Water base vs. Oil base Finishes


This is a question I often get asked. So, what type of finish is best to use on your floors. Sometimes the answers we seek aren't always simple. Not all finishes are created equal. Almost all finishes bought inside a big box home improvement store aren't designed to be used on wood floors. These types of finishes are sold because how easy they are to work with and margins for the retailers. We strictly use professional grade products that can only be bought at flooring distributors. Different tiers of finishes in both categories can outperform one another. Meaning a high tier oil base finish will outperform a lower tier of water base finish. So, comparing apples to apples is very important.


If you ask several different flooring contractors which product is best, you will probably get several different answers. A lot of this has to do with how comfortable a contractor is working with certain types of finishes. This is why picking the right contractor for your project is important.


Oil base finishes are a lot more user friendly and much easier for the user to apply. It is also significantly cheaper in price comparing to some of the top tier water base finishes. Oil base dry times can vary between 8 to 12 hours and cure times are usually around 30 days. During cure times the finish is still off gassing and should not be covered with any type of carpets or area rugs. Oil base finishes have high levels of VOCs that give them a strong odor that can linger for months.


Water base finishes can sometimes be a little trickier to work with if a contractor isn't familiar with them. They also bring a few more factors into play that a contractor has to manage. They typically dry between 2 to 4 hours and usually have full cure times from 3 to 7 days depending on different products. The water base finishes have lower levels of VOCs so the odor is a lot less offensive and doesn't linger. Also, a lot of top tier two component Water base urethanes are a harder finish which hold up better to scratches and UV light.



Oil base has been around for decades and has been a trusted system for many contractors. It is still very popular with older generation flooring contractors. Water base finishes have also been around for decades but have made significant improvements, which is why they have been becoming increasingly more popular.


In my professional opinion I think both finishes have their application in certain environments. I also believe that Water base technology has far surpassed oil base finishes in performance, but nothing brings out the natural beauty of a wood floor like an oil base product. A lot of times the color and look you are trying to achieve with your wood floors will determine the type of finish that should be used. Anytime a homeowner is looking for a white or gray floor water base is strongly recommended. The reasoning is that water base will tend to stay clear where as oil base will yellow and amber overtime. With a lot of the new flooring trends colors are shifting from that orange look that so many of us remember when we were children.



I hoped that I helped you make a decision with what finish might be best for your floors. So many different options out there choosing the right finish can be difficult. If you ever want to chat or have any other questions please feel free to contact me, I’d be more than happy to help.

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