wood flooring finish

Gym Flooring Waterborne vs Oil-Based Polyurethane Finish

Overview of Gym Flooring Finishes

Gym floor finishes have been around for years, recently some of the technology has changed, but for the most part the finishes have stayed the same. Gym floors are first sealed with gym floor sealer. Gym floor sealer is a thinner, more solvents to get a quick dry to prepare the floor for a buffing and paint. After painting and the sealer is applied the floor is buffed again and then gym floor finish is applied. This finish is then recoated year after year to protect the floor, restore the grip  and give some gloss back to the floor. The reason for gym floor coatings is that if there was not a coating on the floor, the floor would become incredibly dirty, slick and paint would be hard to see and wear off very fast.

Waterbased (waterborne) Gym Floor Finishes Overview

Waterbased or waterborne gym flooring finish is a newer technology but still has many years of use on gym floors in all states/countries. Typically the popular brands of gym floor finish as Bona, PoloPlaz, Hillyard and a few others. Water-based gym flooring finish is a super fast drying finish that is ready to use in as little as 12 hours. This allows for faster recoats, moving on to the painting/logo portion and onto the finish. Waterborne finish allows what takes oil 3-4 days only 1-2 days. This finish also has a lot fewer VOC’s and is compliant in all cities/states in America. However, waterborne gym finishes do have some downsides. Read below to see the advantages and disadvantages of waterbased gym finishes.

Advantages of Water-based Gym Finish

Waterbased and waterborne gym flooring finishes do have a lot of advantages, these are listed below.

  • Super fast dry time – Literally as fast as you coat a gym floor with water, that is how fast it dries. You are able to do 2 coats of finish in 1 day on 99% of floors/conditions. Because of these fast dry times you are also able to hot coat and have success everytime.
  • Non yellowing – Waterborne finishes simply do not yellow like oil-based gym finishes. Typically waterbased finishes stay clear and the paints/colors/tints do not change over time.
  • Non flammable – You wouldn’t believe it but fires with fresh oil is a major concern. Buffing a new oiled floor can be scary. Waterbased is naturally not flammable and rags, dust etc. does not start on fire.
  • Lower VOCSWaterborne gym floor finish is complainant in all places in the USA. This finish is usually lower than 275 vocs and is said to be safer for the users of this product.

Disadvantages of Water-based Gym Finish

Waterbased and waterborne gym flooring finishes do have a lot of advantages, but they also have some disadvantages as well – these are listed below.

  • Harder to make clean – Waterborne finishes on gym floors just simply are harder to keep clean, get clean and make look good. No matter how much cleaning you do they tend to hold more dirt. When recoating, these floors get dirtier by the year because the finish tends to get marred easier.
  • Not as glossy– Waterborne finishes dry less glossy and have less of a deep wood look. These finishes appear thinner.
  • More cloudy looking– Overtime it tends that gym floors with waterbased gym flooring finish look more cloudy from the stands. The finish just isn’t as clear as an oil.

Oil-Based Poly Gym Floor Finishes Overview

Oil-Based gym flooring finish is the oldest gym flooring finish on the market today. This finish is the tried and tested finish (waterborne is too at this point really). When you look at a gym floor you think shiny, glossy and more gloss. That specific look is oil-based finish. Oil gym flooring finish is unique in the amount of gloss and shine it can give a gym floor. Oil based gym floor finish also looks thicker. If you are looking for a traditional look and feel oil is your best bet for your gym floor project.

Advantages of Oil-based Gym Finish

Oil-based gym flooring finishes do have a lot of advantages, these are listed below.

  • Shiny & Glossy – Oil gym floor finish is the classic gym floor finish. It tends to look better than water-based finish.
  • Leveling is awesome – With longer dry times, oil tends to level and look more like a sheet of glass compared to waterbased.
  • Easier to Clean – Oil tends to have better properties for repelling chemicals, food etc. When cleaning you will find that oil just cleans up better and looks new again with minimal effort.
  • Easier to recoat – Oil is easier to clean making re-coats easier and better looking
  • Cheaper – Oil is by far much, much less cost to buy.

Disadvantages of Oil-based Gym Finish

Oil-Based finish while being the most popular finish on the market does have some draw backs to consider.

  • More VOS/Smell – Oil based coatings do smell for 5-7 days and are very strong.
  • Yellow/Ambering – Overtime this finish will amber and yellow making paint colors change
  • Long dry times – Takes 12-24 hours to dry and 5-7 days to cure
  • Flammable – If not used correctly can be flammable.

Maintenance of Water-Based Polyurethane & Oil-Based Polyurethane

When a choice is made for whether a floor should be oil-based poly or waterborne polyurethane, you should think about maintenance. This maintenance of a gym floor includes cost to re-coat the floor and day to day cleaning.

Day to Day Cleaning: Typically we find that waterbased gym floor finishes  are more susceptible to having issues with heel marks, chemicals bonding/etching the floor and the finish looking dirty even after cleaning. Typically waterbased finish dulls faster and just looks more dirty than oil-based finishes. This can be frustrating as a certain look is usually desired for gym flooring.

Maintenance/re-coats: We typically find that recoats on oil are cheaper, tend to look better. Waterbased is a much more expensive product. If cost is an issue for the customer, water should be avoided.

Oil-based poly vs Waterborne Polyurethane Flowchart

When it comes down to water-based and oil-based poly it usually comes down to a few points that are deal breakers. Below is a very simple flow of what finish to use.

  1. Does time mater
    1. yes = water | no = oil
  2. Does money matter
    1. yes = oil | no =water
  3. Do you like shine and gloss
    1. yes = oil | no = water

It really comes down to the above flow if you need water-based or oil-based poly on your gym floor.

Conclusion – Gym Floor Waterborne vs Oil-Based Polyurethane Finish: So, what do I choose?! Your opinion!

After doing gym floors for 15 years, while my opinion obviously does not matter to you, I have seen thousands of floors and have used both oil and water on gym floors. I personally think that a oil-based sealer and an oil-based finish is the best option. Generally a facility can be shut down in the summer/Christmas or some other break where oil can be used. The qualities of oil just are unmatched by waterbased finish. No matter what a rep tells you, oil is king if it is allowed to be used. Oil-based polys qualities below are just game breakers in my opinion:

  • Serious gloss and depth of the finish
  • Pop of the colors
  • Better cleaning
  • Cheaper maintenance

While this is my personal opinion, I think most customers like the sheen and look which always seemed to be the downside to the water-based products.

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