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10 Best water-based polyurethane for floors

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The best polyurethane for for floors will depend on the wood you are applying it on and your particular use for space.

Adding a finish to your floors adds beauty and protection to an important part of your home’s aesthetic. Finding the right balance of the look you want, long-lasting durability, and ease of application can be tough, but water-based polyurethanes provide a great combination of all three.

Best water-based polyurethane for floors

The polyurethan products recommended below are general guidelines for reference, so be sure to always follow the manufacturer’s specific recommendations for any product you choose. Some manufacturers even have instructional videos on their websites to help any DIYer do the job right.

That being said, let’s see my best three recommendation.

Best Water-Based Polyurethane for your floors

1. Bona Mega 

Bona has some of the leading water-based polyurethanes on the market. It’s products are on the more affordable end of the high-quality polyurethane market.

Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish Extra Matte 1 Gallon

NOTE: This product comes in various finishes (extra matte, satin, semi-gloss, gloss) and dries quickly, so make sure you are well-prepared and have watched their instructional videos in advance before application. 

Bona also provides a superior-quality Bona Mega ONE option. It is slightly more expensive, but both are quality options when choosing a waterborne polyurethane. The choice here depends on your budget.

Pros: 

  • It dries quickly.
  • There are various options for the finish.
  • This polyurethane looks great when applied correctly.
  • Best Overall quality Polyurethane for floors

Cons: 

  • This product dries quickly.
  • It is on the more expensive side of available polyurethanes.
  •  It has a slight odor at first, but this quickly dissipates.
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2. Bona Traffic

Available in satin, semi-gloss, and gloss, this Bona product is better in durability but on the pricier end of our polyurethane options.

Bona Traffic Wood Floor Finish Gloss 1 Gallon

NOTE: It comes with a hardener, so you have to use it within four hours of adding the hardener. This makes the application that much more difficult and time-sensitive. 

Despite the price and precise application requirements, this product will provide the highest quality durability of any out there.

Using Bona Traffic will ensure your water-based polyurethane is just as, if not more, durable than any oil-based polyurethane on the market. 

It also comes in an HD version (Bona Traffic HD) that is supposedly higher quality than the regular Bona Traffic. HD is slightly more expensive, but both versions of the product will produce quality results.

Pros: 

  • It is very durable.
  • It won’t discolor your floor.
  • This product has low VOCs.

Cons: 

  • It’s expensive.
  • You should wait 7 days for it to fully cure.
  • This polyurethane has one of the more complicated application processes.
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3. Minwax Water-Based Oil-Modified Polyurethane

Minwax is another quality brand in the polyurethane game. This is a mid-grade and more affordable product . That being said, Minwax still delivers well on quality and ease of application.

Minwax 710330000 Water Based Oil-Modified Polyurethane, gallon, Satin

If you are looking for an excellent, budget-friendly option, I would buy this one..You can order it in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin sheens.

This product is oil-modified, which means that it has the amber coloring effect of an oil-based self cross linking polyurethane but with all the other benefits of water-based poly coating.

If you think your hardwood floors need a bit of coloring to make them pop and you want the ease of cleanup, fast drying time, and low VOC content of water-based polyurethane, then use Minwax. 

Pros: 

  • This product dries quickly.
  • It adds amber coloring to wood.
  • It is on the more affordable end of the polyurethane spectrum.

Cons:

  • This product dries quickly, which makes the application tougher.
  • It smells slightly, but it is nothing compared to oil-based products.
  • You must continuously stir this product before and throughout the application.
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4. Varathane Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane

Varathane is Rust-Oleum’s wood finishing line of products. Rust-oleum’s quality products do not stop delivering with Varathane as it comes highly rated on Amazon.

Varathane 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, Quart, Satin Finish

This water-based polyurethane goes on completely clear and resists scratching. You can easily clean it up with water, as well.

Be sure to apply a minimum of four coats to get full coverage and a protective finish. This shouldn’t be a problem since the coats dry so quickly in-between each application.

The finishes come in gloss, semi-gloss, satin, and matte options. Another benefit is that if you seal the left-over polyurethane container well, the product will last long enough for your next DIY project.

