We are having a pine kitchen floor, pretty rustic and beat up, sanded and
refinished. The floor refinisher asked if we wanted water-based
polyurethane or not. What's the difference? Pros & cons?
No petroleum fumes with waterborne. Won't amber over time,
which may or may not be desirable (I prefer finishes which show
aging, i.e. character, same as the wood underneath. Cures
faster. Feels even more like plastic than oil-based poly.
Waterborne is essentially latex paint with the pigments
replaced with poly resin. Emulsification is achieved
by addition of glycol-based "bridging solvents," which
allow oil-based compounds to be dissolved in water. Apply
without ventilation, and waterborne finishes will make you
feel every bit as sick as their oil-based counterparts.
Don't be sold on its "nontoxic" qualities. It isn't, just
somewhat less "bad" for you.
Water-based, easy cleanup, low odor, typically doesn't wear nearly as
well. Doesn't yellow. Street Shoe is an excellent brand, very
commonly used in malls with hardwood I'm told. Has wear
characteristics rivalling oil based supposedly. If they have access
to this stuff, I'd go with it for a house I was occupying.
Oil based, lasts longest, does yellow in the sun over time, smells to
high heaven. Dunno if you'll wanna live in the house over the 3-4
days it'll take to put 3 coats of the stuff down.
I put down oilbased poly wiht a paintbrush... it's not that strong of
Just be sure to get away from it every now and again for a few
minutes... if you're using a "lambswool on a stick" applicator then you
should be fine. It won't kill you.
Oh, you may wake up with a headache the morning after because you've
been breathing that stuff all night... but you can kill it with
Not sure about the water-based poly. It has one big advantage...it
stays clear. Oil based will yellow over time, and it is noticable.
If you're staining the floor, go wtih oil based... if you like a
natural wood, then go with the water-based.
What others here have said. My preference is still for the old oil-based
stuff, for the following reasons:
1. As others have pointed out, it's more durable. Harder and more
2. It flows on much, much smoother than the water-based stuff. Think of
the difference in texture between latex (water-based) and oil-based
(real "enamel") paint. With water-based stuff, there will always be some
brush texture. Oil-base settles down to a super-smooth coating (but
which reveals any dirt that gets trapped in the finish).
The disadvantages are the fact that it *may* yellow (but even
water-based finishes will change color over time to some extent), and
the smell. I wouldn't put down an oil-based finish in cold weather in a
sealed house: that would be headache city, as someone else pointed out.
Do it in warm weather when you can keep doors and windows opened. Should
only take about a day for the odor to dissipate. You also should avoid
walking on it until it cures nice and hard (2-3 days at least).
Oh, and the other disadvantage is that you have to wash out brushes,
rollers or other applicators with solvent (paint thinner). I don't find
this a problem. If you are the type who throws out their brushes anyhow,
then this isn't a hassle.
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