Any wood flooring expert you speak to will tell you that the best (and, really, the only) way to achieve a dazzling, long-lasting wooden floor sheen is consistent, careful maintenance.
Unfortunately, with all the thousands of wooden floor maintenance products currently available both online and through homeware stores, working out exactly what this maintenance should consist of is easier said than done.
Water-based polyurethane is a clear, high-quality floor finish that is made with water, unlike the oil-based polyurethane formulae that are also widely available.
Although more expensive and slightly less long-lasting than oil-based polyurethane, water-based polyurethane produces less of an odor and dries faster, so it’s quicker and more pleasant to use.
Water-based polyurethane looks especially good on maple wood floors and other light-colored woods.
Today, we’re going to be reviewing the 7 best water-based polyurethane solutions for floors. We’ll also be advising you through our buyer’s guide on which factors to consider when buying polyurethane.
Want to bag the best polyurethane floor finish right now? Well, water you waiting for? Here’s our top pick:
- Purchasable by the gallon
- Superior durability
- Dries clear
- Minimal odor
- Hardener included
- 2-3 hour drying time
Top 7 Water Based Polyurethanes for Floor
OUR TOP PICK
The Bona Traffic HD Commercial Satin polyurethane is so named because it is hard-drying enough to withstand a lot of traffic.
Using this water-based polyurethane, you and your family and friends can move freely around your home without worrying about damaging the floors!
This polyurethane has a chemical and scratch-resistance that is yet to be surpassed by any polyurethane product. This is, in part, due to the hardener that comes with it to guarantee an extra durable finish.
The formula is colorless so it won’t stain or alter the natural color of your wood floors.
It also has a mild odor that won’t be overpowering and releases a very low level of volatile organic compounds for minimal health risks.
Admittedly, the Bona Traffic HD polyurethane takes a little longer than the other formulae on our list to try, at between 2 and 3 hours.
However, for the shine and durability of the results, most customers find it worth the wait!
- Impressively durable
- High-quality shine
- Low emissions
- Mild odor
- Comes with hardener
- Available by the gallon
- Takes 2-3 hours to dry
The Water Based Oil-Modified Polyurethane formula from Minwax has all the advantageous properties of water-based polyurethane (fast drying times, low-odor, and fewer emissions).
However, Minwax has also drawn on the properties of traditional, oil-based polyurethane, allowing this product to provide the ‘best of both worlds’.
This polyurethane has the warm tone of oil-based polyurethanes and a single multi-coat application will last for a long time thanks to the formula’s chemical and abrasion resistance.
Conveniently, it is also multi-purpose. While it’s particularly good for use on wooden floors, it can also be used to lend an appealing shine to any wooden furniture.
You can purchase the Minwax Oil-Modified polyurethane in containers of 1 gallon. Alternatively, it’s also available by the quart or half-pint, as well as in aerosol form.
- Available by the gallon
- Chemical and scratch-resistant
- Sometimes dries streakily
This water-based Ultimate Polyurethane from Varathane proves that water-based formulae can be just as durable as their oil-based counterparts!
The clear-drying formula will leave your floors (as well as your furniture, doors, and skirting boards) shining beautifully without yellowing the color (with the exception of pure whites).
The Varathane Ultimate Polyurethane is highly resistant to all kinds of wear and tear. This means that once finished, your floor will retain its color and shine without needing to be touched up every few months.
This polyurethane dries exceptionally fast, in just 30 minutes! However, you should wait 2 hours before applying a second coat to ensure a smooth surface.
Unfortunately, the overall convenience and quality of this polyurethane are slightly let down by the small quantities it is sold in, as well as the fact that the consistency is quite thin, so requires many coats.
- Dries in 30 minutes
- Minimal yellowing
- Extremely durable
- Thin consistency
- Only sold by the half-pint and quart
General Finishes isn’t exaggerated when it advertises its Water Based Topcoat polyurethane as ‘high-performance’!
The General Finishes Water Based polyurethane formula is more durable and hard-drying than the majority of water-based polyurethane products. It has superior scratch and stain-resistance and contains a UV stabilizer to protect against sun damage.
This formula dries so quickly that it will be ready for recoating in between 1 and 2 hours, so you can have the whole finishing process done quickly.
Although this polyurethane is available in smaller quantities of 1 pint and 1 quart, it can also be purchased in a gallon container, so whether you have many large floor areas to finish or just a single small surface, you can make an economical purchase.
There are just 2 limitations of this polyurethane formula. Firstly, it should not be used on bright white painted surfaces because it is likely to yellow the color. It is also only recommended for indoor use.
