In the blink of an eye, the industry changed. Oil-based polyurethane lost its place as the most common poly finish for floors due to massive improvements in water-based polyurethane.
However, if you’re looking for a finish that will give your floors a golden tint at a friendlier price, look no further than oil-based poly. But how to find the right one.
It is my pleasure to present the best oil-based polyurethane for hardwood floors. Hours of research from real customer reviews and expert advice have gone into compiling our product reviews.
Best Oil-Based Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors
- ZAR 33912 Oil Based Polyurethane Wood Finish– (Best Poly for Small Jobs)
- RUST-OLEUM 130031 Varathane– (Best Polyurethane for High Traffic Areas)
- Dura Seal 1G Satin 310 Polyurethane– (Best Value for Money)
- Deft Defthane Interior Exterior Clear Poly – (Best Poly for Hard Areas)
- Minwax Super Fast-Drying Polyurethane For Floors– (Best Poly for Quick Projects)
The Best Oil-based Polyurethanes for Hardwood Floors Reviews (Updated List)
With our expertise and experience, we bring to you the best oil-based polyurethane for hardwood floors!
1. Best for Small Jobs–ZAR 33912 Oil Based Polyurethane
- For interior use only
- Included in MPI Category #57
- Tough abrasion resistant finish
- Smooth, self-leveling formula
- Great for floors
One of the reasons oil-based polyurethanes are fast going out of style is their slow drying time. Therefore, it is only fitting that the first product on our list aims to challenge that.
Zar Ultra Polyurethane is a remarkable oil-based finish that dries to a smooth finish, even on bare wood. Within two hours, you get a dry surface without brush marks, which is incredibly fast not just for an oil-based poly, but any poly.
Once you apply three coats, you will have a tough, abrasion-resistant finish that will keep your wooden floors looking new for years. Of course, this has an amber tint to it, just like any oil-based polyurethane, so it is best for dark woods.
This is an excellent product for new DIYers, as it is self-leveling, so you don’t have to be an expert to get a smooth, even coat.
Given how durable the Zar Ultra Polyurethane is, you can use it in high-traffic areas without fear of wear and tear. It is also stain-resistant, so it can be used in a house with pets. In addition, unlike water-based polyurethane, it won’t change color when soiled by animal urine or other household liquids.
It is also sold in 1-quart sizes, so it is great for small jobs of no more than 150 sq. ft.
- Fast drying
- Easy to apply
- No brush marks
- Sold in convenient sizes
- The metal can is not sturdy
2. Best for High Traffic Areas–RUST-OLEUM 130031 Varathane
- Oil-based wood floor finish - Classic Clear Gloss
- Excellent self-leveling eliminates brush marks
- Delivers great scratch & mar resistance
- Warm, golden glow
The second product on our list is one of the oldest and most trusted brands available. Varathane has been the envy of the market for decades, and its floor finish is one tough cookie.
This oil-based polyurethane is made with patented Aluminum Oxide Nano Technology that makes it scuff and scratch-resistant. It also resists stains and household chemicals, so you don’t have to worry about the color changing beyond what is expected from an oil-based finish.
Another feature you would appreciate is the relatively quick drying time for a typical oil-based polyurethane. Within two hours, the floors will be dry to touch. You can then apply a second coat in another ten hours for same-day application.
While this may seem like a lifetime compared to some of the other products on our list, it is still decent performance. But of course, the drying time is just a small part of the equation.
Varathane Premium Floor Finish offers exceptional durability, making it perfect for high-traffic areas such as kitchens and hallways. You also get four choices of sheen – matte, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss.
This product can be applied on bare and stained wood. It can also be used on previously finished surfaces, as long as you follow the instructions.
As you would expect, the manufacturer recommends that you use the product as it is without diluting. Even without thinning, you will get an even surface without brush marks.
The one major limitation of this is you can’t apply it with a roller, or you may get bubbles. Instead, Rust-Oleum recommends you use a brush or a wool applicator.
- Scuff and scratch-resistant
- It can be applied without thinning
- Comes in four sheen options
- Much cheaper than the competitors
- It shouldn’t be applied with a roller
- Slower drying time than competitors
3. Best Value for Money–Dura Seal 1G Satin 310 Polyurethane
With a name like Dura Seal, you can’t help but have high hopes. After all, the aim of polyurethane is to provide a protective seal on your hardwood floors, and guess what? This product delivers!
Well, of course, you knew that. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been on our list.
