Why do we recommend water-based floor finishes?

There are basically two types of polyurethane available; oil-based (solvent-borne) and water-based urethane (water-borne). Oil based products were originally the standard in the industry until the development of water-based floor finishes. Evolving over the past few decades with the demand for a safer, more eco-friendly product, water-based finishes are now the first choice for wood floor refinishing contractors in Nanaimo, BC. Here are some of the advantages of water-based polyurethane.

Eco-Friendly, Healthier & Safer

Perhaps the greatest advantage to the homeowner is there will be virtually no exposure to VOC’s – volatile organic compounds with a water-based product. VOC’s are unsafe for people and pets and found in oil-based finishes which contain a petroleum-derived substance known to be carcinogens. These finishes emit strong fumes for at least 24 hours after application or until the coat has fully dried.

A more natural alternative is to use water-based floor finishes. These products are far safer for the health of home owner’s, tenants and the contractors who apply them. These days, in Nanaimo at least, oil-based polyurethane is not even an option due to the exposure of tenants to strong fumes. Oil-based polyurethane’s are also very flammable whereas the water-based is not, making it safer as well as healthier.


Water-based floor finishes have evolved as manufacturers develop better chemistry delivering greater resistance to abrasion. Improved binders and additives have now made water-based floor finishes the most durable. Top shelf products like Bona Traffic HD have been tested to be up to 5x as durable as oil floor finishes. Island Floor Finishing recommends the best quality products for long-lasting endurance. We still always recommend protecting your floor by frequent cleaning of dirt and grit and placing throw rugs on high traffic areas.

Faster Dry Time

A few coats can be applied and dried all within several hours. The room can be occupied the next day, with no residual odor. An oil based coat could take at least 24 hours to dry and a few days for fumes to subside. Slower drying may be an advantage for the do it yourself because it gives time to correct mistakes. For this reason, water-based finish requires a higher level of skill to apply. I’ve been using water-based polyurethane for many years and find that water-based floor finishes look and perform extremely well in all situations.


Clear Finish Maintains Original Color

Water-based floor finishes are clear coats that maintains the natural color of the wood and highlights the grain more. Oil-based finish immediately changes the color of the wood to a darker tone. Over time and with UV exposure the oil finish changes color to a yellowish amber tone. It is a matter of preference whether this is desirable or not. With the water base finish, however, you will know from the beginning what color the floor will always be, as the finish will change color only slightly. This is especially necessary for keeping a natural look on wood like maple, or on whitewashed or gray stained floors. Also, if you are applying a stain before finishing you will maintain the color of the stain without making it darker.

One reason why someone may choose oil-based floor finish is that it is cheaper. You can get a decent result at a lower price should you choose to go that route. Though considering all of the above we can see why water-based finish has now become the standard of the industry.