Oil Based Finish vs. a Water-Based Finish: Which One Is Right for You?

What is an oil-based finish and how does it differ from a water-based finish? What are the pros and cons of both? We’ve addressed this topic below, so you’ll know what to do when it’s time choose a finish for your wood floors.

Pros of Oil Based Finish

An oil based finish will give the wood an amber glow.

Compared to a water based finish, oil based finishes are more cost effective. One reason oil based finishes are most cost-effective is because only 3-4 coats of finishing on average are needed to get the job done.

Oil based finishes darken with age and offer a thicker coating than a water-based finish. The thicker finish will help protect the floor from scratching, chipping and wear.

Oil-based finishes are more durable and last longer than water based finishes. Because an oil finishing is more durable, you’ll be able to go longer (3-4 years) without having to refinish the entire floor.

Cons of Oil Based Finish

Although you don’t need as many coats of an oil based finish, the drying time for each coat is longer than that of a water-based finish.

Drying time for an oil based-finish can take 12 hours or more for each coat. If you are planning to finish your floors this way, give ample time for the oil finish to dry since oil-based polyurethane is toxic when wet. The fumes from this finish can cause breathing issues, nausea and other illnesses due to the toxicity. Make sure children and pets are out of the house until each coating is fully dry. The surface will become less toxic over time.

Pros of a Water-Based Finish

A water based finish gives the wood a natural look. Compared to an oil based finish, a water based finish will appear clear when it dries.

When applied to the wood, a water based finish has a lighter odor than the oil based finish. It’s also known to be less toxic than an oil based finish.

The recommended drying time for a water based finish is far less than that of an oil finish. The drying time between each of the coats is about 2-3 hours. However, with a water based finish, you’ll need more coats (between 4 and 5) to get the job done.

Cons of a Water-Based Finish

If you choose a water-based finish, you’ll have to re-do your finish within the first two years because this finish isn’t as durable as the oil finish.

Out of the two, the water-based finish is the more expensive procedure. The water-based finish offers a limited color change when dried (if that’s what you’re looking for).

Some wood colors, like gray, require a water-based finish so that an oil based finish will not interfere with the color that has been obtained through staining. This can be a con if you have already invested in custom wood stains, and now have to pay a premium rate for a water-based finish.

Oil-based based finishes and water-based finishes each have their pros and cons. Your decision will come down to your preference and your budget. Consult a flooring consultant to see what type of finishes will be best for you.

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