At Delair’s Carpet Barn in East Montpelier, Vermont, one major question we often get about wood floor refinishing is: What is the difference between water-based and oil-based polyurethane? While both of these offer strong, durable protection for wood surfacing, preventing damage, they both have their strengths. Let's go over what these strengths are before you decide on which one to get from your wood refinishing service.

Strength and durability

Both oil-based and water-based products equally high-quality, with a level of strength and durability that’s strikingly similar. In theory, both products should last the same amount of time, provided they have the same environmental situation.

Style and color

While these two polyurethane finishes typically act the same way, their style and color tend to shift over time. Usually, water-based finish keeps its color steadily during its lifespan. Oil-based finish, on the other hand, normally gets darker, taking on a more amber hue over time. Stained hardwood planks will show this change less than a lighter or unstained wood.

Drying time

Oil-based polyurethane takes longer to dry completely, usually about 24 hours per coat. Keep in mind that each coat can only be applied once the surface is completely dry. Water-based finish is a lot more flexible, as several coats can be applied relatively quickly since drying time is faster. As such, instead of it taking several days to walk on your floor after adding oil-based polyurethane, it only needs about 4-6 hours in total.


Truthfully, oil-based polyurethane is quite stinky. It gives off a strong chemical smell that's quite pungent, making it essential to use proper ventilation techniques during application. During wood floor refinishing, workers typically use respiratory masks to allow them to breathe safely under these conditions. Water-based finish is quite the opposite since it gives off virtually no odor. Thus, a lot let protection is needed during the wood refinishing service work. Of course, this also means your house won’t stink up as much!

Expert wood floor refinishing

Any professional refinisher will provide you with honest feedback on which type of polyurethane would best suit your wood installation and lifestyle. If you’re looking for sound advice for your upcoming renovation, visit our on-site professionals at Delair’s Carpet Barn today! Serving the East Montpelier, Montpelier, Stowe, and Waterbury, Vermont regions, our flooring specialists are ready to simplify your next redesign.