Best Water Based Polyurethanes for Floors – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

Top pick: Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish

Photo: Amazon

Bona Mega Finish is a great choice for your floors. Its formula provides proven performance, great coverage and almost no odor. This poly easily deals with high traffic areas.

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When it comes to finishing or refurbishing your floors, the quality and type of finish matter a lot.

I can say that Bona Mega Floor Finish is the best overall poly you can get.

Furthermore, this article will help you decide on the best fit for your needs by discussing the best water-based polyurethanes for floors and why it would make sense to use them in place of oil-based ones.

Best Water Based Polyurethanes for Floors in March, 2024

PolyurethaneCoverage (quart)Recoat dry (hours)Sheen
1Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish
Editor's Choice
125-150 sq ft2,5 - 3satin, semi-gloss, gloss Check Price
2Varathane Crystal Clear Floor Finish100-125 sq ft2semi-gloss Check Price
3Minwax Water Based Poly 125 sq ft2gloss, satin, semi-gloss Check Price
4ZAR Aqua100-125 sq ft2satin Check Price
5Deft Water-Based Poly100-125 sq ft2gloss Check Price
6Rust-Oleum Ultra Thickup to 100 sq ft2 - 3semi-gloss Check Price

Here are the best water-based polyurethanes for floors you can find.

1. Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish – Top Choice for Floors

Photo: Amazon

Bona Mega is a mid-grade water-based polyurethane regarded for wood floor finish. This is a perfect brand for customers who are on a low budget. This poly gives users the intended outcome. This is an oxygen-crosslinking pole made with a well-verified formula to deliver extraordinary performance. The crosslinker used is the oxygen present in the atmosphere.

The product is available in satin, gloss and semi-gloss. There are no additives to the mix. Thus, it enhances the natural wood color to show the natural beauty of the wood. Also, Bona Mega doesn’t have a limited pot life and no wasted finish too.

Proven quality

This product has been tested and proven to perform accurately and meet the value of standards in the industry. Also, Bona Mega is approved in terms of volatile organic compounds. One gallon of this poly covers approximately 600 sq ft.

It refinishes the floor amazingly to give your floor a great look. For best results, this poly works well when applied in three coats with sand in between. At first coat, the floor is still rough but after the second and the third coat the floor looks and feel perfectly smooth. The floor gets hard and ready to use within a few days.

Among the flooring brands, Bona Mega stands out as the best regarding revamping old floors. It lays out super smooth to make an 80-year old floor shine bright and feel soft as a brand new floor.

The directions of using Bona Mega are easy to follow and obtain the intended results. Even on high traffic floors, this poly produces results. It is, however, advisable to apply it on a warm or humid day. While applying the poly, you should be wearing socks as shoes will leave permanent marks on the floor. The poly produces nearly zero odor, and your pets are safe around the floor even immediately after application. In this regard, people with breathing problems can apply the poly successfully without any difficulties throughout the process.

  • It is easy to apply
  • Has low odor
  • Looks great on the hardwood floor
  • It dries quickly
  • It is very durable
  • Shines bright and it is non-slippery
  • Should be applied in multiple layers to produce excellent results

2. Varathane Crystal Clear Floor Finish

Varathane Crystal Clear Floor Finish Semi-Gloss
Photo: Amazon

Varathane’s polyurethane has all of the characteristics of a well-made, water-based polyurethane. This product’s major advantage is that it’s designed for high-traffic locations.
The finish will have the greatest resistance to scuffs and scratches if you allow adequate drying time for it to cure.

It is scratch resistance is due to aluminum oxide nanotechnology, making it one of the toughest polyurethanes available.
It is available in Gloss, semi-gloss, satin, and matte finishes. If you want to hide any imperfections in your hardwood floors, go for a matte finish, but keep in mind that matte has a slight milkiness to it.

Great clarity

Unlike other water-based polyurethanes, Varathane’s polyurethane has been specifically created to let the inherent beauty of wood shine through with the greatest clarity.
Varathane has excellent scratch and stain resistance, so your interior wood projects will look beautiful for longer.

