3 Reasons I Would Never Choose Solvent-Based Polyurethanes

Solvent-Based Polyurethanes and why I would never choose it for my home.

Originally titled: The Differences Between Water Based and Solvent-Based Polyurethanes, researching about these two common finishes will forever impact the way I look at solvent-based polishes.

Flooring Finishes

After going through the process of sanding your floor in different grits might come the hardest decision when it comes to sanding and polishing: choosing the right floor finish. A good finish is essential as it will add to the lifespan of your floors. Although there is a broad range of finishes available to suit different hardwood floor styles and environments, polyurethanes are today's standard floor finish. To be more specific: solvent-based and water-based are the most common and popular choice. But before going any further, you must know: what are the differences between water-based ad solvent-based finishes?

Solvent-based (oil) polyurethanes are generally thought of as the standard or traditional finish for hardwood flooring projects. These finishes have proven to do their job very well over many years. They also have the fastest working times and are the easiest and most convenient to work with. This type of wood finish, which excels at the glossy end of the spectrum, can withstand long term wear and tear over time, meaning; it will change the colour of your floor (being less noticeable with dark timber). This is not always a bad thing as some homeowners like this effect.

Nevertheless, the compliments end here. What are some of the top 3 disadvantages of choosing solvent-based poly?

1. Chemicals

In order for the solvent-base to be manufactured, harsh chemicals must be utilised. These chemicals lead to dangerous fumes. The fumes are generated while the polish is applied. This then leads to serious health concerns when inhaled or allowed to be absorbed through the skin. Children and pregnant women should not be exposed to this!

2. Strong Odour

Because of its high levels of toxicity, after applying 3 to 4 coats (required amount for high-gloss), it will leave a strong and undesirable odour, thus; creating the need to vacate the room for a few days AFTER coating until completely dried and cleared.

3. Yellowing Over Time

They will yellow over a period of time. This will be especially seen on extremely light coloured wood. Although I mentioned before that this aspect could not be considered a disadvantage, it really just depends on the taste of the homeowner. What makes this an unfavourable aspect is the noticeable change.

Solvent-Based Polishing

On the other hand, water-based finishes are a greener and more environmentally friendly. It is different from the other finishes as the polluting solvents have been partly replaced by water. The chemistry may be a little complex as it must be chemically modified to combine with water in the chemical mixture. The odour tends to be less harsh when compared to solvent-based finishes.  It is also not as damaging to your health and to the environment but it performs similarly to solvent-base. Water-based finishes can be tricky and difficult to apply. They have longer drying times and dry even more slowly in uncontrolled environments (below 60 degrees). The main difference between these two is that water-based does not impact depth and richness the way solvent-based finish does.

Here is a chart to break down the main differences:

Solvent-Based Polyurethane Water-Based Polyurethane
Hard-wearing Hard-wearing
Higher Level of Toxicity Until Inert Lower Level of Toxicity Until Inert
Can Yellow Over Time Less Yellowing Over Time
Cheap Expensive
Easy To Coat Harder To Coat
Easy To Clean Easy To Clean
Flammable Not Flammable
Colour: Amber Colour: Clear
Substantial Amount of Odour Low Amount of Odour

3-2All in all, it comes down to appearance, your health, and time (money is time!). Which one are you willing to sacrifice? Choosing between these two finishes provides an interesting choice for your various projects. Before "sealing' the deal, --no pun intended-- it is best to go over the facts to know which method best attains your preference of shine.

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