Waterborne Polyurethane or Oil-based Polyurethane?

What’s the difference between waterborne polyurethane and oil-based polyurethane? Which is better? How to choose?

Water-based polyurethane uses water as dispersion medium while oil polyurethane uses organic solvent systems.

In particular, the development of water polyurethane was pushed by increasing demand for solventless systems since the manufacture of coatings and adhesives entailed the increasing release of solvents into the atmosphere from numerous sources.

Learn a bit more about Water-based and oil polyurethane.

For Environmental consideration:

Water based polyurethane, which uses water instead of organic solvent as dispersion medium, does not contain harmful substances. It is non-toxic and lower odor. It is harmless to human health. It can be moved in after brushing.

Oily paint: banana water, Tianna water as diluent, containing a large number of benzene, xylene and other harmful carcinogens, harm human health. It also contains strong pungent odor, which is intolerable. Generally, after 1-2 months of use, the strong pungent odor volatilizes to basically tasteless, but an investigation shows that hazardous gas emissions can last for more than 10-15 years.

For Safety Consideration:

Water based paint: using water instead of organic solvent, the product is safe and nonflammable. It greatly reduces the risk factors and troubles in the production and transportation process.

Oily coating: the oily coating can contain benzene, xylene, acetone, solvent gasoline, and Tianna water, which are highly flammable.


For Appearance effect: 

Water based paint: because it does not contain harmful substances, it will not volatilize to the air, so it will not have defects such as yellowing easily, and it will last as long as new.

Oily paint: harmful substances continue to slow-release long-term volatilization, so it is very easy to yellowing, poor durability, film quality

Oil based poly will give you a slightly darker and more yellow look than water based.  This is great for darker colors as it gives you a darker and richer look.  But, on light color (or natural) wood, it makes the wood look more yellow and dated (and it yellows more over time).  If you are going for lighter and more natural color, or using a gray or white washed color, water based poly is a better option.

Take polyurethane for wood floor as an example:

Water-Based Polycrylic

  • Solids Content: 30-35%
  • Price: $50-60 per gallon
  • Color: Clear
  • Dry Time: 1-2 hours
  • Clean Up: Water
  • Coats Needed: 4 ,four coat minimum required

Oil-Based Polyurethane

  • Solids Content: 45-50% more leftover materials to seal and coat your wood
  • Price: $30-40 per gallon
  • Color: Amber Hue
  • Dry Time: 12-18 hours
  • Clean Up: Mineral Spirits
  • Coats Needed: 3

Except for the environmental difference, the water-based polyurethane also has shorter dry time but normally costs more money than the oil-based polyurethane.

You know your choice now.

When it is better to use water-based polyurethane (rather than oil)

1 if you are using a light color and want a light and natural look.

2 you do not want it to turn yellow easily.

3 if health is the biggest concern, especially when you live with your kids and the old.

4 if you want the project finished as soon as possible, to save your time.


Uses include industrial coatings, UV coating resins, floor coatings, hygiene coatings, wood coatings, adhesives, concrete coatings, automotive coatings clear coatings and anticorrosive applications. They are also used in the design and manufacture of medical devices such as the polyurethane dressing, a liquid bandage based on polyurethane dispersion.


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