The Dura Seal 1G Polyurethane is a little-known product that packs a powerful punch. Sold in 1-gallon cans, it can cover up to 500 sq. ft, making it perfect for large jobs. You can double the coverage by thinning, and it will still deliver outstanding protection.
One reason a lot of people love it, besides it being moderately cheap, is that it is easy to apply. The finish levels quite easily, even without any superior skill. It is also very durable and can protect your floors from shoes, dents, scratches, and liquids for over a decade, even with one coat.
However, it is highly recommended that you use at least three coats. After the final coat, you will notice that the color of your floor would have ambered a bit, but not too dramatically. This color will get darker over time and yield a nice honey glow, which adds character to the house.
Unlike the Varathane, this only comes in three sheens: satin, semi-gloss, and high gloss. The most common finish is satin, while the high gloss has a tendency to reveal scratches and dents over time.
- Easy to apply
- Covers a large surface area
- Provides lasting protection when applied right
- Limited sheen options (high gloss should be avoided)
- Slow drying time compared to competitors
4. Best for Hard Areas–Deft Defthane Clear Poly
- This high solids oil based polyurethane formulated for hard use areas
- Excellent for interior and exterior wood surfaces including floors, doors, furniture cabinets and marine applications above the water line
- EPA Regulated: No ship to AK, CA, HI, NH
- Use on unfinished and stained wood, painted, varnished or lacquered surfaces
- Available in gloss finish and 1-quart can
If there ever was a military-grade finish, this would be it. The Deft Defthane polyurethane is unlike any other product on our list. It was specifically designed for hard areas such as doors, floors, cabinets, and ships.
Yes, you read that right. Imagine an oil-based polyurethane being so strong it can be used on a boat – above the waterline, of course. That is what you get from this gem.
You would think such a feature makes it tricky to apply, but you would be wrong. It has a nice flow, it’s self-leveling, and minimizes brush marks. This product can be used on bare wood, stained, painted, varnished, or lacquered wood.
And by the way, this poly can also be used on metal. So, if you happen to have some metalwork mixed in with your hardwood floors, this is the product for you.
Another unique feature is that this oil-based polyurethane has ultraviolet absorbers to block out harmful sun rays. This prevents hardwoods from getting darker over time.
You’ll also enjoy its quick drying time. You can apply the next coat in as little as 6 hours. Some users have gotten good results in four and a half hours, but I recommend you follow the instructions.
The major downside to this product is that it only comes in clear glass.
- It can be used both indoors and outdoors
- It can be applied on different types of finish
- Made for hard areas
- Relatively quick drying time
- Comes in only one sheen
- The lid and can are not high-quality
5. Best for Quick Projects–Minwax Super Fast-Drying Polyurethane
- Superior durability for hardwood floors
- Optimized drying technology results in faster recoat time between coats
- No sanding required between coats
- Advanced anti-settling formula ensures less stirring and fewer highs and lows across large surfaces, resulting in an even sheen
- Recommended Uses: hardwood floors
Last but certainly not least is the fastest drying oil-based polyurethane of them all. The Minwax Super-Fast-Drying polyurethane for floors really sticks to its name.
This is another product that was made for hardwood floors, so you can expect a superb finish. It was also designed to save time on large products. The second coat can be applied in just 3 to 4 hours, with or without sanding.
If you are applying subsequent coats without sanding, then stick to the waiting window so that the previous coat is not completely dry. Even without abrading, you will get a smooth finish that will stand the test of time.
Just like the Varathane, this product should not be applied with a roller. Otherwise, you may see bubbles, which will require you to sand between coats, and you lose the advantage.
Instead, use a natural brush or lambswool applicator, or a synthetic pad applicator. This Minwax poly is available in satin, semi-gloss, and gloss.
The major downside of this oil-based polyurethane is that it is pretty expensive. However, considering you can apply three coats while you’re still waiting for the first coat to dry for some of its competitors, it might be worth it.
- Speedy drying time
- Made specifically for floors
- No need to sand between coats
- Uses anti-settling formula to prevent constant stirring
- Too expensive for small projects
- It shouldn’t be applied with a roller
Should I use Oil-Based Polyurethane or Water-Based Polyurethane?
Even though you have come searching for the best oil-based polyurethane for hardwood floors, there is probably a part of you that wonders if you are making the right decision. After all, everybody else is choosing water-based polyurethane. Right?
Well, just because water-based poly has taken over doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best choice for every application. By weighing the pros and cons of each, you’ll be able to make the right decision.
