Innovative Water Based Floor Lacquers
I do not think that most people fully understand the level of innovation and the level of changes that have happened over the past 20 years within the floor refinishing industry. It is similar to moving from the internal combustion engine to an electric engine. Basically, within only a few years, the industry has fully eliminated anything that was solvent or oil based and has replaced it with clean water based products. Well, nearly everything, there are still a lot of companies manufacturing oil based primers and wood stains. But in the big picture, the changes are dramatic. But because these products are not directly affecting people’s lives, or are not really noticed by most people, it has just happened and been ignored. This is the main reason why I have decided to write this article.
Oil Based Floor Finishes
Even if oil was discovered by the Chinese in 600 BC and used for small heating projects, oil was not really used on an industrial scale until the early 1800s when the industrial revolution began. Step by step people have discovered new uses for so-called “dinosaur juice”. The raw product was plenty, easily extractable and the economic boom had started. The floor refinishing industry was one of the industries that really benefited from this new and innovative raw material. Within only a few years, most of the heavy duty floor lacquers and hardwax oils were manufactured entirely from oil. Quality wise? Outstanding. Pollution rate? Outstanding.
While the new solvent or oil based floor finishes were great quality and also affordable, there were many issues with it. Those issues were only exposed more over the years when the actual impact on the planet, tradesmen and the floor owners started to be visible.
- Smelly & Toxic Fumes | All the solvent based products released toxic fumes. Some more than others but they all did. These toxic fumes were harmful for the people applying it, the planet and the end users.
- Highly Polluting Extraction Systems | The oil fields were draining the grounds of a natural product, the environment was being polluted, villages and cities had to be moved to source more oil and so on.
- Artificial Looking Products | The final products were durable but very artificial looking. The wood was over-glazed with thick coats of oil based floor finishes that could transform an elegant oak floor into a laminate looking finish.
- Yellowing | All these finishes were highly affected by UV light and all cleaning products. Most floors ended up looking the same colour within a few years. A dark yellow or peach colour was the standard colour of wood all over the world.
- Long Drying Periods & Fine Dust | Sanding those oil based floor finishes used to be a nightmare because the fine plastic like dust generated was very harmful to the tradesmens’ lungs. Also, the floor lacquers used to take 24 hours to dry between coats. Having a floor sealed with 3 coats of floor lacquer used to be a 3 days project and the smells could be staying around for another month.
But many people did not really care because the finishes were cheap, durable and easily available. Until the connection was made between the solvent fumes and some types of cancer. Then things started changing. Also, the “go green” mood that took over the whole planet in the early 2000s when people became more aware of how damaging these products could be. Then things started changing and there was a slow shift from oil based to water based. But the road was long and hard to achieve.
Water Based Floor Lacquers
While most people and contractors were very happy to move from a highly polluting oil based floor finish to a natural water based floor finish, the problem was that the technology was not there yet to create good quality that could provide similar results to the classic solvent or oil based floor lacquers. Also, the water based floor lacquers were expensive and totally different from the classic stuff. It took 20 years of innovation, investment, failed attempts and hardwork to create the first great quality floor lacquers that match the oil based ones. From that point on, the sky was and still is the limit.
So What Is A Water Based Floor Lacquer?
The water based floor lacquer or the water based floor varnish contains 0 oil based components. Within the chemical composition of the water based finishes, you will find a large content of polymers, acrylic & other water based components. Basically, the new water based floor finishes do not generate a lot of pollution within the process of manufacturing or the process of applying it. All the components are generated from non oil and less polluting raw materials. The level of polymer or acrylic can vary from brand to brand and type of floor lacquer. But generalizing all floor lacquers in one category would be wrong because there are huge differences between different types of floor lacquers that seem to look the same. Remember, a water based floor lacquer is not 100% natural by any means, but the difference in the pollution levels between the old solvent based floor lacquers and the new water based floor lacquers is from the Earth to the sky!
Types Of Water Based Floor Lacquers | Varnishes
There are three categories of water based floor finishes. Residential floor lacquers, commercial floor lacquers and industrial floor lacquers. These categories are also divided into another two categories, single pack floor lacquers and two pack floor lacquers. All these water based floor finishes divide into a number of other finishes by use, like there are boat floor lacquers, deck floor lacquers, external floor lacquers & so on, but basically the same thing other than having some additive that makes it more resistant to particular requirements.
Single Pack Floor Varnishes
Initially there were two types of water based floor lacquers invented. The single pack and the two pack floor lacquer. The single pack floor lacquer was suitable for all types of low to medium traffic floors while the two pack was suitable for high traffic commercial floors. But within a few years, the technology has progressed again and nowadays there are single pack water based floor lacquers that are more durable and easier to apply than the two pack floor lacquers. Single pack means that there is no additive to be added to the composition to make the water based floor lacquer more durable or compatible with oil based wood stains. The main disadvantage of the single pack floor lacquers is the fact it is not compatible with any oil based wood stains. That technology has also progressed over time and nowadays there are water based wood stains that work nicely with single and two pack floor lacquers. But initially, the single pack floor lacquer was considered “residential fit” or for lower traffic floors and not compatible with wood stains.
