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why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Posted by NYMK (My Page) on
Mon, Apr 8, 13 at 18:18

Everyone that I have gotten estimates for is pricing for water based poly. One company that has a good reputation won't even do oil based. Is there a reason people are pushing water based poly? Is it better than oil? Or is it just the fact that it takes more time for oil based poly to dry and it smells a lot more?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Water based polyurethane, or what we also call waterbourne polyurethane, is the state of the art material for film-build wood floor finishes. We no longer use oil based for several reasons: slow dry times of oil, not as durable as quality waterbourne, finish yellows over time, slow cure time and the stuff stinks and is flammable. Those are just a few reasons why most floor finishers have switched to waterbourne.

Yes, it is better than oil.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

For a change I'm going to disagree with glennsfc.
Based on personal experience and a direct quote from a technical rep from a major water-borne finish maker, oil based poly wears better than ANY water-borne finish.
It still has the other issues, smell, slow drying and yellowing, but dollar for dollar it outperforms water-borne urethane.
If I'm doing a standard stain and poly finish I'll always use oil poly unless there are time or smell issues.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Mostly do to EPA rules trying to reduce VOCs.

Water is not a VOC.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Sadly, our white/red oak floors were sanded, stained and, at the highly recommended wood floor expert recommendation, a waterborne poly finish selected. He told us "waterborne is more durable than oil-based". As JFCWood stated, waterborne poly is NO where as durable as oil based polyurethane-don't believe that line.

I would never, never recommend waterborne poly, even the newer formulations.

Just to add further frustration I am told once you use waterborne poly you can't screen the floors to stain, seal and finish with oil based poly. I'm still investigating this.

You are smart to ask this question: do further research and get a detailed floor contract. Such disappointment and aggravation.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Thanks for everyone's feedback. Everyone says that oil based poly is more durable so I was wondering why the push for water. I also read that when you do your three coats of oil based poly, you should do the first two coats in high gloss and then the last coat in a matte finish in order for it to be the most durable.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

The matting agent makes the grain look 'muddy' with multiple layers.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Learn from my experience and go Swedish. We went with the waterbased recommendation, gave it five days to dry and put a huge scratch in in the first day back. It isn’t the end of the world but it definitely makes us sad. We do not feel this would have happened with a Swedish finish.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Brickeyee - Can you clarify what you mean by the matting agent looking muddy with multiple layers? thanks

NWRunner - haven't heard about a Swedish finish. I'll have to look that up. thanks.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Sorry to hear about some consumer problems with waterbourne polyurethane. However, that is not my experience. Not one of my customers has ever had a wear problem with the products I use, and I have been doing this for almost twenty years with waterbourne the only fim-build finish I specify. I would not specify or use anything else; the results are consistent and the technology is proven. If you use top shelf products, you will get top shelf performance.

Any wood floor finish can be problematic when applied contrary to manufacturer directions, so that sometimes can be factored into disappointment with a product. Also, there are cheap products in both types of film-build finishes and quality ones in both. You generally do get what you pay for in wood floor finishes. My guess is those who experience disappointment with waterbourne polyurethanes is because either a cheap product was used or it was improperly applied.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Glenn--Can you specify the brand(s) of water-based poly that are top quality and the ones that are not? Thanks.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

glennsfc, could you post your recos for waterbourne polyurethane. also, you've been using the water based poly for your entire 20 years? I thought, maybe the discrepancy in opinions could be arising from that fact that water based poly has recently become a much better product. i've read that the professional products include a hardener that nonprofessionals can not buy.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

The phrase "water based polyurethane" (same for oil) covers an incredibly broad range of products with completely different performance characteristics. Without specifying the product it's like describing the characteristics of a "car" without saying whether you're talking about a Hummer, a Yugo or a Ferrari. Some properties are shared among varieties, but many (such as wear characteristics, appearance and durability) are not. A product like Minwax from the Borg bears little resemblance to Bona Traffic HD on a floor. On my floors, an unknown (probably dirt cheap) oil poly wore through to bare wood in under two years, the Bona Traffic I replaced it with looked like new 11 years after that.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

One of the typical agents used to make the finish less glossy is very fine silica.

