A few months ago, I decided to redo the floors in my living room. While the pine floor slats were shiny and new when I first bought my house, years of heavy traffic had them looking worse for wear. Since hiring a professional was out of the question, I was determined to find an affordable DIY option. After talking with a few wood floor experts, I decided to give a water-based polyurethane floor finish a try.
After realizing just how easy the process could be, I decided to develop a consumer guide to water-based polyurethane finishes. After scouring customer reviews and talking with a few home experts, I’ve chosen and reviewed five of the best polyurethane products on the market. Enjoy!
Top 5 Water Based Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors
|Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish||
|Bona Water-Based Mega HD in Clear Satin||
|Minwax Water-Based Oil-Modified Polyurethane||
Best Upgrade Option
|ZAR Interior Aqua Water-Based Poly||
|RUST-OLEUM Varathane Crystal Clear No Odor Floor Finish||
1. Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish – Best Overall
Required coats: 2-3
Drying Time: 2-3 hours
VOC Content: 250 g/L
There’s no doubt that Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish is our top waterborne polyurethane product. It’s an oxygen crosslinked polyurethane (OCP) that is proven to improve the look, feel, and durability of wood flooring. Bona’s installation process couldn’t be more user-friendly. You can apply the product using a variety of application techniques. The poly flows, levels, and de-foams excellently. It has a super-fast drying time. Moreover, it’s virtually odorless.
Since Bona Mega never yellows, it’s an excellent option for dull, white, and gray wood. It’s also a suitable finish choice for light woods, such as maple and hickory.
As a one-component solution, Bona Mega doesn’t call for any aftermarket additives or hardeners. Plus, it does not have a predetermined limited pot life. That means less wasted product and less wasted money for you, the consumer.
This product complies with the EPA’s VOC standards.
Plus, it is Greenguard certified for indoor use. It is available in a wide range of finishes, including gloss, semi-gloss, satin, and matte.
One gallon of this product covers roughly 300-400 square feet in a single coat. You only get the promised durability and performance when you apply three or more coats.
The products dry fast. You should be able to walk over a newly applied application after just 4 to 5 hours. Since Bona Mega contains water, it is highly susceptible to humidity and freezing temperatures. So, plan accordingly. Be sure to go over each coat with a pole sander. Sanding should help you eliminate any lap marks, swirls, and bubbles.
While you’re going to pay more for this product, you’re also going to get premium results. This product is easy to use and highly forgiving. You don’t need to be a professional woodworker to pull this off!
- The natural wood floor finish enhances the color and grain of all types of hardwood.
- This finish does not have a limited pot life.
- Flows, builds, and levels nicely.
- Available in a wide range of finishes, including gloss, semi-gloss, satin, and extra matte.
- It’s a VOC-compliant formula that’s suitable for indoor use.
- We don’t recommend that you use this on white or gray floors. Some consumers have reported ambering.
- It’s not as durable as oil-based polyurethane products.
2. Bona Water-Based Mega HD in Clear Satin – Best Runner-Up
Required coats: 2-3
Drying Time: 2-3 hours
VOC Content: 250 g/L
Bona is a Swedish wood floor finish that offers professional-grade coverage for a fraction of the cost of a professional woodworker. This polyurethane product protects hardwood boards from scrapes, scuffs, and other marks. Most homeowners appreciate the finish’s minimal drying time, minimal VOC content, and non-existent odor.
This Bona floor treatment is available in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin. The crystal clear formula does not crack or yellow. It goes on smooth and levels without assistance. In doing so, it enhances the look of just about any hardwood floor.
You need to apply several layers to cash in on the durability of this product. Fortunately, it only takes 2 to 3 hours for each application to dry. Bona flows and levels exceptionally well. As a result, treated floors have excellent build and clarity.
You can easily wipe away drips and dribble with a wet washcloth. Bona’s Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certification means you don’t have to vacate your house while the finish is drying.
The low VOC (volatile organic compound) formula is safe for kids and animals.
It won’t give you an instant headache the way most oil-based polyurethanes would.
Most consumers said were in agreement that Bona HD holds up well over time. It’s essential that you only apply this to freshly sanded wood. Since it has no color tint, you must install your stain (if you wish to) beforehand.
- No amber tint
- Resists damage from chemicals and abrasions
- You must multiple coats to maximize a wood floor’s durability
- It does not have a limited pot life.
- Dries in 2 to 3 hours.
- Cleans up easy with water
- Keep in mind that this product will freeze if it is left in temperatures below 32 degrees for an extended time.