Two Pack Water Based Floor Lacquers
All well established brands of floor lacquers had at least two types of floor water based floor lacquers. One single pack water based floor lacquer and one two pack floor lacquer. The two pack floor lacquer was usually a more concentrated floor lacquer that contained higher levels of solids (polymers) and it was sold with a solvent hardener. The hardener will create a chemical reaction that will enable the floor lacquer to dry well and hard. Also, the hardener will enable the two pack floor lacquer to be compatible with oil based wood stains. The hardener contains solvent components. But the new trend within the floor finishing industry is to also remove the hardener. While the hardener does a lot of good work, it still contains the solvent, the product that was the reason why water based floor lacquers were invented in the first place. Over the past few years most if not all brands of wood floor finishes have stopped making two pack floor lacquers or at least have reduced their range. Another major disadvantage of a two pack floor lacquer is the fact that after the mixture is done, there is limited time to use the product. Any floor lacquer unused within 2-4 hours (it varies from brand to brand), will dry inside the bottle or tray and it cannot be used any longer. The waste can be noticeable in some cases.
- Single Pack | Not compatible with oil based floor stains
- Two pack | Compatible with all oil based floor stains
***Also, as we have mentioned above, while most brands of floor lacquers still sell their two pack floor lacquers as the “commercial” range, there are many single pack floor lacquers that are better quality, more workable and easier to apply than the two pack floor lacquers***
Different Types Of Water Based Floor Lacquers
Initially there were only a handful of brands that were making water based floor lacquers but over the past few years that number has increased dramatically. It makes a lot of sense for the planet and for the end user. Whatever brand of floor lacquer you are likely to check, you are likely to see the words high traffic, amazing, scuff resistance, anti marking, stain resistant, etc. But there are huge differences between all major brands of wood care products and are not always based on the price. Quite the contrary. There are a number of smaller manufacturers of water based floor lacquers that are making better quality and more durable floor lacquers than the more well known brands. But the advertisement works ….
Within the residential floor lacquer and commercial floor lacquer range there can be huge differences in quality. Just because a water based floor lacquer is a single pack or two pack, it does not mean that it will last forever or wear off within days. The most essential thing that makes a difference between the products is the level of solid content (polymers). Most water based floor lacquers can contain anything between 15 to 40% polymers solid content. Now that is a huge difference. Is like the difference in strength between beer and brandy. You could buy a great looking bottle of water based floor lacquer to end up with 15% solid content. Less the % of solid content, less durability. The water based floor lacquer will look very watery and it will not last too long. Pulling a sofa on a 40% solid content floor lacquer should not create any serious marking white pulling a sofa on a 15% solid content water based floor lacquer will create a nice trench on your floor. The funny thing is that in some cases, the low solid content floor lacquer is more expensive or similar in price with the high solid content. To understand even better, imagine the difference between real milk and fat free milk. One is basically white water while the other one is full of fat.
Workability is also essential. Some water based floor lacquers are just great. You cannot create streaks and marks whatever way you apply it. But others are a nightmare. Regardless of how you apply it or with what tools, the floor dries up streaky and patchy. After the job is completed, the floor should look like a “mirror”. No marks, streaks or patches. But that is not an easy thing to achieve with some well known brands of water based floor lacquers.
Finding The Right Type Of Water Based Floor Lacquer
As we have made it clear, there are no two water based floor lacquers the same. Each one is somehow different and even if it is supposed to do the same thing, it will be done in a different way. The price of the floor lacquer is usually based on the level of solid content or on the face if it is or not two pack floor finish. The first thing you need to decide is what type of finish you actually need. 5L of water based floor lacquer can cost anywhere between 30 euros to 350 euros. The cheaper floor lacquers are still good but not suitable for heavy duty traffic but if you live in a house with no heavy duty traffic why bother wasting so much money on a product that cannot really improve your life?
Low traffic to medium traffic | A residential low solid content will do the job very well
Medium traffic | An average cost floor lacquer will do the job without any problems
High traffic | Use the highest solid content water based floor lacquer you can find
There is no need to use a super heavy duty and super expensive floor lacquer to seal your child’s bedroom. All water based floor lacquers will provide some level of protection, some better and some worse, but all of it will be able to last for 5 years + when used on low traffic bedroom floors, doors, frames, furniture, etc.
