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Question DetailsAsked on 7/17/2013

Hardwood floors - oil or water refinish?

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2 Answers


The cost may be similar if a professional does the work. You may have better success with a polyurethane/varnish [oil] if you do the work yourself and the product cost will be less than the waterbased products. Oil seems to bring out the beauy of dark woods. The water base is less able to bring out the richness, waterbase sealers are OK with lighter woods.

Answered 7 years ago by carpentermike


Oil-based flooring finishes are easier to make mistakes with, and you have to be more careful about keeping the working front "fresh" - not getting back into partly dried areas with your brush, as it will show streaking and ridges if you do. Cleanup is more difficult if you don't like using paint thinner, and fumes are much stronger and persistent for a week or more instead of a day or two.

However, water-based products have a far shorter life, are not as resistant to scratches or wear, do not bring out the color of the wood or provide a significant "depth" to the finish, and typically take 4-5 coats to produce as durable a finish as 2-3 oil based coats, and do not have anything like the water resistance of oil based.

I would disagree with the prior comment on pricing - it depends where you buy, and the brand - I was surprised at the statement so checked at Lowes, WalMart, and my local lumber yard - there was no consistency in prices, but the water-based was generally 10 -20% CHEAPER than oil based, which has always been my experience. Perhaps it is because in snow country where I live people have learned to use oil based or suffer the consequences, so maybe water-based is cheaper here because it is not so much in demand.

I know I did my oak entry stairs in oil-based Varathane originally, refinished them about 10 years later with water based (during the big California-promoted greenie scare about VOC's in paints, so oil-based was hard to come by) from the same manufacturer, ended up having to refinish with oil based in less than a year, is now time to refinish again about 11 years later.

To my thinking, there is no replacing oil-based for transparent or stained wood finishing if you want a professional, non-plastic looking product.

Bear in mind, if you ever use a water-based product, you had better do a pretty good sized test somewhere if you try to overcoat it with oil-based - it will usually bubble or lift with oil-based finishes over it.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD

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