Almost as important as the type of wood you use for your floors is the type of finish. Polyurethane finishes, oil-based and water-based, serve as a protective layer on top of the wood, which gives the wood sheen. Both types offer good protection, but the biggest differences are the appearance and the after effects once it’s applied. Here are some differences between the two that can help you choose the right finish for your home.



Water-based poly provides a clear finish and has much less of an odor. This is ideal for those who want to preserve the natural colors of the wood floor. This can be a disadvantage for woods such as walnut or pine, which can make the wood look cold, and not as rich. Oil-based poly leaves an amber glow and accents hardwood with a golden shade, especially over many years.


Oil-based poly can require from eight to twenty hours of dry-time per coat. Since two to three coats are required, having this as your finish choice will put the area out of commission for two to three days minimally. Area rugs shouldn’t be put down for at least 30 days, as well. The odor from oil-based poly is also very prominent and can linger up to 45 days. On the plus side, because oil-based poly does not dry so fast, it can be worked with when wet, and allows for any mistakes to be corrected more easily.

Water-based poly dries very fast; one coat will be dry in one to three hours typically. Therefore, the job is also complete in a shorter timeframe than oil base. It certainly makes it more convenient if you’re staying in your home while work is being done, as you can walk on the floor after a few hours, and in between coats. Furniture can be put back usually within 24 hours after finishing, as well.


Though they both are extremely durable, oil-based poly may be slightly superior, depending on the finishes that your contractor uses. Many years ago, oil-based was a tad more resistant to scratches, moisture, and heat when it was compared to water-based poly.   However, there some excellent commercial grade water-based finishes that are every bit as durable as oil, so be sure to ask about the manufacturer your contractor works with.


Choosing the right finish option is a task that requires a little studying, but is always rewarding.Contact the hardwood flooring experts at Signature Hardwood Floors for any questions, and a FREE ESTIMATE. You can call us at 410.415.0755 or click here today! You can also follow us on Facebook