Fast Drying Water Based Floor Lacquers
One thing is guaranteed if you are using a water based floor lacquer.The floor lacquer will dry much faster than the old solvent based floor lacquers from the past. How fast? Again, it varies from brand to brand but on average 1-3 hours between coats. Even here, a higher level of solid content can really speed up the drying process. Very watery water based floor lacquers can take much longer to dry because it is fully absorbed by the wood and deposited at the bottom of the wood. What good can one coat of floor lacquer do at the bottom of the floorboard? None. The thicker water based floor lacquers will slightly penetrate the wood surface and dry within a few mm from the top surface. That is where the traffic actually happens and where good protection is required.
The drying periods can also be affected by the base surface, the application system, the ventilation and the humidity. Water based floor lacquers applied over wood stains can take a bit longer to dry while water based floor lacquers applied over already primed surfaces are likely to dry in no time. Applying a water based floor lacquer at 5C will take much longer to dry than applying a water based floor lacquer at 25C. Rolling the water based floor lacquer with a proper varnishing roller to create an even coat of floor lacquer can also speed up the drying period. Working in a well ventilated area and applying the water based floor varnish to a dry surface will definitely speed up the drying period.
I Hate The Way A Floor Lacquer Turns Yellow Over Time!
The fact that no water based floor lacquer can ever become yellow is for sure. For a floor lacquer to become yellow it has to contain a high level of solvent. Only the two pack floor lacquers do contain some level of solvent content within their hardeners, but not enough to change the colour of the lacquer. The fact that most water based floor lacquers do not become yellow over time is a great selling point for these products.
Sheen Levels Within The Water Based Floor Lacquers
Another annoying fact about the old solvent based floor lacquers was the super glossy finishes that were creating a laminated finish. Achieving a really matt or natural floor finish while using a matt solvent finish was nearly impossible. But the water based floor lacquers have changed that for good.
Natural Finishes | Not all but most manufacturers of water based floor lacquers have at least one product that does not alter the original look of the floor. The product fully penetrates the wood and it does not glaze at all. Basically, the wood is left looking 100% natural.
Matt Finishes | A matt water based floor lacquer will only slightly glaze the floor with a protective coat that has no gloss at all and it does not look artificial. Matt finishes are very popular. While the wood surface is fully protected, a matt water based floor lacquer will maintain the natural aspect of the wood.
Semi Gloss | By far the most popular type of wood floor finish. A water based floor lacquer with a semi gloss | satin or silk matt finish will slightly glaze the floor surface with a cool and elegant looking finish. The surface has a nice sheen but nothing artificial. It enables the user to easily clean the floor with a flat mopping system.
Glossy Finishes | Even the glossiest water based floor finish looks nothing like the matt solvent level of sheen. The glossy finishes are a personal preference and while are loved by some are hated by others. The level of solid content is pretty much the same in all levels of sheen water based floor lacquers. The only difference is the gloss levels.
*** You need to understand that most brands of water based floor lacquers add different levels of gloss in their products. If you buy x brand in semi gloss and y brand in semi gloss, it might not look the same. Colourwise and sheenwise. So never ever use two different brands of floor lacquer to do one project***
Other Water Based Floor Products
The water based floor finishes industry has started with the floor lacquers and then has extended to other products as well. A professional floor refinishing contractor can fully refinish any hardwood floor with water based products only. You can buy water based floor primers, water based gap fillers and water based floor lacquers. You can sand up the floor with 98% dustless floor sanding technology and literally refinish the whole floor without generating any fumes.
What Brand Is The Best For Water Based Floor Lacquers?
Our company sells a number of brands of water based products. Some are amazing, some are great and some are affordable. From our sales review, it looks like the professional floor sanding industry prefers the Chimiver range while the domestic market prefers the Bona range. Below, we will list a number of amazing water based floor finishes that will enable any professional or DIY user to achieve spectacular results without generating any fumes.
- Chimiver Ecorapid | A fine quality water based floor primer that is compatible with all types of unsealed wood surfaces. The product contains high levels of acrylic, it dries in a matter of minutes and it does not alter the original look of the wood. It seals the wood surface and it prevents the wood from absorbing a lot of floor lacquer. It is easily sandable and it looks amazing when dry. Suitable for residential and commercial floor refinishing projects.
- Chimiver Ecofill Tech | A single pack water based gap filler that can fill up gaps up to 0.5 cm. It looks natural, it dries in no time and is very easy to apply. The product has to be mixed up with fine wood dust and then the composition used to fill up wood cracks and the gaps between the floorboards. The gap filler can be sanded, stained, oiled and varnished like the floor itself. The coverage area will depend on the size of the gaps.
- Chimiver Ecostar Polyurethane Floor Lacquer | One of the most affordable and most durable water based floor lacquers available on the market. A high solid content floor lacquer, quick drying, clear finish and high coverage area. Highly appreciated by the floor refinishing industry.
You can also consider the Bona range or the Tover range. Our shop only sells well established products with great reputations. If you are looking for a particular type of product that you cannot find within our website, then email us or just give us a call. We are happy to help you out with whatever questions you might have.