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Best Water-Based Polyurethanes for Hardwood Floors of 2022

Updated
Keep your hardwood floor looking great with these water-based polyurethanes.

Protecting your hardwood floors is crucial if you want them to keep looking good. Years of footfall and heavy use can leave them looking worse for wear and in need of some TLC.

We review the best water-based polyurethane for hardwood floors and rate them on performance, price, and ease of application.

Our Top Picks

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Image
Model
Product Comparison Table
Features

Product Image of the PolyCare 70001 Floor Cleaner Concentrate, 1 Gallon
Best Exterior
PolyCare Hardwood and Laminate Floor Cleaner
  • Phosphate-free & biodegradable
  • Super concentrated, making 64 gal.
  • Ideal for laminates and hardwood floors
Product Image of the Rust-Oleum 260165 Ultimate Polyurethane, 1 Quart, Matte
Best Matte
Rust-Oleum Ultimate Matte Polyurethane
  • Soft-touch finish
  • Covers 150 sqft
  • Matte finish
Product Image of the Rust-Oleum 200061H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, 8 Fl Oz (Pack of 1), Gloss Finish
Best Gloss
Varathane Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane
  • Touch dry in just 30 minutes
  • Works on furniture, window frames & cabinets
  • Easy cleanup with soap and water
Product Image of the Minwax Water Based, Oil-Modified Polyurethane Protective Wood Finish, Clear Semi-Gloss, 1/2 Pint
Best Interior Water-Based
Minwax Water-Based Oil-Modified Polyurethane
  • Oil-modified water-based formula
  • Dries in 2 – 3 hours for recoats
  • 125 sqft of coverage
Product Image of the Eco-Poly Polyurethane Sealer & Floor Finish, Wood Floor Sealer & Concrete Sealer, Non Toxic Water Based Sealer, 1 Gallon, Matte Sealer
Best Water-Based Multi-Use
Eco-Poly Polyurethane Sealer and Floor Finisher
  • Non-toxic & eco friendly
  • Between 500 and 2,000 sqft of coverage
  • Spray, brush, mop, or roll it on


Product Reviews

Narrowing down the best polyurethane for hardwood floors was a challenge, but after hours of research, we think we have our 5 favorites.

Narrowing down the best polyurethane for hardwood floors was a challenge, but after hours of research, we think we have our 5 favorites.

1. PolyCare Hardwood and Laminate Floor Cleaner

Best Exterior Water Based Polyurethane for Hardwood Floor

When you need to protect your hardwood surfaces inside and out, this PolyCare is an ideal choice. It is super concentrated and makes up to 64 gallons, and it leaves no residue and doesn’t need rinsing.

It works on laminates as well as hardwood floors, and it is also safe on all polyurethane-treated surfaces like kitchen cabinets, handrails, stairs, and moldings.

This formula is biodegradable, phosphate-free, and contains no harsh solvents. The downside is that it doesn’t remove ground-in stains or rubber scuff marks, but with potentially 64 gallons at your disposal, you can maintain a lot of hardwood floors.

Pros

  • Phosphate-free and biodegradable.
  • Super concentrated, making 64 gallons.
  • Ideal for laminates and hardwood floors.
  • Leaves no residue and doesn’t need rinsing.

Cons

  • Does not remove ground-in stains.
  • Doesn’t remove rubber scuff marks.

Product Specs

Quantity 64 gallons
Coverage Not stated
Applications Spray, brush, mop
Suitable for Hardwood floors, laminates, stairs, handrails
Drying time 1 hour
Price $

2. Rust-Oleum Ultimate Matte Polyurethane

Best Matte Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors

Sometimes you want to preserve the natural look and feel of your hardwood floor, so using a matte polyurethane will enhance the floor without changing it. It dries completely flat, so you can see every grain of the wood.

The water-based acrylic formula is easy to clean after use, and it doesn’t harm the environment. It also has a low odor and is fingerprint-resistant. You get 150 square feet of coverage, and it dries to the touch in 1 hour, with a second coat possible in 2.

While the matte finish is soft and smooth, it provides excellent stain and scratch-resistance, and it coats furniture, cabinets, and most other wooden and laminate surfaces.

This is only a 1-quart tin, so if you have substantial amounts of hardwood that needs TLC, you may have to invest in a couple of cans, which could be expensive.