- You need to mix this with hardener before applying.
3. Minwax Water-Based Oil-Modified Polyurethane – Best Oil-Modified Polyurethane
Required coats: 3
Drying Time: 2 hours
VOC Content: 275 g/L
Minwax’s oil-modified waterborne polyurethane offers the best of both floor finishes in one package. This water-based formula has the durability and warm look of a traditional oil-based finish. However, it dries quicker, has less odor, and cleans up easier than fully oil-based polyurethane.
Minwax Oil-Modified Polyurethane is available in a variety of sheens, including satin, gloss, and semi-gloss.
All three finishes give hardwood floors a rich, timeless look. However, semi-gloss handles frequent cleaning best.
You can use a variety of application methods to apply this finish. Synthetic bristle brushes, foam brushes, and lambswool applicators are all suitable options for interior wood surfaces.
You must wait approximately 2 hours before adding a new coat. The finish should be ready for light use after about 24 hours. A single quart of this product should cover roughly 125 square feet of flooring. You need approximately three coats to get Minwax’s promised durability.
- Suitable for woodwork, furniture, doors, cabinets, and floors, basically any horizontal or vertical surface
- The finish is easy to apply. You can install it using a variety of application techniques.
- Up to 125 square feet of coverage per quart
- It can be applied over Minwax water-based wood stains.
- The semi-gloss finish can put up with a great deal of abuse, including pets, kids, and frequent cleanings.
- You can choose the sheen that suits your personal taste and requirements..
- Maximum VOC content of 275 grams/liter is a bit higher than fully waterborne polyurethane products
- Be careful to avoid lap marks
4. ZAR Interior Aqua Water-Based Poly – Best Upgrade Option
Required coats: 2-3
Drying Time: 2 hours
VOC Content: 450 g/L
Zar Interior Aqua Polyurethane is yet another gorgeous and resilient water-based floor finish. This product is available in semi-gloss, gloss, satin, and matte finishes. You can purchase it in pint-, quart-, and gallon-sized containers.
If you’re sensitive to smells, you’ll appreciate this water-based polyurethane’s mild to non-existent odor. The formula is super easy to apply.
Plus, it takes no more than 30 minutes for each coat to dry.
Keep in mind that preparation requirements depending on the quality of the existing floor finish. Overall, the process is DIY-friendly.
Since this poly dries crystal clear, you can apply over light-colored woods and stains without issue. It will never develop a yellow hue. It can also be used on exotic woods, including teak and Brazilian walnut. Synthetic fibers, foam brushes, pads, and sprayers are all viable application methods.
While Zar is quite beautiful, it also offers the durability of your average oil-based polyurethane. The poly formula protects hardwoods against scratches, scuffs, and more.
Zar complies with all the nation’s current VOC requirements. As such, you can safely use it around children and pets.
- Crystal clear non-yellowing formula that offers a hard protective finish
- Perfect for hardwood floors, cabinets, furniture, paneling, woodwork, and more
- Approved for use on exotic woods, such as teak and Brazilian walnut
- Complies with all VOC requirements
- 30-minutes drying time with 2 hours required between recoats
- The formula protects floors from scuffs, scratches, and abrasions.
- Hardwood flooring requires at least three coats of this product.
- You only get 100 to 125 square feet of coverage per quart. (It’s available in quart-, pint-, and gallon-sized containers.
5. RUST-OLEUM Varathane Crystal Clear No Odor Floor Finish – Best High-Traffic Formula
Required coats: 4
Drying Time: 2 hours between coats
VOC Content: 350 g/L
Finishing off our list is Varathane’s odorless water-based poly. This fast-drying water-based polyurethane product will rejuvenate your tired, lifeless wood floors. The formula boasts a crystal clear finish that will never fade, crack, or yellow. It is available in gloss, semi-gloss, satin, and matte finishes.
The patented aluminum oxide nanotechnology is suitable for high-traffic areas, including living rooms, hallways, and bathrooms.
It’s resistant to scuffs, scratches, and abrasions. Its superior durability makes it an excellent option for houses with pets and small children. We’d even consider using it in some commercial settings.
This crystal clear floor treatment has excellent adhesion properties. As with most water-based polyurethane products, you don’t have to worry about high VOC content or lingering odors. You must apply a minimum of four coats to get Varathane’s promised durability.
For the best possible results, you need to apply this finish to unfinished or sanded surfaces. There are a few surface prep requirements. However, the work shouldn’t be enough to deter you from this product. You can find these suggestions in the Varathane product pamphlet.