Advantages of Using Oil-Based Polyurethane
1. Longer Drying Time
Ooh, it feels like we are off to a bad start already, but bear with me. Yes, oil-based polyurethane takes significantly longer to dry, but that isn’t necessarily a disadvantage.
Applying a coat of polyurethane on a large surface takes a bit of time. Having that extra time to look over your work and make corrections before the first coat dries is invaluable.
The problem many people have with water-based polyurethane is that the coat can be unforgiving. In as little as 10 minutes, some brands of water-based poly would have already started to set. So if you mistakenly left a puddle, you won’t have time to correct it.
Instead, you have to wait for it to dry then sand the messy bits. But with oil-based polyurethane, you can wipe up any excess spillage or smooth it over with your applicator before it sets.
I’m sure you have deduced by this statement that water-based poly is better for more experienced hands, who work quickly and so can cover up their mistakes before the poly solidifies.
2. More Application Options
Water-based polyurethane needs to be applied with the right tools to prevent polyurethane bubbles. This typically means using a synthetic brush or a microfiber roller. In general, you tend to get more options with oil-based polyurethane.
Now you’re thinking back to the products that recommended either a brush or a lambswool applicator. However, when you thin oil-based polyurethane (which most of these makers say you shouldn’t), you can get an even coat using a roller.
Plus, you have a wider choice of rollers. For example, you can use a microfiber roller, foam roller, lambswool roller, mohair roller to apply oil-based polyurethane, but you prepare the tools properly. And you can also use natural and synthetic brushes, even though the latter is meant for water-based finishes.
3. It can Withstand More Abuse.
I was going to label this as durability, but that would be misleading. Water-based polyurethane used to be terrible at protecting floors, but manufacturers put in a lot of effort to bring it up to par.
So, when it comes to durability, some water-based polyurethanes can last even longer. But where water-based polyurethane tends to fall short is with household chemicals and animal urine.
Many users have noticed that the water-based topcoat changed to a milky color after their pets went to town on it or other liquids spilled. This rarely happens with oil-based polyurethane.
Sure, oil-based polyurethane changes over time, but it is supposed to do that; it isn’t a mistake, but we’ll come back to this later.
The golden rule of woodworking is never buy cheap. Okay, that’s something I made up, so I need to clarify. Cheap products are usually not of excellent quality, so they won’t stand the test of time.
When it comes to polyurethane, you have to compare like for like. Oil-based polyurethane is cheaper than water-based polyurethane in general, just like Levi’s is cheaper than Ralph Lauren. Does that make Levi’s jeans bad? Absolutely not!
What it does mean is that you can buy a great product at a better price. Now, you shouldn’t choose one oil-based poly over another because it is cheaper unless they match up in every other category.
However, it is safe to choose oil when deciding between oil-based and water-based polyurethane because it is just as good or arguably better than water.
5. The Color Changes Overtime*
I had to put an asterisk because this can be both good and bad. For those who like the flare oil-based polyurethane brings to hardwood floors, this is a good thing. However, if you intentionally picked out the wood because of its color, you probably won’t want to change it.
The amber hue you get from oil-based polyurethane will continue to darken over time, though not so drastic you can’t recognize the color of the wood. In actuality, you should be more concerned about the stain you use than the type of polyurethane.
Disadvantages of Using Oil-Based Polyurethane
1. Long Drying Time
Here we go again! How long to wait between coats of polyurethane on hardwood floors.
The long-drying time of polyurethane is a disadvantage when you are pressed for time. If you have given a short timeframe to complete a refinishing job, oil-based poly probably won’t be your best bet.
However, some of the products on our list, such as the Minwax, Varathane, and the Deft Defthane have much faster drying times than typical oil-based polys. These products can allow you to apply a second coat the same day.
In the case of Minwax, you can apply three coats before the sun goes down, which is lightning fast.
2. Low Odor
The smell from oil-based polyurethane can be overpowering. You need a well-ventilated place and some heavy-duty fans to back you up.
On the other hand, water-based polyurethane can be almost odorless. This is particularly helpful when you are applying the finish in a house with children and pets. You shouldn’t have to book a hotel just to refinish your floors.
However, the Dura Seal does an excellent job in this category. A few reviewers attested that the odor was barely noticeable. Of course, we won’t go as far as saying it is odorless, but it is a pleasant surprise.
