Hardwood Floors - Why a Water-Based Finish is the Right Choice for You

If you're preparing to put a finish on your home's hardwood floor, your main options are water-based or oil-based wood floor finishes. While both finishes can protect your floor and make it look great, a water-based wood floor finish carries several advantages over its oil-based counterpart.


Clear Color to Show Off Your Hardwood

When you open a can of water-based finish and one of oil-based finish, you don't need long to spot (or smell) the difference. Water-based finishes have a milky look while oil-based finishes are much darker. Both finishes give the floor a nice sheen, but water-based finishes have a clear, natural look. Oil-based finishes give the wood an amber tint.

If you want to keep the natural colors of your hardwood, a water-based coating does just that. Certain woods look better with an amber color, but that doesn't mean you have to opt for an oil-based finish. There are water-based sealers made with color enhancers to give your floor an amber glow similar to that of an oil-based finish.


Fewer Chemicals

Wood floor finishes have volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs. During the application process and for some time afterward, the finish sends these VOCs into the air, harming the environment. Long-term exposure to and inhalation of VOCs can also cause health problems.

Finish manufacturers work hard to ensure both water- and oil-based finishes have safe levels of VOCs. However, since water-based wood floor finishes have far fewer VOCs than oil-based ones, they're the safer option. Water-based finishes also lack the strong odor of oil-based finishes.


Shorter Drying Time

Oil-based finishes take much longer to dry than water-based ones. When you apply a water-based finish, it's dry about an hour later, and you can put on another coat two hours after application. The drying times of oil-based finishes vary heavily depending on the manufacturer, but the standard duration is between eight and 20 hours.

Water-based finishes have fewer solids than oil-based ones, so more coats are required to protect your floor. Typically, four coats of a water-based finish are as protective as two or three coats of an oil-based finish. However, due to the shorter drying times of water-based finishes, they let you finish the floor in one day compared to two or three days for an oil-based finish.

Because a water-based finish dries so quickly, you need to apply it correctly the first time. On the other hand, you can walk on a water-based finish much sooner without ruining it.

Water- and oil-based finishes both form a protective layer over your hardwood and enhance its appearance for years to come, but water-based finishes give you most of the benefits of oil-based ones without the drawbacks, making them the better choice.

Learn more about water-based finishes and how to apply them.