Pros: 

  • This product dries quickly.
  • Can be reused again after time.
  • This product dries clear.
  • This product has an easy clean-up.

Cons: 

  • It goes on thin, so you may need an extra coat.
  • There are some fumes, but they dissipate quickly.
  • The can comes in a smaller size, so be sure to order enough for your floors.
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5. General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Topcoat

Highly rated and one of the best water based polyurethane is General Finishes. It dries quickly, and after three coats, forms a top-notch protective layer that can withstand anything life throws your way. 

General Finishes High Performance Water Based Topcoat, 1 Quart, Satin

You can apply multiple coats in the same day thanks to the quick drying time of this polyurethane. Sanding in-between coats also makes the application smoother.

This product is great because it can be used on multiple indoor projects beyond just hardwood floors, so be sure to save the remainder for later. 

Pros: 

  • This product dries quickly.
  • It has a hard finish.
  • It dries clear on most surfaces.
  • Can be used on multiple indoor DIY projects

Cons: 

  • This product dries quickly, making the application time-sensitive.
  • It can yellow when applied over bright white paint.
  • It needs to be thinly applied.
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6. Varathane Crystal Clear Floor Finish 

This polyurethane from Varathane has all the qualities of a well-made, water-based poly. The main benefit of this product is that it is formulated for high-traffic areas. As long as you leave enough drying time for it to cure, the finish will have the ultimate resistance to scuffs and scratches.

Varathane 230131 Crystal Clear Floor Finish, Semi-Gloss 1 Gallon

Because of its aluminum oxide nanotechnology, its scratch resistance makes it one of the hardest polyurethanes you can get.

This product comes in gloss, semi-gloss, satin, and matte. Use a matte finish if you want to conceal any imperfection in the hardwood floors more easily, but know that matte tends to add a slight milkiness to the final aesthetic. If you want a glossier finish, satin or semi-gloss will have a clearer overall look.

Pros: 

  • This product has a very clear finish.
  • It dries hard.
  • Expect an easy clean-up with warm, soapy water.

Cons: 

  • The finish whitens if a significant amount of water gets on it.
  • It must be stirred well.
  • There is a slight smell that dissipates quickly. 
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7. Rust-Oleum Ultimate Polyurethane 

Rust oleum Ultimate self cross linking poly is nice because it does not dry as quickly as some of the other polyurethanes on the list. With the ultimate poly, you will get a good balance of scratch and scuff resistance and a reasonable drying time.

Rust-Oleum 260165 Ultimate Polyurethane, Quart, Matte

It is soft but durable, boasting 33 percent more durability than its competitors. The finishes come in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin.

You should use two to three coats, and it will dry with a beautiful sheen. The final look of the various sheens for this product is very clear with a stunning luster.

Pros: 

  • This polyurethane is fingerprint-resistant.
  • Expect an easy clean-up with soap and water.
  • The finish is very hard when fully cured.

Cons: 

  • This product dries a bit slower than others on the list.
  • It goes on thin and therefore needs more coats.
  • It comes in a small container, so get enough for your project.
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8. ZAR Aqua Water Based Poly

This environmentally-safe poly dries completely clear and will withstand most scratching and scuffing. This makes it the perfect product for light-colored floors where you want to maintain the original color as much as possible. 

ZAR 32512 Aqua Water Based Polyurethane, Satin

The finish comes in semi-gloss, gloss, satin, and matte. You can apply the next coat after two hours and should aim for two to three coats to achieve a solid layer of protection.

This product will provide good coverage at 400-500 square feet per gallon. If you are looking for all-around quality and affordable polyurethane, Zar will deliver.

Pros: 

  • It is very clear once dry.
  • It withstands most cleaning products.
  • It has a high-build formula.

Cons: 

  • It should be sanded between applications to keep it smooth.
  • There is a seven-day cure time before you use the floors at full capacity.
  • It needs to be applied carefully to prevent clumping.
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9. Minwax Ultra Fast-Drying Floors Poly

This Minwax poly comes in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin finishes. It is formulated especially for indoor wooden floors and will give them a light amber coloring.

