The Best Water-Based Polyurethane for High-Traffic Areas

By thewoodmeter •  Updated: 07/03/23 •  7 min read

Water-based polyurethane has gained popularity among most woodworkers, and for the right reasons. They have a lower VOC content and are therefore considered more eco-friendly than their oil-based counterparts.

Water-based polyurethane doesn’t amber over time, it remains clear allowing your floors to retain their natural beauty. 

There are numerous water-based polyurethane finishes on the market today. Choosing the right brand for your floors can be a daunting task since every brand claims theirs is the most effective. 

While we may not review all the brands, here are the five best water-based polyurethane finishes for high-traffic areas. 

Tips For Choosing the Best Water-Based Polyurethane for High-Traffic Areas 

Here are a few factors you should consider before buying polyurethane.

Sheen 

Polyurethane finishes are available in four sheens: matte, satin, gloss, and semi-gloss. For high-traffic areas, it is wise to go for a matte or satin finish. 

Matte is less reflective and can hide the floor’s imperfections better. But if you find matte too dull, you can go for a satin sheen. Like matte, satin hides scratches and blemishes on the floor well. 

Gloss and semi-gloss are suitable for low-traffic areas. They are highly reflective and shiny. Although they reveal the natural beauty of wooden floors better, they tend to show scratches and dings easily. 

VOC Emissions 

Polyurethane contains chemicals knowns as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). Prolonged exposure to these chemicals can have severe effects on your health.

It is critical to ensure that the polyurethane you choose is certified by credible bodies such as GreenGuard. GreenGuard is a third-party organization that ensures that household items meet a specific chemical emission limit. 

Ease Of Application

Choosing an easy-to-use polyurethane helps you reduce the chances of making a blunder during the application process. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before settling on a particular brand. 

 Drying Time

Water-based polyurethane dries faster than its oil-based counterpart. However, no two water-based polyurethane finishes are the same. Some dry in as little as an hour while others take up to 3 hours

It is imperative to remember that several coats of a water-based polyurethane finish are required for maximum protection. So, ensure that you are aware of how much time is needed for each coat to dry. 

The Best Water-Based Polyurethane for High Traffic Areas- Our Top Picks

Editor's Choice
Bona Traffic HD Commercial Extra Matte
$168.95

Bona describes their product as the world’s leading waterborne finish. Bona Traffic HD provides unsurpassed scuff and scratch resistance making it the best water-based polyurethane for high-traffic areas.

This product has excellent resistance to chemicals. It doesn't stain easily when it comes in contact with household items such as bleach, vinegar, ketchup, and red wine. 

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04/12/2024 08:08 pm GMT

Bona HD Traffic dries in 2-3 hours and allows traffic in 12 hours. It is the ideal polyurethane for someone who wants to complete their project in less than a day.

With a VOC content of 150g/L, this polyurethane meets the chemical emission limits set by GreenGuard. It is safe for use in schools, nurseries, restaurants, and hotels. It is also ideal finish for homes with kids and sensitive/allergic individuals.

Key features
Coverage area:    350-500 square feet per gallon   
 Finishes available: extra matte, satin, anti-slip satin 
Drying times: 2-3 hours
 Curing times: 3 days
 Coats needed: 2-3 
VOC levels: 150g/L 
Odor: non-offending 
Yellowing effect: none 
Pros Cons
1. Environmentally friendly (doesn’t contain formaldehyde)
2. High resistance to abrasion. 
3. Low VOC levels 
4. Fast drying times
5. Non-offending odor 
6. Easy to use
1. More expensive than other water-based polyurethanes 

Loba 2K Supra- Runners Up  

Runner's Up
Loba 2K Supra Semi-Gloss
$165.00

Loba 2K Supra is a ceramic-reinforced water-based polyurethane finish. The ceramic particles are covered in a unique nano-coating and they play a vital role in increasing the scratch resistance of this finish.

This 2-component polyurethane has excellent chemical and slip resistance. It is one of the most durable water-based polyurethanes available on the market today.

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04/12/2024 08:23 pm GMT

This product is certified by GEV-EMICODE, an association for controlling emissions from products for flooring installation. It’s also certified by FIBA as a perfect polyurethane finish for basketball floors.

This product dries in 2-3 hours and cures fully in just five days. Your floor can allow light traffic after 12 hours. 