3. High Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
One reason for the phasing out of oil-based polyurethane is that it emits more VOCs than water-based polyurethane. According to the EPA, VOCs are harmful to the environment, and some of them have short and long-term adverse health effects.
Fortunately, the VOCs are only released during application, so it won’t be a problem after the polyurethane dries.
How to Choose the Best Oil-Based Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors
Now that we have established the significant differences between water-based and oil-based polyurethane for hardwood floors, it is time to choose the right one for your next project. You will have noticed that some of the advantages of water-based polyurethanes are found in some of the products we reviewed.
With that in mind, here are the things to look out for when choosing oil-based polyurethane for hardwood floors.
1. Location of the Floor
Not all floors are the same. For example, some are high traffic areas, while others aren’t. This should be the first thing you consider when buying any type of polyurethane.
The Varathane Professional was specifically made for high traffic areas. Sure, you can use it in your pantry, but it was built for kitchens, hallways, and other rugged areas. As you’d expect, this means the Varathane is more durable and scratch-resistant.
For any other location in your house, any of the other options will suffice.
2. Drying Time
Another important factor to consider is the time constraint of the project. If you need a quick turnaround, then you should go with a product with a quick dry time. The winner in this category is the Minwax Super Fast-Drying Polyurethane.
You can put three coats of this bad boy in one day! That’s virtually unheard of for oil-based polyurethane.
The Defthane does an excellent job as well since you can apply a second coat on the same day. Some users have asserted that just two coats of this was all they needed, so you could also be done in one day.
I usually leave the price as the last option, but there is very little to separate these products in terms of quality, durability, and protection. Therefore, it is pragmatic to make the price an important deciding factor.
The winner in this category is the Rust-Oleum Varathane. While it is sold per gallon instead of a quart, the price per ml is significantly less than the competitors. Surprisingly, the “expensive” Minwax comes second for the same reason.
However, if you are only finishing a room that is 150 sq. ft or less, then you should opt for any of the other three.
4. Ease of Application
In this category, we need to consider how well each product levels and any common flaws that arise during application.
Does anyone leave brush marks? Do you need to sand it constantly? Do you get a smooth finish every time? What tools can you use to apply it?
For most of these categories, we have a tie. Even though Varathane and Minwax specifically say you shouldn’t use a roller, this is a common suggestion for most oil-based polyurethanes.
It is therefore hard to pick a winner in this category, but the edge goes to Minwax. Besides drying quickly, you also don’t need to sand between coats of polyurethane, which makes a tremendous difference.
Considering how long it takes to apply polyurethane, this is a vital aspect to consider. As standard, you should expect to wear a respirator when applying oil-based polyurethane – some people even suggest you do the same for water-based finishes – but some smells are overwhelming.
The VOCs are usually a good indicator of how pungent the odor is, but not in this case. Despite the Defthane clocking in at 450 VOCs (Minwax and Varathane are 350), it has the most positive reviews in this category.
Another thing that may affect your decision is the level of gloss or luster you want. To better understand this, let’s take a quick look at the four options:
- Matte: this is the finish with the least luster. It has a dull look that hides all but the most severe of scratches. It reflects the least light of the four. It is ideal if you do not intend to frequently retouch the finish or if you are going to use it in high-traffic areas.
- Satin: This finish has a bit more luster than the matte finish. It reflects more light, showing more of the beauty of the wood but also more of the scratches. It is ideal if you want to see more luster while also having to not maintain too frequently.
- Semi-gloss: semi-gloss reflects a lot of light. It brings out even more of the wood’s looks than the previous finishes. However, it also shows more of the scratches and dirt. It is a good option for low-traffic areas.
- High-gloss: this is one shiny sheen! It is absolutely stunning, but it will reveal scratches and stains more easily. It is best for very low-traffic areas, like a home office or a no-shoe zone.
The Varathane has the most sheen options with four, while the Dura Seal has the least with one.
It is important to mention that the sheen does not affect the durability of the polyurethane, just how it looks.
Final Thoughts on the Best Oil-based Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors
Given our analysis on how to choose the best oil-based polyurethane for hardwood floors, I’m sure you have guessed that the winner is Rust-Oleum Varathane Professional!
It is the most durable of the lot, being suited for high traffic areas; it is the most affordable, is tied for the lowest VOCs, and has the most sheen options.
Sure, it takes a bit longer to dry than the Minwax and Defthane, but it’s worth waiting for the superior finish.
I hope this review and guide have been helpful. If you have used any of these products before, drop a comment below or go to our review of the best water-based polyurethane for floors.