wood flooring finish, waterborne finish

Pros & Cons of Waterborne / Water-Based Hardwood Flooring Finish

Overview of Waterborne Flooring Finish

Waterborne wood flooring finish also known as waterbased wood flooring finish is a type of flooring finish. The traditional finish was an oil-based product. This product is water based and uses water to flow/transfer the materials that stay behind on the floor. Typically a waterbased product uses 67% water to get the solids to flow and level correctly. Waterborne finishes use waterborne sealers to seal the floor and prepare the floor for the top coats. These top coats come in two different versions: one component and two component. These finishes are a little different and if you are wondering what they are and how the preform you can view this article. Waterbased finishes are relatively new but have shown to be durable, great for people looking for lower VOC’s and have awesome low sheen variations. If you are looking for a contemporary  looking floor waterbased flooring finishes are great.

Pros of Waterborne (waterbased) Wood Flooring Finish

Waterbased / Waterborne flooring finish has many pros and great qualities. Below I will go over each pro and why it is a pro for waterbased hardwood flooring finish. These pros are typically universal for all flooring contractors so you can know that they are not opinion but real facts that people agree on.

Dry Times

Waterborne Hardwood flooring finishes are great at drying especially in lower humidity climates. Oil-based flooring finishes can take 8-12 hours to dry and sometimes longer depending on spread rate. While there are some fast dry oil-based sealers that dry in 1-2 hours these are thin and have less solids to dry fast, they also can not be used as a flooring finish. Most waterborne/waterbased flooring finishes dry in 2-3 hours. Waterbased flooring finishes are by far the fastest drying top coats in the hardwood flooring world today.

Super Fast Cure Times

Waterborne wood flooring finishes have extremely fast curing times. Some finishes are able to cure in as little as 12 hours for playing on in the gym floor setting. Mot home based waterbased flooring finishes are cured in 72 hours. This means you are able to get back into your home faster, less hotel time and don’t do damage to the floor while using it early.

Low Sheens

By far the greatest thing that waterborne finishes have been able to offer the hardwood flooring industry is the low sheens offered. No other finish on the market at this point offers such an array of low sheens. Oil based sheens just do not match the low sheens offered in waterborne flooring finishes. How the industry rates sheen is based on a number 0 to 100. These sheen levels are created in the lab with light on the product viewed by a machine (the eye) at a 60 degree angle. The lower the light reflection the lower the sheen rating.

Hardwood flooring finishes such as Arboritec have a 0 sheen (naked), 5 sheen (genuine) and a higher but still low sheen 20 (avenue). Other companies like Bona, Glitsa and duraseal all offer the same options.

So for example a Naked finish is a 0 sheen and will look like the wood is raw or if there is no finish there. The great thing about low sheens is that they show less hair, dirt and dents. Low sheen is a design frenzy currently and for great reason.


A great attribute of waterborne flooring finishes is that they can not start your house on fire. Typical coatings like stains, gym oil and oil-based poly all are flammable. While it seems crazy these coatings can be flammable, even with just a pilot light left on can ignite these finishes and cause a massive fire or worse, an explosion. Water-based hardwood floor coatings are naturally inflammable because the traveling agent is water! It makes it nice to not have to worry if you did something wrong, accidently put a rag in the trash.

Low VOC & Environmentally Friendly

Waterborne hardwood flooring finish VOC’s are much lower than traditional flooring finishes VOC counts. You can easily tell this the momement you walk into a house that is coated with waterbased finish vs oil-based flooring finish. The house coated with oil-based will make your eyes water and nose hurt. Typically the VOC’s from waterborne flooring finish are off-gassed within 24 hours and are minimal after. Oil-based finishes are off-gassing for 7-14 days.


Unlike traditional finishes water-based flooring finishes are a non-yellow product. This means that overtime your floor should still look the same as the day it was done. While some woods do change from the light of the sun, the change should be minimal compared to the other finishes. Oil-Based or petroleum based finishes over time amber each and every day a little more giving floors a yellow or orange look to them. These finishes also become less and less clear as the days go y because of the ambering of the floor.  If you are going for a certain look that is grey, white or natural you might want to use waterborne finishes as they will keep the original look of the hardwood floor for much longer.

Cons of Waterborne / Water-Based Hardwood Flooring Finish

While waterbased / waterborne flooring finish has a lot of pros, there are some cons to the finish. Below some of the cons are listed and you might need to take these into account when doing your floors. Some clients/customers might have different needs so knowing the pros and cons are a plus when selling a client on a certain product.


Waterbased wood flooring finish is harder to apply. With fast dry times, the finish has less time to be spread on the floor and allowed to level. Oil-based products typically take 4-6 times longer to dry and allows them to be worked and spread for the same amount of time prior to the finish becoming tacky. In a sense oil-based products are much more forgiving and typically are easier to use for most people. We also see that because the open time is less you must be very careful when applying to make sure every turn and movement is straight with the grain. Older finishes that have longer open times can get away with more imperfect applications of the finish.

High Sheens are Not High or Give Depth

When you think of your grandmas floors you think of glossy and finish that seemed candy coated on the wood. Typically this look can only be achieved with an oil-based product or Swedish finish. The water-based flooring finish products typically do not have the gloss and reflection that these other products can give off. If you are looking for a candy coating look waterborne finishes are not the option for you.

Harder to Use in Certain Climates

While waterbased flooring finishes are easy to use in wetter climates with lots of humidity they can be seriously difficult in lower humidity climates. Since waterborne finishes use water as a traveling agent that water evaporates very quickly into the air where there is less water. When the water starts to flash off the finish gets tacky and should not be touched anymore. Typically a waterborne flooring finish has about 20-25 seconds of open time on the floor before it starts flashing. Oil, typically has minutes to work.

More Expensive

Waterborne hardwood flooring finishes are extremely expensive. While it seems that waterborne and oil-based finishes really as the same durability, for some reason these finishes have been able to command a higher price.


Waterborne hardwood flooring finishes are a great finish with great pros and only a few cons. What the options really come to is:

  1. How fast you need back on the floor – If you need to use the floor like a business or shop, water-based hardwood flooring finishes are the only option possible. While at a home usually a cure time is not a huge problem as homeowners can stay with family or go on a vacation while the floor dries and cures.
  2. Yellow or Not Yellow – The other reason to use waterborne flooring finishes without a doubt is if you want a yellow free floor. No other finish on the market can offer a non-ambering floor over time. Non ambering or non-yellowing ensures your grey or white floors stay the same gray or white over time.

Besides the 2 options above, both finish types are great and offer great protection on your hardwood floor.

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