Refinishing hardwood floors with polyurethane: water-based vs. oil-based

Refinishing hardwood floors with polyurethane: water-based vs. oil-based

If you have an older hardwood floor that’s scuffed or damaged, it doesn’t necessarily need to be replaced. Often, refinishing hardwood floors is the key to extending the floor’s lifespan. By sanding away imperfections and then applying a new top coat of polyurethane, wood floor refinishing can easily add years to your hardwood. But refinishing hardwood floors with polyurethane takes many considerations, such as choosing between water-based and oil-based polyurethane.

At G3 Hardwood Flooring, we’re your go-to hardwood flooring company in Colorado Springs. Our team is here to answer all of your questions, including the best type of protective finish for your home’s flooring. In fact, hardwood flooring has been our family tradition since 1947. Not sure what type of polyurethane to use for your refinishing project? G3 Hardwood Flooring is here to help.

Read on to learn more about water-based and oil-based polyurethane.


When it comes to choosing between water-based and oil-based polyurethane, color is a major factor.

Oil-based polyurethane has a much darker finish and can sometimes appear yellow or amber-tinted. On the other hand, water-based polyurethane is slightly lighter in color, giving it a more natural look.

If you’re buying expensive wood that’s rich in color, oil-based polyurethane can easily overwhelm the wood’s natural beauty. In that case, go with a water-based polyurethane to maintain the natural look.

Ultimately, your choice of finish will depend on the overall look you are going for in your home.


Another factor to consider when refinishing hardwood floors with polyurethane is price.

While oil-based finishes do tend to be pricier than water-based ones, they also provide additional protection against stains and fading over time.

Water-based finishes are usually less expensive but may need to be applied more often if you want them to last as long as an oil-based finish.


When it comes to wearability, there are a few things you should consider.

Oil-based finishes tend to be more durable and can stand up better against everyday wear and tear. On the other hand, water-based finishes can dull or fade over time. That means you’ll have to apply a water-based polyurethane more frequently than an oil-based one.

If your hardwood floors will receive high foot traffic, oil-based polyurethane may be your best bet for lasting protection from scratches and scuffs.

You should ideally use three coats of polyurethane for maximum protection. Four coats may be needed if you’re using a water-based finish in a high-traffic area.

Drying Time

The difference in drying times between water and oil-based polyurethane is notable. In general, oil-based polyurethane takes much longer to dry than its water-based counterpart; this makes it less ideal if you’re on a tight timeline.

Water-based polyurethane takes about 4 hours to dry whereas oil ones take up to 12 hours to dry. However, these estimates really depend on a multitude of factors like humidity and indoor temperature.

It is always best to air on the side of caution and allow plenty of time for your polyurethane to dry.


The smell of oil-based polyurethane is often more pungent than the smell of water-based finishes. This can be a major consideration if you’re refinishing hardwood floors in an occupied home or office space since the fumes and odor can linger for several days after application.

Water-based finishes are usually less smelly and will dissipate much faster than oil-based ones. Wondering why polyurethane smells so strongly? The volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, released during the application process are what cause the smell. Water-based ones have fewer VOCs, making them the better option when it comes to smell.

Refinish Your Hardwood Floors With the G3 Hardwood Experts

So what type of polyurethane is best for your floor refinishing project? The answer really depends on your personal needs and preferences. Water-based polyurethane is usually lighter in color, cheaper, and faster drying. On the other hand, oil-based polyurethane may offer more protection from everyday wear and tear, although it can have a strong odor.

Take into consideration all of these factors when deciding which type of polyurethane to use for your project. If you’re still not sure what type of finish is best for your hardwood floors, contact G3 Hardwood Flooring today for expert advice! We look forward to helping you create the beautiful flooring you deserve.