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Basic Differences: Oil Based vs Water Based Hardwood Finishes

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

If you’re looking to refinish your hardwood floors, you’ve likely come across the debate between oil-based and water-based finishes. It can be difficult to know which is the right choice for your flooring. First, let’s look at the similarities. Both types of finish will provide your hardwood with a protective layer that helps prevent scuffs and scratches, as well as adding a beautiful sheen to your floor. That being said, there are still some key differences between oil and water based finishes that you should be aware of before making your decision. Let’s break down the difference between these two options so you can make an educated decision on what finish is best for your hardwood flooring.

Oil-Based Hardwood Finishes

Oil-based hardwood finishes are one of the most common types of floor finishes used in both residential and commercial settings. Due to its durability, it’s often used in high traffic areas like public spaces or retail stores. Oil-based finishes are typically made from natural oils like linseed or Tung oil, which create a protective layer over the wood that lasts up to 5 years with proper maintenance. This type of finish also offers a warm, orange hue that many homeowners appreciate as it adds a slight warmth to the wood without making it look too glossy or too dark.

The downside to oil-based finishes is that they tend to yellow over time due to their natural ingredients, so if you’re looking for something that will remain light in color for longer, then this may not be the best option for you. Additionally, oil based finishes take much longer than water based ones to dry and may require more maintenance to keep them looking their best and they tend to give off a strong odor during application (due to high VOC levels) which can last for days after the job is done.

Water-Based Hardwood Finishes

Water-based hardwood finishes offer an alternative solution when compared to oil-based ones. They are made with synthetic resins that provide a vibrant sheen instead of a soft sheen like oil-based products do and they contain lower VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) so they are more environmentally friendly than their counterparts as well. Water based hardwood finishes dry quickly - usually within 2 hours - and last up to 10 years if properly maintained, making them ideal for busy households or offices where time is of the essence when it comes to refinishing projects. They also won't yellow over time like some oil based products do so they can maintain their original brightness and clarity better than other products on the market today.

Ultimately, deciding between oil based vs water based hardwood finishes depends on what type of look you want for your floors as well as how long you need them to last before needing another coat of product applied. Oil based products offer lasting durability but require more maintenance while water based products are easier to apply and don't yellow over time but may not last quite as long overall. Understanding both types of hardwood finishing products can help ensure that you select the right one for your project so you can get great results every time.

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