Pros

  • Soft-touch finish.
  • Covers 150 square feet.
  • Dries to a matte finish.
  • Dries for recoats in 2 hours.

Cons

  • Expensive for such a small tin.

Product Specs

Quantity 1-quart
Coverage 150 square feet
Applications Brush
Suitable for Hardwood floors, laminates, stairs, handrails
Drying time 2 hour
Price $$$

3. Varathane Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane

Best Gloss Polyurethane for Hardwood Floor

This gloss polyurethane leaves your floors with a high sheen that makes the woodgrain really burst with natural colors. It works on furniture, window frames, cabinets, and trim, and it is 33 percent more durable than the competition.

Once down, this polyurethane dries to the touch in 30 minutes, making it one of the fastest out there. You can apply a second coat after 2 hours, and you get a maximum of 31.25 square feet of coverage, which might hamper you if you have a large floor area.

Because it is water-based, cleanup is simple with just soap and water, and it doesn’t contaminate the environment. The only negative is the size of the can. It is only 8 fluid ounces, which is half a pint, so while the cost per can is cheap, the price goes up once you start increasing the number of units you need.

Pros

  • Touch dry in just 30 minutes.
  • Works on furniture, window frames, and cabinets.
  • Easy cleanup with soap and water.
  • High gloss finish.

Cons

  • Limited coverage.
  • You will need multiple tins for larger floors.

Product Specs

Quantity 8 fluid ounces
Coverage 31.25 square feet
Applications Brush
Suitable for Hardwood floors, laminates, stairs, handrails
Drying time 30 minutes
Price $

4. Minwax Water-Based Oil-Modified Polyurethane

Best Interior Water-Based Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors

If all you care about are your interior hardwood floors, this Minwax oil-modified polyurethane should be top of your shopping list. It applies with a brush, and it has the traditional warm look of oil-based polyurethanes with all the convenience of water-based products.

It washes clean with soap and water, just like other water-based polyurethanes, but because it has oil additives, it has a higher VOC value than other products, making it unkind to the planet.

It dries in 2 to 3 hours for recoats, and it takes 24 hours to cure. It acts much like an oil-based polyurethane, penetrating deep into the wood fibers for long-lasting protection. This product comes in half-pint containers, and you get 125 square feet of coverage.

This is not a budget polyurethane. It costs much more per pint compared to other products.

Pros

  • Oil-modified water-based formula.
  • Dries in 2 to 3 hours for recoats.
  • 125 square feet of coverage.
  • Washes clean with soap and water.

Cons

  • Not as kind to the environment.
  • Higher VOCs than water-based products.
  • Expensive compared to other products.

Product Specs

Quantity 16 fluid ounces
Coverage 125 square feet
Applications Brush
Suitable for Hardwood floors, laminates, stairs, handrails
Drying time 2 – 3 hours
Price $$$$

5. Eco-Poly Polyurethane Sealer and Floor Finisher

Best Water-Based Multi-Use Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors

You may want your hardwood floor to look good, but what about the other hardwood surfaces around your home? Say hello to the best multi-use polyurethane sealer. This Eco-Poly takes care of your decks, furniture, driveways, and even masonry.

Another advantage of this product is it is non-toxic and it contains no VOCs, so it is good for the environment. It is scratch, abrasion, and UV-resistant, and this 1-gallon tin covers between 500 and 2,000 square feet, depending on how you use it.

You can mop, brush, foam roller, and spray it on, and you need to wait 60 minutes until it is touch dry before applying a second coat. The only downside is it slightly discolors your wooden surfaces, turning them a shade darker.

Pros

  • Non-toxic and eco friendly.
  • Between 500 and 2,000 square feet of coverage.
  • Spray, brush, mop, or roll it on.
  • Works on wood, concrete, and other masonry.

Cons

  • Might darken some surfaces.

