Perhaps the most sought after feature after sanding floor boards is the wood floor refinishing with the unmistakable sheen from a fresh finish. While this shine has come to be expected, the method used to obtain it has seen some debate. Namely the decision between using water-based or solvent-based finishes. The process and make up of these two finishes can present an interesting choice for your timber floor restoration.

Solvent-based finishes

Solvent-based finishes are often considered the standard or traditional finish. These finishes have proven to do their job well, and have the fastest working times as well as being easy to work with. They provide a brilliant glossy shine that can withstanding years of wear and tear. The flip-side of this is that the process of making the solvent-base involves harsh chemicals. These chemicals have led to the biggest disadvantage of using a solvent-base; dangerous fumes and an overwhelming odour. Taking in these vapours can have adverse effects on the users’ health as well as the environment. That’s why the industry has been working hard to offer a cleaner alternative, such as water-based finishes.

Water-based finishes

Water-based finishes have gained significant popularity over the past few years not only because of its safer application. A water-based finish is typically made with either an acrylic resin (water-based lacquer) or an acrylic urethane (sold as water-based polyurethane). A water based wood stain (though tricky to apply) is quick drying, very durable, low VOC, and has a low odour. Although the term “water” can make some think that this solution isn’t as effective as a traditional solvent-based finish, it does perform similarly. A water-based finish has polyurethane or acrylic resin dissolved in a low-VOC solvent which is then suspended in water. When you apply the finish the water then evaporates and the solvent spreads out to fuse and form a film. The solvent then evaporates, leaving the same protective glossy finish as a traditional solvent-based solution. Once hard, the finish is waterproof and has many of the characteristics of a traditional finish, including high resistance to scratches and impacts.

Differences worth considering

The fact remains that solvent-based finished are the tried and true method of the industry and have the fastest working times; making them the most economical option. Conversely, water-based finishes do require a bit of a learning curve to apply and to achieve desired stain colours. They can tend to raise the grain more and have longer wait times between coats. Water-based finishes also require a more controlled environment. If allowed to cure in temperatures below 60 degrees you may start to notice longer drying times, as well as the solvent losing the ability to level out. You may also need to invest in spray systems for application if you have a larger volume of finishing to do. With a few adjustments though, water-based finishes can be an excellent alternative for your project