Rustoleum suggests that you can get 400 to 500 square feet of coverage from one gallon. That’s at the recommended dry film thickness of 1.0 mils.
Varathane has a limited shelflife of three years. Its water content makes it highly susceptible to temperature and humidity changes. Overall, this is an excellent option for high-traffic residential and commercial flooring.
- This water-based polyurethane has a clear gloss finish.
- Utilizes patented Aluminum Oxide Nano Technology for maximum durability.
- This floor treatment offers maximum scuff and scratch resistance.
- Low to no odor
- One gallon offers 500 to 600 square feet of coverage.
- You must apply a minimum of four coats to get this product’s promised durability.
- Available in gloss, semi-gloss, matte, and satin
How to Choose the Best Water-Based Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors
Whether you’re finishing newly installed slats or refinishing preexisting floors, you want to be confident in the finish you pick. Water-based polyurethane products appeal to consumers for several reasons.
They have minimal VOCs and little to no odor.
Plus, they are super easy to apply and dry faster than the oil-based alternatives. In this section, we discuss the fundamental considerations you need to make when choosing a water-based polyurethane product.
Luster or Sheen
Are you wondering how to tell the difference between different polyurethane finishes? Hardwood floor finishes boast varying sheens. Matte polyurethane has a little to no luster. Meanwhile, satin polyurethane has low luster. Semi-gloss boasts a medium sheen. Finally, gloss and high-gloss finishes have the highest sheens.
Sheen determines how shiny your floors will be. Matte and low luster floors are super trendy right now. These looks give wood a more natural appearance. Since they conceal scratches and scuffs, they are popular options for high-traffic areas. However, sheen selection usually comes down to personal preference.
Oil-based polyurethane products tend to yellow with age. On the other hand, water-based polyurethanes have little to no pigment. As a result, water-based polyurethanes are a better choice for light and graying woods. The amber tint of aging oil-based polyurethane products tend to spoil lighter types of hardwood flooring.
Of course, you can apply water-based polyurethane directly over a wood stain. If you wish to update the color of your floorboards, you’ll need to do it before you install the poly of your choice.
Water-based polyurethanes are usually very durable. Most can resist scuffs, scratches, and abrasions. The vast majority of these products are suitable for high-traffic and even commercial settings. They’re even popular picks for areas with pets and kids.
Most water-based polys can be maintained with the help of ordinary household chemicals.
You must use a coverage calculator to estimate how much product you need to complete your project. Most water-based polyurethane products offer roughly 400 to 500 square feet of coverage per gallon. However, coverage rates vary depending on the number of coats you apply and your chosen application technique.
Ease of Application
Waterborne polyurethane products are pretty easy to apply. First off, these hardwood floor finishes only contain trace amounts of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). As a result, you do not have to worry about adverse health effects. Water-based polyurethanes also have little to no odor. These qualities make them much more tolerable during and after application.
Most water-based polyurethanes can be applied using a variety of applicators.
Lots of these products come with an extensive list of applicator options. Waterborne polyurethanes are suitable for use on both horizontal and vertical surfaces. These products tend to be self-levelling and fast-drying. You can easily wipe away drips and spills with warm water.
Most homeowners opt to brush or roll polys finishes. These application methods work excellently on large horizontal areas. You must always leave yourself an escape root when applying floor finish. You should never step on polyurethane before it cures.
Most water-based polyurethane products are low in VOCs. However, you still need ample ventilation when applying these products.
Waterborne polyurethane products tend to be a bit pricier than oil-based polyurethanes. However, they are also less odorous, dry faster, and require less prep work. Take the time to explore your different options. This way, you can be sure that you choose a quality product that fits into your budget.
Be sure to check the pot life on your poly. Some products only last as long as 12 months after being opened. Others can sit on a garage shelf indefinitely.
The Difference Between Water- and Oil-based Polyurethanes
For years, oil-based polyurethane products have been the go-to picks of flooring professionals. Oil-based polyurethane products were considered superior in terms of longevity and durability. However, waterborne finishes have undergone quite a few improvements. Nowadays, many water-based products are just as durable as oil-based finishes. Better yet, they have much faster drying times, they smell less, and they don’t yellow.
We hope you enjoyed our rundown of the top water-based polyurethanes for wood floors. These crystal clear hardwood floor finishes offer the same beauty and durability as oil-based polyurethane products. However, they dry faster, smell less, and go on easier. They even tend to be more environmentally friendly. Our top poly pick has to be the Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish. This formula goes on easy, dries fast, and cures beautifully.