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Oil-Based Finish vs Water-Based Finish

by in Hardwood Refinish
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 One of the most common question we hear from people planning on refinishing their floors is what finish should we choose, oil-based or water-based. This article will provide you with some information which might help you to pick one of them.

 Oil-based finishes.

In most of the cases oil-based finishes made out polyurethane resin, mineral spirits, silica and other ingredients depending on unique techniques of different manufacturers.  Some of these ingredients have unpleasant odor.  This odor usually stays in house for 2-5 days depending on material, ventilation, heating conditions and etc. Oil-based finish also needs more time to cure; it’s pretty soft for about 15 hours. In most of the cases, you can walk on a finished floor (only in socks) one day after finish is applied. As for the heavy furniture, you should let polyurethane to dry up for a week before bringing it in. Light tables, chairs and small furniture can be brought in earlier, but it’s not recommended. Rugs are not allowed to go in for another month, because it might block odors and volatilization


Oil-based finish has yellowish, honey color. Chemicals create effect of lens, which enlarge the view of wood by adding more volume and color to it. Oil-based Finish darkens with time. First color change might be visible after about 2-4 years, depending on how much light floor gets. Try to move your rugs and furniture around once in a while in order to prevent floor from lighter spots creation.

Oil-based vs Water-based finish

Pic: Pine on the left is finished with oil-based finish. Pine on the right is finished with water-based finish.


Water-based Finish

Water-based or latex finish doesn't have any smell; it’s made out of water, polymeric resins, propylene and etc. Its drying time is significantly shorter comparing to oil-based finish: you can walk on the floor after about 6 hours once applied. Odor absence means that you can stay in the house while latex is drying. Latex finish has better durability but it’s thinner comparing to oil-based floor. This makes both oil and water finishes have about the same wearing life time.


Water-based finish has white, milky color. If your floor has a lot of character, water-based finish will blend it a bit. Latex will make wood look pale, although if you use Bona Amber Seal, you will get lighter result. Water-based finish also has better UV protection: it doesn’t change color as dramatically as oil-based finish.