Differentiate between water-based polyurethane and oil-based polyurethane?

 In Blog

Oil-based and water-based polyurethane are both used for similar purposes. They are used as a coat to protect the hardwood floor from damage. But over time, both may show scratches, dents, or marks, but they also have some strength that makes them considerable for hardwood floors. 

You may find them similar while comparing their purpose of use. But still, they are not the same. Stay here to learn the differences between oil-based polyurethane and water-based polyurethane.

Water Based Polyurethane VS Oil-based Polyurethane

  • Durability

Durability is an essential factor; when we compare both, we find little difference. Undoubtedly, people assume that oil-based polyurethane has more durability than water-based polyurethane. But in practice, if you take care of water-based polyurethane, it can stay longer than oil-based polyurethane. 

  • Color

Color is another crucial factor to compare. Water-based polyurethane is clear, but Oil-based polyurethane comes in amber hue color. Over time oil base will be darker but remain the amber color, but the water-based always remains clear and unchanged during the lifespan. You may need help to differentiate the color difference over a stained hardwood floor. But the oil-based will give a clear display of amber hue color.

  • Smell

When compared by their smell, we found water-based polyurethane is safer than oil-based polyurethane. There is no smell of water-based poly, but the oil-based poly has a robust and intense odor. Experts recommend remaining outside the room when coating the floors with oil-based poly. You can only enter the room once the oil-based poly dries. So we also advise you to keep yourself, your kids, and your pets out of the house if you apply oil-based poly.

  • Time to Dry

Oil-based poly takes more time to dry. It needs a minimum of 24 hours to dry. You can only walk on the floor after 24 hours. Never apply another coat of the oil-based in 24 hours. While the water-based polyurethane takes less time to dry. 4 to 6 hours are enough to dry. You can easily apply 3 to 4 coats in a day. You can walk on the hardwood floor after 6 hours with no worry. 

  • Hardness and Thickness

While comparing their hardness and thickness, we found oil based poly is softer and thicker than water-based poly. Water-based poly is thinner and more rigid. Oil-based poly is quickly affected by dents, while water-based poly is affected promptly by scratches. 

To keep coats durable and safe, experts recommend a minimum of 3 coats for the water-based poly, while for the oil-based poly, two coats are enough. If you have large pets like big dogs, you should apply three coats of oil-based poly and three coats of water-based poly, while the oil-based poly is two coats of water-based if you are using excellent quality water-based polyurethane.

  • Cost

Cost is a major factor to compare. Water-based poly is more expensive than oil-based poly. If your contractor provides both coatings at the same rates or with a smaller difference, you must ensure the quality. There are more chances you may offer a low-quality water-based poly coating.


Oil-based or water-based polyurethane are both excellent products for hardwood floor protection. Both are durable, but differences in color, smell, hardness, thickness, drying time, and cost make one better. You can choose the one which is better for you according to your required features and budget.

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