should not be placed on the finished flooring for at least 12 hours after the last coat was applied by the team of flooring professionals that you hired and spent your hard earned money on so you can have beautiful hardwood flooring. 

Now we need to move on to oil-based polyurethane and how only one to two coats per day can be applied but of course, it also depends on the exact instructions based on the specific oil-based product you are wanting to use so that is a consideration based on your expectations which is the only thing that counts as far as Foxhound Floors Atlanta is concerned.  So how may coats does it take for oil-based polyurethane for my hardwoods to be complete? And the answer to that is the application can be applied in just 1 to 2 coats per day but it really truly depends (as I stated earlier) on the actual product details aka instructions that you are wanting to use. Furthermore, you will have to wait 24 hours to be able to walk on it after the last coat has been applied and 48 hours before you can move any furniture whatsoever back into the room and we at Foxhound Floors Atlanta highly recommend you follow these instructions to the tee. 

Since we are sharing as much information as possible in this article, we thought you might want to know the actual amount of coats needed for both applications (oil-based versus water-based polys.) For example, since oil-based polyurethane has more solids than water-based polyurethane, you will only need two coats versus three coats when using water-based polyurethane and this seems to be the industry wide average of coats applied for both polys so now you know and something to keep in your back pocket when interviewing flooring contractors and see what they have to say.  

Now let’s talk about the “challenge” of using polys and it is the odors and or fumes that you will have to deal with. The good news is that water based finishes have a light odor to them and though you do not have to wear a respirator (thank goodness), you might want to crack a window or two to let some fresh air in. Personally, if it’s a nice day and not during the heat of summer or the cold of winter, I would open as many windows as possible but that’s just me. On the other side of the coin, we have oil-based polyurethane which has a strong and fumy odor and you will need a respirator (we highly recommend it) and please make sure to keep your lovely pets and folks who have breathing issues as far away from the fumes as possible. How long does the odor/fumes last? Great question good folks of Metro Atlanta and the simple answer is about a couple days that it will take for the polyurethane to be fully cured. And last but not least, you definitely need to keep the area well ventilated so the fumes go away as quickly as possible.

While we are at it, let’s talk about the durability factor for both water-based and oil-based polys and how there is a definite difference when it comes to the proverbial “wear and tear” for both polys and the steps needed to protect the finish for your hardwoods. Alright, let’s start with water-based poly which is considered to be harder so its surface is capable of getting abrasions that are caused by fine debris. How can we protect it? Glad you asked that question and the simple response would be to regularly vacuum your hardwoods but be careful in choosing the right vacuum which has to have a cleaner with rubber wheels. Why? Because, the rubber wheels are gentler on your hardwoods and will prolong the finish of your hardwoods. 

Now we move on to oil-based finishes which are softer so that means that they don’t get scratched as easily as the water-based polys. Although, there are certain caveats (there is always a catch) such as acquiring unneeded dents in a much easier fashion then water-based polys. So not only do we have to continually keep debris off the floor but we should also put some type of pads underneath the furniture so your oil-based floors will not get damaged with dents and who wants that after the investment you’ve made so our advice is to be extremely careful and put those pads in place underneath your furniture.

Well good folks of Metro Atlanta and beyond, it looks like we’ve covered quite a bit when it comes to the differences between water-based polys and oil-based polys but as we at Foxhound Floors Atlanta know, this tad bit of information that we’ve shared with you is really the tip of the iceberg of what our collective knowledge thus allowing us the opportunity to build a repository of articles full of details that you will find very useful when it comes to making a decision on either installing hardwoods in Atlanta or simply wanting them repaired. Thank you in advance and have a wonderful day as we look forward to you coming back to our blog.




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