  • This product has a very clear finish
  • It dries hard and quickly
  • It is easy to apply
  • Shines bright and it is non-slippery
  • Easy to clean up with warm, soapy water
  • The finish whitens if it gets in contact with a significant amount of water

3. Minwax Water Based Oil-Modified Poly – Ultra-Fast Drying Coat

Photo: Amazon

Minwax Polyurethane is a protective that is crystal clear, ultra-fast drying protective topcoat for interior wood. It is recommended for use on interior wood surfaces such as doors, paneling, trim, cabinets, furniture and sure floors. This coating cleans up easily with warm water and soap. This coating is fit for use on bare wood in both oil-based and waterborne stains.

It can be recoated in as little time as two hours as it has little volatile organic compounds. Compared to traditional solvents based polyurethanes, this Minwax product has a low odor, dries fast, and is crystal clear. Besides, protecting the natural beauty of the wood surface, it adds on to the beauty of the wood.

Oil-Modified Durability

Minwax Polyurethane is available in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin sheens. All these finishes provide a durable cover with a more luxurious look for the wood. This poly works best if applied in three coats. The best application tools to ensure the right results include; foam brush, synthetic bristle brush, or a lambswool applicator.

The surface of the application should be dry and free from any foreign materials. Sanding the surface is recommended to obtain a uniformly smooth surface. After sanding, clean the surface and wait for it to dry. Then, apply the poly while following the instructions and guidelines.

Applying the oil-modified polyurethane is easy. One should continuously stir before use and while in use to avoid some content settling on the bottom. Then, apply a thin coat of the oil-modified poly with a T-bar coater and leave it for two hours to dry thoroughly then apply a second coat and a third coat two hours after the second. The project should be left for 24 hours before light usage.

While coating a hardwood floor, it is recommended to a synthetic pad for application to avoid leaving marks on the floor. To get full durability of the coating, it is recommended to avoid heavy traffic on the floor within 72 hours of application.

  • Easy to clean with warm water
  • Dries quickly
  • Ultimately protects the beauty of the wood
  • Has a relatively low odor
  • Highly resistant to scuffing and abrasion
  • May slightly affect people with breathing problems especially in rooms with inadequate ventilation
  • May cause eye-watering during application

4. ZAR Aqua Water Based Poly– Combination of Beauty and Durability

Photo: Amazon

The poly dries fast, has a low odor and is made with a verified formula to resist reaction with most household chemicals thus protecting the floor and furniture from abrasion, scuffing, and other damages. This poly brings out the best from wood in terms of beauty and durability, unlike other conventional waterborne polys. Furthermore, it meets all the industry environmental standards as it has notably low emission of solvent vapor.

Good Choice for Exotic Woods

Aqua Zar polyurethane is recommended for use on the interior surfaces only. It is, however, child safe when dry. This poly is desirable for use on exotic wood species such as Teak, Brazilian walnut and plenty more. It is made with full compliance with the volatile organic compounds rules and regulations. After application, it is advisable to refrain from touching the equipment for two hours to avoid leaving unpleasant marks on the furniture.

If you intend to add two more coats over the first one, you should wait a minimum of two hours for each coat to dry up completely. Floors should be ready for light use a day after application, moderate use after 3-5 days and a maximum use a week after application.

If you had an experience of unpleasant yellowing after applying a poly, Aqua Zar is the poly to try out now. This product is packed in a quart. One quart of Aqua Zar covers an area of up to 125 sq ft. It should be applied in properly ventilated moves while utilizing gas masks to prevent oneself from the harmful vapors emitted from the solvent used.

  • Got beauty and clarity
  • Fast drying
  • Low odor
  • Environmentally safe
  • No yellowing effect after drying
  • Ideal for use on light colored and stained surfaces
  • Low emissions of solvent vapors causing slight breathing difficulty
  • Requires warm soapy water for effective cleaning

5. Deft Water-Based Poly – Great Both for Interior and Exterior

Photo: Amazon

This polyurethane is highly regarded for use on the interior and the exterior surfaces as well. It is available in gloss finish. It is a water-based poly modified with urethane to provide added protection against sun rays, water, and wind damage.

This poly is made from an advanced formula and contains Ultra-violet absorber and inhibitors to offer excellent protection against the damaging effects of sun and water. It is an ideal poly for stained as well as bare wood surfaces such as a door, interior and exterior floors, furniture, cabinets, and plenty more.

