Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Hardwood Floor Finishes


There are many different types of hardwood floor finishes on the market today. Two of the most popular varieties are oil-based and water-based finishes. Both oil and water based finishes have their advantages.

Read on below for an overview of each finish.


Many people are fond of oil-based flooring finish because of its amber or golden patina. Floors with that golden hue are often thought of as looking classic or traditional. For many, this is the ideal color of what hardwood floors should be. In fact, over time the oil-based finish will darken and become even bolder in its hue.

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Oil-based finish requires fewer coats than water-based finish. However, the catch is that oil-based finish requires a much longer dry time. So while oil-based typically only needs three or four coats, you must wait several hours in between coats.

Due to the way most oil-based flooring finishes are manufactured, they typically have a stronger odor and contain more VOCs than water-based finish.

While each type of finish lasts quite a long time, many contractors hold the opinion that oil-based lasts longer than water-based by a few years.

Many hardwood floor installers are more comfortable with oil-based products, as they have been around longer. Additionally, oil-based floor finish is more forgiving in its application. The combination of familiarity and ease of use is attractive to hardwood floor installers.


Most water-based finishes dry clear. This is great if you want to let the natural color of the wood displayed prominently. It’s also ideal for use on lighter color woods like maple. Another scenario is if the hardwood floor has been stained. By using a clear, water-based finish there won’t be any conflict between the stain color and finish color.

One reason water-based floor finishes rose in popularity is because they are manufactured with less VOCs than oil-based finishes. This serves two purposes. One, less VOCs mean less odor. Two, less VOCs is better for the environment.

Because most water-based finishes possess less solid content, they deliver a thinner film. This means multiple coats are needed to achieve the recommended film thickness. Typically there are four or five coats on a floor. However, the thinness of the finish leads to quicker dry times. Some particularly skilled hardwood floor installers can lay down four coats in a day on a single floor. We strongly recommend only applying two coats in one day to achieve the most thorough cure.

One aspect of water-based floor finishes to watch out for is if the finish manufacturer requires the use of a second component like a catalyst to the water-based finish. The catalyst usually helps harden the finish. In these situations the catalyst must be properly mixed into the finish or the finish will not perform correctly.

If you have any questions about the differences between oil-based and water-based hardwood floor finishes feel, free to call the City Floor Supply at (800) 737-1768 or send an email to info@cityfloorsupply.com.

One thought on “Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Hardwood Floor Finishes

  1. N-Hance Austin

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