Key features
Coverage area:    500-600 square feet per gallon for one coat
 Finishes available: satin  
Drying times:  1-2 hours 
Coats needed: 2
VOC levels: 155g/L 
Odor: non-offending 
Yellowing effect: none 
Pros Cons
1. Highly durable 
2. Excellent chemical, slip, and scratch resistance
3. Low VOC levels
4. Fast drying times
5. Non-offending odor
6. Certified by two credible organizations
7. Suitable for a wide range of floors, including wood, PCV, LVT, and VCT flooring.
1. Quite pricey 

Best for Projects with Tight a Deadline

Budget Pick
Varathane Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane
$23.97

Varathane ultimate water-based polyurethane is another suitable finish for wooden surfaces. It offers maximum scratch resistance and does an excellent job protecting wood from wear and tear. This polyurethane is popular for its fast drying times. It dries to the touch in 30 minutes and allows a recoat in 2 hours. Additionally, it is easy to use and cleans up well with soap and water. 

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04/12/2024 06:51 pm GMT

The feature that sets this polyurethane apart from others is its ultra-fast drying. It dries to the touch in 30 minutes and allows you to recoat within 2 hours. This is the ideal polyurethane finish for a project with a tight deadline.

One downside to this product is that it requires a lot of work. You must apply four coats for maximum protection. 

Key features
Coverage area:    125 square feet per quart   
 Finishes available: satin and matte
Drying times: 30 minutes -2 hours 
Coats needed: 4 
VOC levels: 234g/L 
Odor: non-offending 
Yellowing effect: none 
Pros Cons
1. Dries extremely fast 
2. Excellent scratch resistance 
3. Easy to clean 
4. Non-offending odor 
5. Doesn’t cause yellowing on a wooden floor 
1. Requires more coats
2. Has higher VOC levels than other water-based polyurethanes. 

Best for Indoor Projects

Editor's Choice
General Finishes High Performance Water Based Topcoat,
$42.00

General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Topcoat is one of the most durable finishes available on the market today. It's easy to apply with a T-bar, brush, roller or spray. has fast drying times allowing multiple coats within the day.

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04/12/2024 06:20 pm GMT

Fine woodworking agrees that general finishes are one of the best water-based polyurethane for high-traffic areas. They term this finish as the hardest, most durable consumer polyurethane topcoat on the market today. Its durability can be attributed to its high resistance to water and chemicals.

It comes with a UV stabilizer that plays a critical role in extending your floor’s lifespan. The stabilizer protects your floors from darkening and also increases their resistance to moisture.

Key features
Coverage area:    125-150 square feet per quart    
Finishes available: flat and satin 
Drying times: 1-2 hours 
Coats needed: 2-3 
VOC levels: flat-170g/L, satin- 172g/L 
Odor: non-offending 
Yellowing effect: none (The yellowing effect may occur if the finish is applied on a white painted surface)
Pros Cons
1. Unmatched durability 
2. Environmentally friendly 
3. Fast drying time
4. Low VOC levels 
5. Compatible with a number of primers 
6. Non-offending odor
1. Causes yellowing on white-painted surfaces 

Bona Mega One- Best Value for Money 

Bona Mega ONE Satin
$109.50 ($0.86 / Fl Oz)

Bona Mega One is a water-based wood finish with an oxygen-crosslinked formula. The formula makes this product easy to use. It has exceptional build, flow, and leveling properties. If you apply it correctly, you’ll get a clean, smooth finish.

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04/12/2024 07:41 pm GMT

This is yet another innovative product from Bona. It is an oxygen-crosslinked polyurethane formula that’s ideal for high-traffic commercial and residential floors.

This polyurethane is GreenGuard certified for low indoor emissions and has a VOC content of 200g/L. Although the VOC content in this product is slightly higher than that of Bona HD Traffic, it is still lower than that of most oil-based polyurethane finishes.

Key features
Coverage area:    500-600 square feet per gallon   
 Finishes available: satin and extra matte
Drying times: 2-3 hours 
Coats needed: 2-3 
VOC levels: 200g/L 
Odor: non-offending 
Yellowing effect: none 
Pros Cons
1. Fast drying times
2. Excellent flow and leveling properties 
3. Easy to clean up
4. Non-flammable
5. Non-offending odor 
5. Doesn’t cause yellowing 
1. High VOC levels compared to other water-based polyurethanes. 
2. Pricey 

The Verdict 

The ideal water-based polyurethane for high-traffic areas should have the following features

Bona HD Traffic– Best overall

Loba 2K Supra-Runners up 

General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Topcoat-Best for Indoor Projects  

Rust-Oleum 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane Best For Projects With Tight A Deadline

Bona Mega One – Best Value For Money   

Bona HD Traffic is evidently the best polyurethane for high-traffic areas as it ticks all the boxes. Other viable options include Bona Mega Wood Finish, Loba 2K Supra, Rust-Oleum 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, and General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Topcoat.

thewoodmeter

We are a team of woodworking experts specializing in floor and wood finishing. In thewoodmeter we share floor installation and floor finishing hacks and how-tos.