When you put multiple layers of finish down with this material in them it starts to not look as clear as gloss.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Well, if any of you floor experts know what to do with my Bona Pacific Strong finish coated original wood floors (over Minwax), sure would be appreciative.

My main point to the OP is that you must do serious research on your floor expert and products used and have everything spelled out in your contract (products, specific numbers of coats, sealer coats, and finally finish coats and drying time in between for square foot area being done. That's where I messed up: I trusted reputation and didn't do my homework. Now I know in hot summers, with a large square foot area, and two non-tested products by the manufacturers (MinWax stain) and Bona Pacific Strong Finish it resulted in horrible finish and $10K out. Put remedial actions (NOT certified floor inspectors who are in cahoots with the floor finishers) in your contract and use them soon. I was sick and couldn't get the response needed.

As to Bona, well they will pass the buck on to the floor refinisher, never to their Bona Floor Finish. But I did learn that manufacturer durability tests use like kind manufacture stain and the finish (i.e., their own brands). I missed that important aspect too, but given this pro floor finishers reviews it never dawned on me to ask such detailed specific questions. Do it.

I'm going to have to cough up major dollars to fix this. When the certified floor inspector came, he took greatly magnified pictures of hair and specks on the floor and said the floors were dull because I was a dirty housewife! Ha, that's a good one. No mention of the lack of finish on the floors in his report and that's what he was called out to examine. Sickening.

Sorry OP, but use great caution. And if anyone knows whether I can screen these Bona Finish floors down and use oil poly, please post here. I can not recommend Bona products, even though to this day I use Bona Floor Cleaner to no absolutely NO avail in floor improvement.

Buyer beware!


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

I cannot list the good and the bad with any creedence, because I can only comment responsibly on those that I have actually used. There is loads of anecdotal references by colleagues in the floor finishing business that can have some value, but I cannot verify how much of it is fact. That is why the industry has standard methods for testing finish durability.

I will say that the heresay from floor finish professionals is that the products offered to the DIY public are generally speaking not very good, although they can cost about $46 to $49 per gallon. The poster rwiegand has given us firsthand experience with finish from one particular manufacturer.

As for the comment from NYMK: " i've read that the professional products include a hardener that nonprofessionals can not buy." Yes, those products are for "professional use only" and do contain a hazardous hardener that you must mix with the resin formulation, but you can get these products from a floor materials dealer who will sell to you. However, should the product fail on you, either during application or after, you probably won't receive any support from the manufacturer.

Sparklingwater's advice on doing your homework is completely on target. You shouldn't have to spend time researching and doing product comparisons and all that...but as a consumer of products and services you really do need to know what you're buying. It is hard to have anything expensive fail on you, especially when someone didn't follow a manufacturer's material or application guideline. And it is inexcusable behavior for a certified inspector to make any comments to a consumer during an inspection and it is unprofessional.

There are many skilled and trained professional floor finishers in this business and some that shouldn't be allowed to hold a sander. Hopefully you will hire the right person after your interviews. It shouldn't be that hard...but it is.

Lowes sells Bona products. A DIYér may be able to custom order their finishes through them. Also, if you navigate a finish manufacturer's website, you can get a list of distributors in your neck of the woods and from there you can get leads to dealers and even certified finish applicators.

P.S. to Sparklingwater: I used Bona Pacific Strong just once. And I once switched from one big finish manufacturer to another because I received no product support from them, even though their stain was the cause of the finish failure. And when I meet reps from that manufacturer at conventions and they ask why I don't use their products, I tell them straight and they just look at me and blink! Ha!


Be careful out there!


