Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Hardwood Finish – What’s Best?

Varnishing lacquering an oak parquet floor by paint roller first layer.

One of the toughest parts about hardwood floor refinishing is deciding what type of finish to use. No need to stress it! We’re here with some straightforward pros and cons for both of the main types of hardwood floor finishes to help you narrow down what is best for your next refinishing project.

Denver Dustless sets high standards for the Denver Metro Flooring industry in all areas of hardwood flooring, with no exception to the refinishing process. Hardwood floor refinishing is one of our specialties. Still, many homeowners looking to refinish their hardwood are unsure what type of hardwood refinishing is best for them.

That’s why we’re here to help clear up what your hardwood finish options are and help you decide what is best for you and your home.

Choosing a Method of Hardwood Floor Refinishing

Hardwood floor refinishing is quite the process, and sanding is just the beginning. Once your floor is safely and efficiently prepped after the sanding process, you are faced with an important decision: What type of finish should you apply to your hardwood floor?

At first it may seem like a minor decision, but in reality, this choice has potential to have a large impact on you, whether in terms of cost, timing in moving back into your home, or even factors contributing to you or your family’s health.

Two Hardwood Floor Finish Options

There are two basic types of floor finishes that can be applied to your hardwood as a final step in the hardwood refinishing process. Check out these pros and cons of each option to help you choose the right one for your home.

Both methods are effective and offer good protection for your floor, yet there are important differences worth consideration.

Hardwood Floors Magazine says “There are a number of factors that contractors and end-users must consider before choosing any finish. The trick is to educate everyone involved as to what options are available in order to achieve the best balance between the look the end-user wants, the suitability of the finish to their lifestyle, and the impact on indoor air quality.”

Oil-Based Hardwood Floor Finish

The first basic type of floor finish is an oil-based hardwood floor finish. Oil based finishes usually have a darker hue and require fewer coats. Still, this does not necessarily equate to faster application.

Each coat of finish may on average require approximately 5 hours of waiting time, including a final coat wait time that can be as long as 12 hours! As you may have guessed, you may have to find another place to sleep for a few days.

Along with the long waiting time come potentially irritable fumes that can especially aggravate those who are more sensitive to strong odors. These fumes tend to linger for a time even after the finish has dried.

Here is a brief conclusion of the pros and cons of oil based hardwood flooring finish:


  • A rich glowing finish
  • Only two coats required
  • Long lasting (no need to recoat in coming years if properly maintained)
  • Reasonably low cost


  • Slow cure time
  • Strong odor
  • Not recommended for those sensitive to smells or have underlying breathing issues

Water-Based Hardwood Floor Finish

The second basic type of hardwood flooring finish is a water-based finish. Water-based finish appears milky in the can but appears more or less clear when applied to your floor.

The amount of coats applied in order to give ultimate protection is on average 2 coats. This is more than the amount of coats required for oil-based finishes. The good news is, there is no need to worry about timing or moving out of your home for more than a day or two.

Water-based finish has a quick drying time and allows you to recoat every two hours. The main reason more coats have to be applied in comparison to oil based finishes is that the percentage of solids contained in the finish is lower. These solids are what promote the protective finish. When you factor in drying time, the entire process can be finished by the evening depending on the size of your project and if you start early in the day.

Another nice bonus to water-based finish is the ease of clean up. It can easily wash up with water, and so can your tools! This advantage promotes easy and fluid application, minimizing room for error.

Aside from all of these benefits, water-based finish is associated with much less VOC (volatile organic compounds) in comparison to oil-based. Choosing water-based finish minimizes strong and harmful odors, thus posing less of a threat to those who are sensitive to smells as well as the environment.

How can we sum up the pros and cons of water-based floor finishes?

The Best Finish for Your Hardwood Floor

The kind of hardwood floor you have will also factor into what type of finish will work best for you. For example, some hardwood species may really thrive when coated with a rich oil finish, whereas other species may be complimented by the natural clear and cool look that is derived from a water-based hardwood floor finish.

In general, we at Denver Dustless prefer a water-based products from Bona because the pros outweigh the cons in most cases. Still, we are happy to apply an oil-based finish in the case you opt for that route.

We understand how difficult it can be to make a decision on hardwood finishing. That’s why our team of experienced flooring experts here at Denver Dustless are ready to give specific advice, customized to the needs of your project. After all, every floor and circumstance is unique and varies from project to project.

We can help you choose a hardwood floor finish that will compliment your specific species of floor, as well as accommodate your budget and lifestyle. Our end goal is to help your hardwood floor last for ages!

Dustless Hardwood Floor Refinishing

As implied by our company name, our hassle-free hardwood refinishing has been refined to maximize quality and minimize dust.

Our industrial-grade dust collection system takes the dirty mess out of refinishing that is usually associated with hardwood refinishing projects. Don’t let fear of a dusty home hinder you from committing to keeping your hardwood in tip-top shape.

The Denver Dustless refinishing process ensures that over 95% of the dust created from sanding is contained.  Investing in this level of quality restoration is well worth any cost, and ensures both safety and convenience for you and your family throughout the project.  

Help us help you get your underfoot project underway by getting in touch with us any time convenient for you!

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