Minwax 140030000 Ultra Fast-Drying Floors Polyurethane, Gallon, Clear

Two to three coats should provide full coverage. Just be sure to wait 24 hours before you walk on the final coat and seven days before bringing in any furniture or rugs. 

This polyurethane for floors has the quick-drying benefits and durability of the typical water-based poly, but it has the oil-based coloring of oil-based polyurethane. Although you can sand between coats if you want, you don’t need to.

The quick-drying time of 2 hours between coats allows for effective adhesion between coats. It settles over the highs and lows in the floor giving the entire hardwood floors an even finish. In this product, we see the quality and affordability of Minwax, yet again.

Pros: 

  • It dries quickly
  • It has a large coverage area.
  • It will add a subtle amber coloring to the natural wood color.

Cons: 

  • This product is of lower quality than some other products on the list.
  • It is fast drying, meaning you need to be quick when applying.
  • The coloring will affect the aesthetic of the floor. Don’t use this if you want the exact natural color to be preserved.
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10. Rust-Oleum Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane 

Rust oleum Varathane triple thick polyurethane stands out because you do not need as many coats as a traditional water-based finish. This product will only take one or two coats to cover your floors but with the drying time of traditional water-based poly. This means you can finish your floors three times as fast as you normally would.

Rust-Oleum 284473 Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane, Satin

The product uses a special self-leveling formula that allows you to do fewer’s coats with the same durability.

The manufacturer recommends using a high-quality synthetic bristle brush when applying, but a T-bar would also work over a large surface.

The product comes in gloss, semi-gloss, satin, and matte. A glossier product will reduce the creamy look, so a semi-gloss or gloss is recommended due to the thickness of the product once it dries. 

Pros: 

  • You only need one or two coats.
  • It dries just as fast as a regular water-based polyurethane.
  • It is self-leveling.

Cons: 

  • It can have creamy look depending on the wood beneath.
  • It can yellow if applied over a bright white color.
  • It goes on thick and can be tricky to apply well.
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Is Water Based Polyurethane Good for Wood Floors?

Yes. Although there are a few differences, water-based polyurethane coating is just as good as its oil-based counterpart. Water-based poly is better for the environment because it’s VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are lower. This means, although you still need ventilation when applying, the smell will be very mild and will easily dissipate after application.

Is Water Based Polyurethane Good for Wood Floors?

Is Water-Based or Oil-Based Polyurethane for Floors better?

Both polyurethan coatings are durable and will protect your floors well. The differences lie mainly in the final aesthetic and dry time during application.

Water-based finishes are milky in the can, and they dry completely clear.

If you want a natural look that does not add a golden color to your wood, then use a water-based polyurethane. These finishes dry in two to four hours between coats, but you will need three to four coats total. 

Oil-based finishes add a warm amber glow, require two to three coats, and you have to wait five to seven hours between coats for it to dry. The final coat will need seven days or longer to cure. Oil-based polyurethanes have more VOCs, which cause that awful smell, and you will need to have good ventilation and a breathing mask when applying it to your floors. An oil-based product will last a bit longer than its water-based cousin over the years.

If you want a water-based poly with the amber glow of an oil-based floor finish, then you can stain your floors first, use oil-modified polyurethane, or add dye or stain to the polyurethane itself. 

How Long Does Water-Based Polyurethane for floors Last?

Water-based polyurethane will last for two to four years, meaning you will need to apply more coats sooner than an oil-based product. With a quality product, you can achieve a long-lasting application comparable to an oil-based polyurethane.

How Many Coats of Water-Based Poly Should I Use?

A minimum of three coats is needed for water-based polyurethane, but you can do four to ensure the finish is protective enough. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Do You Need to Sand Between Coats of Water-Based Poly?

Sanding is recommended, but not necessary. You do not have to sand between coats of water-based polyurethane as long as you do not allow for more than 6 hours between coats. Sanding generally allows for a smoother finish and better adhesion, so if you have the time, go ahead and sand in-between coats.