Both Interior and Exterior

Deft interior/ exterior polyurethane has proven greater durability than oil-based polyurethanes. It is carefully formulated to meet the volatile organic compounds and environmental regulations for low odor emissions. It is made of 100% urethane formulated with advanced waterborne oil modified polyurethane technology to produce a clear protective coating. For exterior surfaces, it provides excellent weather-resistance and enhances durability.

This is the poly that takes wood finishing to a higher level. It spreads quickly and dries smoothly with significantly low odor. The coating after drying up does not impart the wood color. It is highly recommended on floors where wood protection is paramount as it offers unparalleled protection.

1-quart container of this gloss finish can cover an area of up to 125 sq ft. Using a polyurethane applicator is recommended to get great and fast coverage. It does not produce a yellowing effect after drying up, and it’s non-toxic when it dries up. The coat dries within two hours after application, and it is ready for recoat to produce excellent results. After drying up, the coat is crystal clear, performs exactly as intended, and is easy to clean up using water.

  • Highly durable on hard surfaces
  • Offers protection against sun
  • Provides exceptional sanding
  • Enhances the look and the finishing process
  • Ideal for stained surfaces
  • Produces excellent hardness when dry
  • Contains harmful vapor emissions
  • Harmful if mistakenly swallowed by children

6. RUST-OLEUM Varathane Floor Finish – Ultra Thick Polyurethane

Photo: Amazon

This is another water-based polyurethane from Rust-Oleum. This product is meant to be used on wooden floors, and it does its job very well indeed.

Tough, Thick, And Strong

The main feature of this finish is its high durability. The product is advertised as a “high traffic” formula, which means the company has done its best to create something that resists scratching and dents. Usually, these types of polyurethane are a lot more expensive than this one. Also, you get a whole gallon at this price, so it’s likely to last a while.

Like many other water-based polyurethanes, this one has a self-leveling feature, which basically means that it will settle naturally, forming a smooth layer on top. While many products will tout the benefits of this feature, some of them don’t produce a noticeable difference.

Thankfully, this is one of the exceptions. The self-leveling feature is apparent every time you move the brush. This one also provides an easy cleanup, and that is always a time-saver. A little bit of soap and water should be all you need. Speaking of time-saving, this product can be applied twice as thickly as most other finishes. This means fewer coats, which means less project time overall.

The Problems

Because this product is meant to be applied in a double-thick layer, it will take longer to dry than most others. It will take two hours before it is dry to the touch, and will require a full 24 hours to cure properly. There is also the fact that some people don’t want such a thick and visible layer on their flooring. The thickness of the poly can make the wood appear fake, so try it on a sample piece first.

  • Meant to be applied thickly
  • High-traffic formula for extra durability
  • Easy cleanup
  • Very good self-leveling feature
  • Not that expensive
  • Creates a thick and visible layer
  • Drying time is a little longer per coat

Buyer’s guide

Polyurethanes are the coatings used to protect your floor from damage. Conventionally, three layers of this kind of finish are needed to ensure the longevity of the coating and protection of the floor. The type and brand you use for coating your floor are of crucial importance. It determines how long the coating will last.

Finally, the choice on whether to choose listed brands depends on your budget, the type of wood used on your floor, as well as the look of the color choice you want.

Water-based or Oil-Based

The decision on whether to use water-based or oil-based polyurethane depends on the result you want to obtain from the finishing. The water-based polyurethane is preferred to provide clear results when reducing the drying duration and lower odor while applying the poly.

In the past, oil-based polyurethanes were more common compared to water-based polys. However, the situation has changed recently.

Contrary to the perception of many people, water-based polyurethanes are super durable too and at times more durable than the oil-based ones. This is due to the fact that producers and research centers keep on testing and improving the formula of making these finishes and particularly water-based. As a result, improved water-based polyurethanes have been developed with great added advantages which should make you consider using them for your floor.

To highlight a few quick tips, the best water-based polyurethanes should cost less than the oil-based but still as durable, should cure easily, smell less, and look the best.

The following are the factors to consider while buying the water-based polyurethane.


