Water-based versus Oil-based Polishes for Wood Floors

Maybe the wood floors in your home aren’t looking as good as they once did. Perhaps you have talked with a sibling, spouse, friend or handyman about your floors, and you decide that polishing it might be the best idea. Will you choose a water-based polish or an oil-based polish?

The right choice depends on what you decided when you first polished your floors. If a water-based polish was used, continue with it. And if it was oil-based, then stick with that. Of course, another option would be to sand off the existing polish and then choose whichever one you want to use now, which leads us back to our initial question.

Making Your Choice

There are a few things that could help make your decision easier. Oil-based polishes have been used longer, and is more traditional. Water-based on the other hand are newer, and used more often in commercial locations. Here are a few more factors to consider:

  1. Budget – Water-based polishes can cost 50% more.
  2. Drying Times – Water-based products dry much quicker and do not leave a strong odor. Choosing oil-based polishes require ventilation to dissipate the odors, and the floors cannot be walked on until after the final layer of polish is hard, or “cured”.
  3. The Look – Oil-based polishes can add a rich sheen to your floors. The colors are determined by the stain that was used, but it will leave your floors with a rich color. Water-based polishes are often used on gymnasium floors, where the lighter color is desired, and is maintained.

Water-based polishes offer a choice of finishes, satin or gloss. A gloss, or shiny, polish will require an extra coat, while the satin polish will leave more of a hazy, cloudy finish. They are the only option for wooden floors treated with polyurethane.

Ultimately, the choice will be determined by your lifestyle needs, and what you want for your floors:

  • Light colored wood will stay light with water-based polish.
  • The polyurethane in the polish will create a hard surface.
  • Oil-based polish will brown a bit over time, but also leaves the floor with a sheen.
  • It takes longer for each layer of polish to dry than with water-based polish, but two layers are enough.
  • Water-based polishes require three to four layers to be properly polished.

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