There are three typical types of hardwood flooring finish. There is shellac, polyurethane, and varnish. Shellac has fallen out of favor in many circles. There is a lively debate about polyurethane and varnish; however, the concern of this article is polyurethane. Polyurethane is the most common type of finish. It is essentially a liquid plastic that is either wholly synthetic or in a mixture with resin. It’s applied in a couple of coats and allowed to dry. Once it dries, it essentially creates a clear plastic cover over your floors. It is scratch-resistant, waterproof, and easy to clean. However, you still have another choice to make after you choose polyurethane. Do you want water-based or oil-based?
How Many Coats?
If you are having a professional touch up a small part of your hardwood flooring or you’re refinishing a room that is not often used, the number of coats isn’t as important. However, if you’re having the floors refinished in a busy part of the house, the number of coats is important. A water-based polyurethane goes on clear and dries enough to be coated again in about two hours. However, it requires several coats.
An oil-based polyurethane goes on with a slight amber tinge. It takes about six hours or more before another coat can be applied. However, far fewer coats are needed. Strictly based on the number of coats and the speed with which they can be applied, water-based polyurethane is the easier solution.
Which Looks Better?
As stated earlier, water-based polyurethane goes on clear, and oil-based polyurethane goes on with a slight amber tint. If you want to preserve your flooring exactly as it appears, then water-based is the best option. It goes on clear but will provide a little bit of depth to the color by reflecting the light.
On the other hand, certain types of wood benefit greatly from the slight amber hue of an oil-based polyurethane. The amber complements the natural tones of wood very well. Based on appearance, oil-based polyurethane is probably the winner.
What About Costs?
Water-based polyurethane generally costs about twice as much as oil-based. Considering that you’ll need to apply at least four coats of water-based poly compared to about two for oil-based, that means that it could actually cost more than double to use water-based.
In conclusion, water-based polyurethane goes on crystal clear, has low odor, and dries very quickly. Oil-based polyurethane gives a warm glow to wood, takes longer to dry, and has a strong odor. Water-based finishes also cost more. You should ask a professional and request samples of the two finishes applied to hardwood flooring.