Want to learn about Oil vs Water-based Polyurethane? Polyurethane is a popular choice for protecting and preserving wood surfaces. It is a synthetic material that is available in both oil-based and water-based formulations. While both types of polyurethane can provide a durable and long-lasting finish. There are some key differences between Oil and Water-based Polyurethane that can influence which one is the best choice for a particular project.

oil vs Water-based Polyurethane

Differences: Oil vs Water-based Polyurethane

Drying time

One of the main differences between oil-based and water-based polyurethane is the drying time. Water-based polyurethane dries much faster than oil-based polyurethane, typically within an hour or two. This makes it a good choice for projects that require multiple coats in a short amount of time. Oil-based polyurethane, on the other hand, can take up to 24 hours to fully dry. That means that it may not be the best choice for projects that require a quick turnaround.

The appearance

Another key difference between the two types of polyurethane is the appearance of the finished product. Water-based polyurethane tends to dry clear, without the amber hue that is common with oil-based polyurethane. This can be an important consideration if you are trying to preserve the natural color of the wood or if you are working on a project that requires a clear finish.


In terms of durability, both water-based and oil-based polyurethane can provide excellent protection for wood surfaces. However, oil-based polyurethane is generally considered to be more durable and long-lasting than water-based polyurethane. This is because the oil-based formulation penetrates deeper into the wood, forming a more effective barrier against water, dirt, and other contaminants. As a result, oil-based polyurethane is often the preferred choice for high-traffic areas or surfaces that are exposed to harsh outdoor conditions.


One area where water-based polyurethane has an advantage over oil-based polyurethane is in terms of health and safety. Water-based polyurethane is a safer option because it emits fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during and after application. VOCs are chemicals that can be harmful to both humans and the environment. And they are commonly found in oil-based products such as polyurethane. In contrast, water-based polyurethane has a much lower VOC content, making it a more eco-friendly and safer choice for use in homes and other indoor spaces.


In terms of cost, oil-based polyurethane is typically more expensive than water-based polyurethane. This is because the oil-based formulation requires more complex and expensive raw materials, which drive up the cost of the finished product. However, the additional cost of oil-based polyurethane may be justified by its increased durability and long-lasting protection for wood surfaces.

oil vs Water-based Polyurethane

What to choose?

When choosing between water-based and oil-based polyurethane, there are a few factors to consider. Water-based polyurethane is generally easier to apply, dries more quickly, and has less of an odor than oil-based polyurethane. It also tends to be less toxic and produces fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are harmful to the environment.

On the other hand, oil-based polyurethane has a longer drying time, which gives it a longer working time and allows for more even application. It also provides a more durable and protective finish that is less susceptible to scratches and damage. However, it does have a strong odor and can be more difficult to clean up.

When deciding which type of polyurethane to use, consider the type of project you are working on and the type of wood you are using. Water-based polyurethane is a good choice for projects that require a clear finish, such as furniture or cabinetry, and for woods that are prone to staining, such as pine or oak. Oil-based polyurethane is better suited for projects that will be subject to heavy wear and tear, such as floors or doors, and for woods that are dense and hard, such as cherry or walnut.

In terms of application, water-based polyurethane is easier to apply because it is thinner and dries more quickly. This means that you can apply multiple coats in a shorter amount of time. And you don’t have to worry about the finish drying too quickly and leaving brush marks. Oil-based polyurethane, on the other hand, is thicker and takes longer to dry, which means that you need to work more quickly and carefully to avoid brush marks.


The choice between water-based and oil-based polyurethane depends on your specific project and your personal preferences. Both types of polyurethane have their advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice for your project will depend on the type of wood you are using, the type of finish you want, and the amount of time and effort you are willing to put into the project.