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Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Polyurethane. . . and Then There’s Tung Oil

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When it comes to finishing or refinishing your hardwood floors, you have a couple different options with the finish you select. Polyurethane can be either water-based or oil-based. Opinions on which finish is better run the gamut throughout the flooring industry, so it can be difficult to decide which product really is best for you and your home. We are certainly not the end-all, be-all gurus on this subject, but over the years our experience has helped us to form an educated opinion.

For the elevator version, we would suggest that oil-based polyurethane is better for typical hardwood finishing. Here’s why. Oil-based polyurethane brings out the warmth and brilliance of hardwood. Floors that have been finished with oil-based poly have a deeper luster and typically do not need to be refinished as often. This finish is also significantly less expensive than water-based poly and (in our opinion) more durable.

Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Polyurethane

Water-based poly goes on clear and remains clear with a low luster, so it doesn’t have the same warm, amber glow as oil-based. It has little sheen and is often used in commercial applications. Because there are less solids in water-based poly, four coats need to applied (as opposed to three with oil-based), and it is suggested that you apply additional coats every couple of years. However, with all of that being said, there are a few clear advantages to water-based polyurethane. It emits less VOC’s (and therefore less odor) and is considered slightly more environmentally friendly than oil-based. It also dries much quicker. A coat of water-based polyurethane can dry in as little as two hours, compared to 12 hours for each coat of oil-based….which means less time you have to be out of your home waiting for the floors to dry. The faster drying time is typically the reason most people choose water-based, but from our experience (Pizazz owner, Eric, even regretfully tried water-based throughout his own home), we would suggest oil-based is worth the wait.

Now that you have the run-down on your polyurethane options, we’d also like to throw a third contender into the mix–tung oil. Tung oil is actually our favorite finish. Tung oil is made from pressed seeds from the nut of the tung tree. Its origins go back to the 14th century, when it was used to waterproof and protect wooden ships. For the better part of the 1900’s and up until today, tung oil has been the finish preferred by true craftsman on all wood projects; especially exotic wood, furniture, and wooden countertops. Tung oil makes the top of our list for several reasons. First, it penetrates deep into the pores of wood, forming a bond from within and literally becoming part of the wood itself (as opposed to just sitting on the surface). This allows the finish to lock out water and resist dirt, chemicals, heat and cold. Second, it provides a rich, hand-rubbed finish that enhances a wood’s grain. Tung oil gives wood an “open pore” appearance and brings out a floors inherent beauty and character. Lastly, tung oil is easier to apply and requires less maintenance than other finishes. The finish has a longer “open time” and is self-leveling, which means that (with the proper education) the typical homeowner could actually touch up scratches and scuff marks, without having to refinish the entire floor.

At Pizazz Floors, regardless of the finish selected, we always use the highest quality products. If you go the polyurethane route (whether oil- or water-based), we only use Bona, a top-of-the-line polyurethane that is exceptional in both residential and commercial settings. If you select tung oil, Waterlox is the brand we trust for your floors. Waterlox was the pioneer in tung oil finishes and remains the nation’s leading manufacturer of premium wood finishes. In addition to superior quality products, we only employ skilled finishers that are true masters at what they do. A Pizazz consultant can help you determine what finish will be best for you and your lifestyle.

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