- Superior durability
- UV stabilizing
- Multiple quantity options
- Not for use on bright white paint
- Only for indoor use
The Bona Traffic HD is definitely one of the most raved-about water-based polyurethanes for floors, but with such a high price point, it’s just not affordable for everyone.
If you have your heart set on a Bona-quality shine for your wooden floors but are put off by the price, why not opt for the most budget-friendly Bona Mega polyurethane formula instead?
The Mega Wood Floor Satin Finish polyurethane has an original, single-component formula with an oxygen crosslinker which increases the durability of the formula. As a result, the product is chemical, scratch, and scuff-resistant.
This formula is plant-based because it is sourced from vegetable oil. Consequently, it is healthy to use and releases minimal emissions.
Slightly slower-drying than other water-based polyurethanes, this product dries enough for recoating in 2.5 to 3 hours and can be lightly walked on after about 8 hours.
- Highly durable
- Packaged by the gallon
- 2.5 - 3-hour drying time
If you’re going to use a water-based polyurethane formula for ecological reasons, as many customers do, you may as well make sure that it’s as eco-friendly as possible.
This Eco-Poly Polyurethane Sealer & Floor Finish from EcoProCote has been formulated using bio-emulsion resins and plant-based urethane technology, so it doesn’t release any volatile organic compounds or red list chemicals.
As well as being highly durable and damage-resistant, and producing an impressive shine when applied in at least 2 coats, this polyurethane is completely non-toxic and sustainable.
Additionally, this polyurethane is easy and pleasant to work with. It has virtually no odor at all and it dries quickly. The total application can be finished in just 2 coats (although you may apply more if you wish).
You can buy this water-based Eco-Poly in quantities of 1 gallon or 5 gallons depending on how much floor surface area you need to cover.
- Highly durable
- High-quality shine
- 100% non-toxic
- Plant-based urethane
- Made with bio-emulsion resins
- 2-coat application
- Available in 1 and 5-gallon containers
- May alter the color of your flooring
ZAR’s Aqua polyurethane is particularly good for use on light floors because it has been tried and tested, and proven to be non-yellowing.
As well as maintaining the color of your wooden floor, this polyurethane promises to reduce the amount of time you spend finishing your flooring significantly. This is because of the formula’s high durability and fast drying times.
Although this water-based substance will glide over your floors in much the same way as an oil-based variant would, ZAR Aqua different from oil-based polyurethane in that it is low-odor and low-emission.
Available for purchase by the quart, 3 coats of this polyurethane will be enough to create a stunning sheen on your hardwood floors.
- Impressive shine in 3 coats
- Only sold by the quart
Best Water Based Polyurethane for Floors Buying Guide
For those who haven’t taken a chemistry class since high school, don’t panic - you don’t need to be knowledgeable about all the chemical compounds and ingredients that make up water-based polyurethane.
However, it does help to have a basic understanding of its main ingredients and properties.
Water-based polyurethane can be naturally-derived (eg. from vegetable oil) or synthetic. Naturally-derived polyurethane will have fewer negative health effects because it will release fewer emissions.
Some customers worry that natural water-based polyurethane won’t be as durable or effective as synthetic polyurethane but this is not necessarily the case.
Chemical modification (such as using oxygen to crosslink) makes sure that these polyurethanes are highly durable and hard-drying.
While looking at the chemical ingredients, you should also check the emission rating of the product which, ideally, should read ‘low emission’. This will ensure that volatile organic compounds aren’t being released in large quantities into your home.
An important factor that shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to buying polyurethane, water-based, or otherwise, is quantity.
Polyurethane can be sold in containers of various quantities, ranging from a quart to several gallons. This variation is convenient because it means you can buy polyurethane in just the right amounts for your home.
Depending on the consistency of the polyurethane, coverage may vary. However, as a general rule of thumb, though, you can expect most polyurethane to cover around 600 square feet per gallon.
Remember to check how many coats your chosen polyurethane requires before purchase so you can make sure you’re buying the correct amount!
Understanding the application process of a water-based polyurethane before purchase is important so that you can be prepared for the procedure and make sure you have all the right tools (and plenty of time) for the job.
Different polyurethane brands will require different numbers of coats and have slightly varying drying times, although you can generally count on water-based polyurethane to dry in under 2 hours. Some extra hard-drying varieties may take up to 3 hours.
In most cases, you will need to apply multiple coats of polyurethane to achieve a durable shine. With some products, 2 coats will be enough, so if you’re often pressed for time, this option may suit you best.
Sometimes, 3 to 5 coats may be required. If you have time on your hands for this, you’ll be able to enjoy an extra durable and high-quality sheen.