Your Handy Guide to Polyurethane Floor Coating

Your Handy Guide to Polyurethane Floor Coating

by Heidi Estes, December 5, 2016

Polyurethane is typically used on wood such as cabinetry, furniture and flooring to protect it from the weather, scrapes and knocks. In addition to this, the coating gives the wood depth and richness which are essential for aesthetic appeal. Polyurethane is commonly regarded as the toughest clear coat available but comes in a variety of options which can be confusing.

What exactly is polyurethane?

Polyurethane is simply a modern form of varnish specially manufactured where its microscopic resin molecules glue extremely close together during the drying process. The result is a varnish that is more resistant to impact, abrasion, solvents and water than its traditional counterparts.

What are the different types of polyurethane?

Traditionally, polyurethane or simply known as poly has been oil based. With advancements in technology however, and stricter Volatile Organic Compounds or VOC has lead to other alternatives on the market. The main consideration to make when choosing the right poly for your flooring is the specific polyurethane’s characteristics. There are two main types of polys, oil based and water based.

arvada-west-hardwood-flooring Oil-based polys dry slower than their water-based counterparts translating to longer waiting time in between coats during application. Oil-based polyurethane form a hard, slightly amber colored, durable film once dried. This is a good choice for people looking for warmer colors on their wood. As previously alluded to, oil-based polys have higher VOC emissions that water-based alternatives and may be unavailable in some parts of the country. The coat can be cleaned with mineral spirits without damage to it. Water-based polyurethanes have a crystal clear color once dried despite their milk-like appearance. This is an especially good option for people looking to preserve their wood’s color.

Water based polys require more coats because they are more watery than oil-based options, and have lower VOC ratings. The coat cleans easily with soap and water although ammonia-based cleaners can damage the cured film and therefore should never be used. Lastly, water-based oil-modified polyurethane has the same slight amber appearance of oil-based polys once dried despite its cloudy appearance. It is tough and dries fast. This type of polyurethane has similarly low VOC ratings as water-based options and is compatible with all types of wood.

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