Water-based or Oil-based polyurethane?What are the differences!

Water-based or Oil-based polyurethane?What are the differences!

As we have gathered up to spread awareness, it is better to start with a hot topic!

Most people are not aware of the differences between water-based and oil-based polyurethane. Today we will go over the differences between these products and to make it simple we’ll start with a comparison table.

Comparison Table

This comparison table describes the key differences between water-based and oil-based polyurethane.






Amber Tone



Strong (Powerful)





Relatively Rough




Relatively Cheaper

Long-term Indications

Stays Clear

Gets Darker with Time


Water-based or Oil-based polyurethane?What are the differences!

Now that we have described the main differences in the comparison table, let’s go on to elaborate those points in brief detail.


This is one of the most important factors that you should consider while purchasing polyurethane for your floor. The color of oil-based polyurethane is an amber hue which is a very rich and attractive color and darkens over time. In contrast, water-based polyurethane is clear. That means you can behold the actual beauty and color of the wood in water-based polyurethane.

Number of Coats

Always remember that oil-based polyurethane is thicker while water-based polyurethane has a thin layer. While using oil-based polyurethane, most of the time you can get away with only 2 coats of poly because of it thicker build up. In comparison, water-based polyurethane requires more than 2 coats to get the proper build up to achieve the desired durability.


The texture is usually very important for customers. Practically, if you go for a water-based product, you experience a slightly rougher texture. That is due to the fact that water-based poly lacks the oil lubricant that oil-based polies contain. On the other hand, the oil-based product has a smooth texture.

Drying Time

Another important factor is the drying time. Oil-based polyurethane takes a lot more time to dry up compared to water-based. For example, one coat can take up to 24 hours to dry. In comparison, the water-based product dries very fast, usually within 4 to 6 hours, allowing for multiple coats in one day.


When you are working with polyurethane, you have to keep in mind the odor. If you go for water-based polyurethane, it offers an insignificant odor and is safe for people to occupy a house while undergoing the application. When you go for the oil-based polyurethane, you face a pretty harsh odor and dangerous fumes that should not be inhaled. That is due to the high VOC levels it contains, therefore you should wear a respirator when applying oil-based polyurethane. As a result, people should not occupy the house while oil-based poly is applied and drying.

Cost Analysis

When you decide to buy something, you always have to make compromises. Either you compromise a feature for the price, or you buy the expensive product for the great features it provides. Water-based polyurethane is unique when it comes to its insignificant, non-irritant odor and fast drying time. However, such great features come at a cost. The price of water-based polyurethane is more expensive in comparison to oil-based poly.

Change over Time

Changes in the finish become apparent over time. Oil-based polyurethane darkens over time giving the floor an amber hue. Water-based polyurethane remains clear overtime keeping the natural look of the wood which is highly sought after when you don’t want to alter the color.

Water-based or Oil-based polyurethane?What are the differences!
Water-based or Oil-based polyurethane?What are the differences!
Water-based or Oil-based polyurethane?What are the differences!

Now that we have discussed and compared the points in detail, it is time to see the pros and cons of both types of poly.

Pros of Water-Based Polyurethane

  • Fast dry times.
  • Insignificant odor.
  • Doesn’t amber over time.
  • Harder than oil-based.

Cons of Water-Based Polyurethane

  • Expensive cost.
  • Requires more coats.
  • Scratches easier due to it hardness.

Pros of Oil-Based Polyurethane

  • Affordable cost.
  • More resistant to scratches due to softer finish.
  • The need for maintenance is pretty low.
  • The glow that you get is very attractive.
  • The texture is very smooth.

Cons of Oil-Based Polyurethane

  • Longer dry times.
  • Dents easier due to it softer finish.
  • The odor is unbearable (respirator use is recommended).
  • The floor darkens over time.

Wrapping Up

Each polyurethane has its own pros and cons. We aimed at providing customers with a brief discussion about both types of polyurethane so that every customer can confidently choose what is convenient for them. We at First Atlanta Flooring strive to fulfil all of your needs related to flooring. We hope that you have the information necessary to make the right decision for your floors.

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