If the smell is a significant concern, especially for people with breathing problems, you should consider a brand that fully complies with VOC and environmental standards. Also, you should consider proper ventilation while applying the polys.

Curing time

Water-borne polyurethane is highly regarded as the dry fast and allow you to use your furniture within a few days after application. For high traffic floors and heavily used furniture, polys with ultra-fast drying speed should be considered.


When on a low budget, Bona Mega Polyurethane should be considered as it is highly effective and comes at a low price. However, the product has excellent results.


For a table top, as well as other exterior coatings polyurethanes with a no-yellowing effect, should be applied.


Polyurethanes formulated with an advanced formula such as the Deft interior/exterior poly should be used as they have enhanced components to prevent the wood from damage including the weather-related damages.

Ease of cleaning

This is a crucial factor to consider regarding the surface you want to finish. For surfaces that require regular cleaning polys with ease of cleaning should be applied.

Frequently Asked Questions

While most people choose to use a paintbrush to apply their poly-coatings, you can also choose to use a roller. In fact, this is a great option because it eliminates the problem of brush strokes. If you choose to use a roller, make sure that you begin by dampening the roller with some mineral spirits.

It is far easier to get a smooth and uniform stroke from a roller, but they are only well suited for large surfaces. You can’t really do small jobs with a roller, and it isn’t so good for non-flat surfaces. For flooring, however, a roller brush is an ideal choice that can save you a lot of time and irritation.

Did you find this FAQ helpful?

There are differing opinions on this subject, but the labels of most water-based polyurethane products will recommend sanding between coats. Once the first coat has dried fully, you should take some very fine-grit sandpaper and give the surface a little rubbing. This is meant to provide a little bit of traction that helps the next layer to adhere.

The important thing to remember here is that you don’t remove any more material than necessary. A single coat of polyurethane is not very thick, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to sand through to the bare wood. This danger is especially present when doing the first coating. Use light strokes and fine sandpaper to ensure you don’t go too far.

Did you find this FAQ helpful?

When refinishing your floors with a product of this type, you might as well allocate an entire day for drying time. While the conditions of your environment will affect drying times to a certain extent, you don’t want to risk ruining your work by using the floor too soon.

Always consult the label of your polyurethane product for more specific information, as drying times will vary a lot from one product to the next. In general, though, you can expect to wait 24 hours or more before the coating is fully cured.

Right now, you might be groaning at the prospect of not being able to walk on your floors for the next 24 hours. Luckily for you, things aren’t quite that bad. Most clear-coat products will dry to the touch within 4-6 hours, even though they will not have been cured yet. This means they will be hard enough to touch without ruination, but they will not yet have reached their maximum hardness. Still, I would strongly recommend that you disallow shoes, bare feet, and animal paws on the freshly coated surface.

Did you find this FAQ helpful?

Because the polyurethane finish represents the main barrier between your floors and the outside world, you can expect that they will take some damage over time. As such, you will need to touch up or replace the finish once in a while. How often are we talking here? That’s where we find good news. You will only need to do this job once every 7-10 years, and you may not even need to do it that often.

The whole question hinges on the amount of wear and tear that your floors receive. For instance, floors in little-used areas are going to last longer than the floor in a heavily trafficked hallway. Floors that get wet more often (like the places near your doors) are also not going to last as long before they need refinishing.

Did you find this FAQ helpful?

In most cases, water-based polyurethane will be your best choice, but this is not an absolute rule. We say this because water-based poly will give you the same results in less time. Also, oil-based finishes tend to be more expensive, as they are often made of organic oils processed from various plants. Obviously, water is always going to be cheaper than oil.

An oil-based finish is smoother, slicker, and shinier. For a floor surface, this is probably not the way to go. A surface like this will present an increased risk of slips and falls. If this area is trafficked by the public, it could even expose you to legal liabilities. Thus, I would generally recommend water-based polyurethane for a floor job.

Did you find this FAQ helpful?

Water-based polyurethane coatings can be used to enhance the lifespan of any wooden item, and that includes flooring. In fact, you could use polyurethane for non-wooden floors as well. Water-based polyurethanes are the most common choice for floor jobs, and there are two primary reasons for that fact.