Product Specs

Quantity 1-gallon
Coverage 500 to 2,000 square feet
Applications Brush, spray, mop, roller
Suitable for Hardwood floors, laminates, stairs, handrails, concrete, masonry
Drying time 30 minutes
Price $$$

Product Comparison Chart

Product Best Quantity Coverage Applications Suitable for Drying time Price
PolyCare Hardwood and Laminate Floor Cleaner Best Exterior 64 gal. Not stated Spray, brush, mop Hardwood floors, laminates, stairs, handrails 1 hour $
Rust-Oleum Ultimate Matte Polyurethane Best Matte 1-quart 150 sqft Brush Hardwood floors, laminates, stairs, handrails 2 hour $$$
Varathane Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane Best Gloss 8 fluid ozs 31.25 sqft Brush Hardwood floors, laminates, stairs, handrails 30 minutes $
Minwax Water-Based Oil-Modified Polyurethane Best Interior Water-Based 16 fluid ozs 125 sqft Brush Hardwood floors, laminates, stairs, handrails 2 – 3 hours $$$$
Eco-Poly Polyurethane Sealer and Floor Finisher Best Water-Based Multi-Use 1-gal. 500 – 2,000 sqft Brush, spray, mop, roller Hardwood floors, laminates, stairs, handrails, concrete, masonry 30 minutes $$$

Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethane floor products were once seen as the professional’s preferred choice because of their durability and lasting sheen. Today, water-based polyurethane has surpassed oil-based versions.

Oil is bad for the environment because it contains high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which emit low-level ozone when they dry. They are also harder to clean up after, with mineral spirits and paint thinner.

Water-based floor restorers are better for the planet because they have water as the main ingredient. So they produce fewer VOCs, which is excellent for the environment, and they are far easier to clean up after with soap and water.

Water-based products are also faster drying, and when they cure, they create a hardened seal that locks out moisture and seals the wood floor against scratches and damage.

Things to Consider (Buying Guide)

Whether you are restoring an old floor or sealing a newly fitted hardwood floor, the polyurethane you choose makes a huge difference to the overall appearance of the wood. Let’s take a look at some of the fundamental considerations you should keep in mind.

Type of Finish

Most polyurethanes dry to a high sheen, making the floor look like new, but you can also buy satin, clear, and matte finishes. Matte preserves the original pattern and color of the wood without that wet look.

Matte might be a better option when restoring an older floor because it does a better job of concealing scratches and scuffs in high footfall areas like passageways and landings.

The Tint

This is normally an issue with oil-based polyurethanes because they fade and turn a yellowish color. Oil has a slight pigment, whereas water-based products have no pigmentation and do not yellow. It means that water-based polyurethanes are better for lighter woods.

How Durable?

You want the protective coating to last as long as possible between recoats. The good news is water-based polyurethane is very hard-wearing. Most products resist scuffs and scratches, making them useful for both domestic and commercial premises.

How Much Coverage

Most polyurethanes offer a reasonable spread, depending on the type of surface. You can use a coverage calculator to work it out, but to make it simple, multiplying the length by the width gives you the square footage.

You should expect between 125 to 500 square feet, but the finish and number of coats make a difference.

Ease of Application

How you apply the polyurethane makes a difference to both the finish and the timescale to complete the task. Most homeowners use a roller or a brush because they are excellent for large spaces.

They tend to be self-leveling and fast-drying, so getting two coats down in a single day is possible. Just remember to paint an exit route by starting at the wall furthest from the door and work backward.


FAQs

How Many Coats of Water-Based Polyurethane Should I Use on Wood Floors?

You should use a minimum of two coats on your hardwood floor. Allow time between layers for the polyurethane to dry, so leave it for about 4 hours, and then apply the second coat. Then wait 24 hours before you attempt to use the floor for furniture and footfall.

What Is the Best Way To Apply Water-Based Polyurethane?

For the best results, a sponge roller or a brush are the perfect tools to use. Coating a floor can be back-breaking work, so use an extended pole on the foam roller.

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Do You Have To Seal Hardwood Floors Before Polyurethane?

You don’t need to seal the floor first, but cleaning it with white vinegar and water gets rid of any stains before applying the polyurethane.

Do You Need To Sand Between Coats of Water-Based Polyurethane?

Yes, you do need to sand hardwood floors between both coats of water-based polyurethane. Use 320 or 400 grit sandpaper and lightly rub at the surface of the wood. Then make sure you clear away the sawdust before applying the second coat.

Water-based stains can lift the woodgrain slightly, so it needs to be sanded back smooth, or it will look unsightly.

How Long Does Polyurethane Last on Hardwood Floors?

Hardwood floors should be restrained every 8 to 10 years, depending on how much wear and tear they get. In areas with high traffic, you might find you need to recoat every 3 to 5 years.


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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.