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

NEVER EVER use a water based poly for hardwood floor finishes. It will never be a quality job with quality results. If a contractor won't use oil based, then find another Wood Floor Finishing company. With that said, a good quality water based polyurethane can be used on other wood finishes such as mouldings and other custom shelf or indoor window use for a nice natural wood look. You will need to stain first with a water based since it doesn't have that nice atonement to the wood like an oil based does. Use a pre stain wood treatment especially for soft wood like pine. I totally stand by the pre stain treatment after my first use last year (Except on oak). I also prefer the water based for interior woodwork (Except on flooring and stair rails) due to the "dullness effect it has to keep your trim looking a bit rustic. I prefer the semi gloss, but it's up to the owner. I have much experience using both and each has it's pros and cons. I don't care about the smell, because it does go away in a couple of days. Just keep the area ventilated a little bit. You need patience for a decent job. It all really depends on the kind of work you're doing. A good oil based goes on with two coats. Lightly sand after after one day, wipe down with damp cloth and rewipe with a dry lint free cloth, put second coat on. I have done 3 coats, but find that two is just as sufficient. I do that for stair railings. They always come out spectacular especially when I start with a nice golden oak stain on white oak. But when I do large indoor window sills or shelving bases on bay windows, I use a water based poly (I like Rustoleum Ultimate). Keep in mind, for decent results, you will need at least 5 coatings. Sometimes I'll do 3 coatings and lightly sand the area the next day wipe down with a slightly damp lint free paper towel and dry and then put another 2 or 3 coats on. Comes out beautiful with a silky smooth finish. As far as durability, I do feel that oil based is more durable. Even the best water based I don't feel is as durable as the oil based. However, the last will depend on how much you drag across the work. If you just display sculpture on your shelf, then "Great!" it will last forever no matter what you use. If your cats are always fighting on your bay window flat, then of course it will get scuffed up and scratched. As far as UV rays, I've seen both types fade. The lighter your stain, the less fade you will see. The less gloss, the less fade you will see. I also seen work last a lifetime like it was done yesterday. It all depends on the conditions surrounding the area. I hope my experience and opinion helps make a difference just a little bit. If nothing else, thanks for reading this! Good luck!!!


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

I disagree with your assessment of waterbourne polyurethane. Any floor finisher worth his salt uses these state-of-the-art finishes. Even those who swore they'd never switch from oil based polyurethane to water have become believers and users of waterbourne. They have left the old technology behind, where it belongs.

Also, many have begun to work with the new natural oil products, such Rubio Mono coat. The look is fantastic and it can be easily refreshed and restored.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Sorry, JS, you're just wrong about water based poly. Yes, it requires more skill to apply well, but this is far outweighed by the vastly superior durability and lifetime of the surface. I have not seen any oil based poly that will begin to have the durability of a high quality catalyzed water-born product.

For surfaces that don't have to take the abuse that our floors do I often use an oil based poly, and often other finishes like shellac, lacquer or tung oil to get the look I want.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

Be very careful selecting your floor and finish. Good old fashioned solid wood site finished flooring would be my choice. I do not like today's prefinished, engineered floors and finishes at all, poly and aluminum oxide. To me, they are "pretend" wood floors that do not stand the test of time like the old ones do.

I did do a bit of water based poly myself on unfinished wood and it held up better than the prefinished did. So DIY is not always the worst route. I put quite a few coats on, probably five or six, plus the tongue & grooves were sealed (though not noticeably so).

I haven't had an oil based poly, so can't compare. I would check out an oil finish. Have read some good things about the Rubio monocoat as a finish option and I'd be testing that one out.

Good luck. It is very difficult to figure out without testing the specific product.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

When the Synteko expert told me that oil-modified polyurethane would wear better than Bona Traffic (and better than any Synteko waterborne product) in the hair salon I've been maintaining, I figured I could take that to the bank.
For the same reason, many painters still paint interior trim with oil paint despite latex paint being "state of the art".
While high quality waterborne finishes do well in Taber abrasion tests, real world durability doesn't equal that of oil poly. Factor in the lower cost of oil poly and it makes a strong case unless you're looking for something non-yellowing, fast drying or odor free.
The milkiness someone referred to is indeed caused by the flatting agent in oil poly. On a dark floor, one can get a silvery sheen after applying several coats of satin oil poly.


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RE: why is everyone pushing water based poly?

I have been in the Hardwood Floor business for 26 years. Reason #1 for using water based finish, I want to keep my last remaining brain cells. #2 It does dry faster with less prep in between coats. It is a complete MYTH that oil base is better than water borne poly. The only difference between the 2 is the medium to carry the polyurethane, oil or water. The oil evaporates and leaves the polyurethane just as the water based does. Ask you contractor what brand water base he uses, we use Bona. Anyone that says oil base is better is either a dinosaur or is being misinformed. From our experience many contractors buy cheap oil base and talk down the water based because professional water based can cost up to $90 per gallon


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