First, water-based coatings will usually dry faster than their oil-based counterparts. When doing floors, the dry time is a real inconvenience because it cuts off access to entire areas of your home. Thus, a shorter drying time is really helpful. As a second upside, polyurethane coatings have a lighter appearance that will not alter the color or grain of the wood.

Did you find this FAQ helpful?


Water-based polyurethanes are as effective and durable as oil borne polys. They, however, provide a lighter and a clearer color impact on wood as opposed to the yellow coloring effect by the oil-based polys. Also, they dry faster and cures faster. Water-based polyurethanes smells less and dissipates faster while complying with environmental and volatile organic compound regulations. They are better for maple natural, white spots, and gray finishes.

William Stewart

The proud owner and lead writer of Started writing in 2018 and sharing his love and passion for wood treatments and crafts.

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A Alam
A Alam
11 months ago

Out of the products you have listed, which would you recommend for use with Brazilian Walnut? I see the Aqua Zar is recommended for exotic woods, is that the best one for the Brazilian Walnut or would be one of the other ones?

C stein
C stein
1 year ago

Bona Mega One is the upgrade to Bona Mega. I would only use the upgrade.

Linda Hodges
Linda Hodges
3 years ago

Bona water born poly was used to refinish my flooring it came out very dull, supposed to be satin, rough to the touch. the fist time I had to clean it, about 3 weeks later, it was hard because the surface is not smooth, had to scrape off something tracked in, used a nylon scraper(very gently) and some dawn soap, the finish literally peeled off…What to do next ???

Reply to  Linda Hodges
2 years ago

Linda, I was considering Bona satin too! so it’s really dull? I wanted a little sheen for sure, but concerned about going semigloss.

Len Hilton
3 years ago

Hello William,
We have a lot of oak in our house. 35 years ago when I started building our house I went to the saw mill, bought 3k bdft, 1.25″ and some 2.25″ red oak, had it kiln dried, planed, sanded, etc. We used the oak on woodwork, stairs, floors; didn’t stain any of it. I finished all of it with the same waterborne polyurethane product we called Zipp; we called it that because it had a bold blue splash on the can with Zipp written in it, it was in local hardwares. That has held up great for 30 years (I put a lot of coats on first five years), now I can’t find it online, I don’t know the real name, and I can’t find an old can in the tool shed.
So now I’m looking at the Bona products. I want waterborne, I don’t want two-part polyurethane because I have so much wood to refinish there would be a lot of waste and unnecessary beat-the-clock pressure. I want the best one part product available. If you don’t mind, what is your recommendation?
BTW, for the most part I take the vertical woodwork down to refinish.

John Hanson
John Hanson
4 years ago


We had our oak floors professionally refinished this past summer. Everything looks good; however, we have a 45 pound dog that reacts to any knock on the door or the mailman. We try to keep our dog’s nails trimmed but we are now seeing scratch marks on the floor from her nails. I do not recall the product that was used but it was a water based polyurethane – three coats were used. Any suggestions on what we might do to repair the scratches or prevent further damage? Thank you. John

4 years ago

Hi William,
Is there anything I can use to stain the wood (in this case sanded plywood) to achieve the color of my preference and put the water based poly? I’ve looked into Varathane stain and poly in one, but the colors are very limited. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Peter Gay
Peter Gay
4 years ago

Hi William, what is the best UF waterbased poly, Does any of the Bona product have UV Protection, and/or use an addative.

Thanks Peter

4 years ago

The Bona Mega doesn’t mention anything about yellowing or uv protection. I have very large windows in my house and need uv protection as well as non yellowing. Your suggestion?

4 years ago

Hey Bill,
Wondered your thoughts? having 20 year old wood floors refinished. Company suggested (poly) re-sand and finish with 2 coats poly and then up-grade traffic- 2 components acrylic/water wood system(3x sealer coats system). Last coat will be traffic by bona- Keri. That would be extra charge of $437.00 Vs using Duraseal water base instead of bona. The duraseal charge would be an extra $119.00
So bottom line is bona that much better? Would you pay $437.00 for Bona or would the duraseal work as well at a price of $119.00? Thanks so much!

4 years ago

Can any water base polyurethane be used to refinish old floors previously finished with oil base polyurethane without sanding the floor down to bare wood?

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