gym floor finishes

Oil-Based and Water-Based Gym Floor Finishes: A Guide


Hardwood sports flooring is the most popular commercial flooring solution for sports facilities. With proper care and maintenance practices, a hardwood gym floor will last decades.  For optimum performance and longevity, the floor should be recoated annually. 

There are two types of floor coatings you can use when recoating your hardwood floor — oil-based or water-based sealants.  In this gym floor finishes guide, we’ll go over the basic FAQs regarding this topic and help you decide which option is best for your facility.  

Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Gym Floor Finish

The Maple Floors Manufacturers Association (MFMA) publishes specifications that all products provide the highest protection standards and visual appearance for sports floors.  Both water-based and oil-based gym floor products can be used, as long as they adhere to the MFMA specifications and standards for finishers and sealers.

Let’s go over the most essential aspects of oil-based and water-based finishes, and the differences between the two.

Oil-based products require fewer coats but take longer to cure.

Oil-based floor finishes last longer than water-based products.  But with oil-based finishes, you’ll have to wait anywhere from 12 to 24 hours in between coats.  In total, the entire recoating process can take quite some time, as the final cure can take up to a full month.  So, if you plan on using an oil-based finish, it’s best to recoat your floor in the off-season or during summer vacation.

Water-based finishes cure faster but require more coats for durability.

When applying a water-based finish to your hardwood floor, you’ll have to use several coats to fully protect the floor.  Often, this includes going over the entire floor at least four or five times. You’ll need to wait about two or three hours in between each coat. 

Also, avoid applying more than two coats per day.  This will allow you to achieve the most thorough cure.  In total, it usually takes around a week for a water-based finish to cure.  This is still much less cure time compared to what you can expect with oil-based products.

Oil-based floor finishes are a traditional solution.

Applying an oil-based finish on your hardwood floor will give it a traditional appearance most players and spectators are familiar with.  The truth is that oil-based floor products are still the industry standard and have been for decades.  They provide the hardwood gym floor with its signature and recognizable amber tint, which some people prefer.

Using an oil-based finish will allow you to add to the maple wood grain’s richness and overall depth.  If you want your hardwood floor to have stronger and darker undertones, oil-based products are the best option. 

But what about gym floor finishes and branding?

Due to its distinct look, an amber tint oil-based product might not fit the specific logo colors you have in mind for your facility.  So, it’s something to consider. 

Water-based products are quickly gaining popularity on the market.  If you would rather preserve your hardwood floor’s original color, a water-based product is the better option. Water-based gym floor finishes stay mostly transparent, allowing the natural color of the maple to shine through.  This is something to keep in mind if you plan on adding new lines, graphics, or logos to your hardwood gym floor. 

Water-based floor finishes are more eco-friendly.

Going with a water-based finish is a much better solution if you’re looking for a more eco-friendly option.  Water-based products emit fewer volatile organic compounds or VOCs.  The amount of VOCs in a product is vital to consider.  They can impact the health of the people who use the hardwood floor, especially younger players. 

Water-based coatings are far gentler on the environment than oil-based finishes.  Since today’s consumers are increasingly turning to environmentally-friendly options, there are more water-based products to choose from than ever before. 

Additionally, water-based products have a longer shelf life than their oil-based counterparts, so you won’t have to throw away what you don’t use. 

Which gym floor finishing product costs more?

Water-based products cost significantly more than oil-based finishes.  For those recoating on a budget, a water-based gym floor finish might not be in the cards. 

Oil-based floor finishes for gyms last longer.

Durability is another factor that should rank high on your list.  At J&J Gym floors, we often stress the importance of proper maintenance practices for hardwood floors, but even these can only go so far. 

The bottom line is, water-based products simply aren’t as durable as oil-based finishes.  A hardwood floor coated with an oil-based product doesn’t have to be recoated as frequently as one overlaid with a water-based product.

Gym Floor Finishes Guide: Which Coating is Best for Your Facility?

With the information we’ve provided on this page, you’ll be able to make an educated decision for the type of finish you want for your hardwood sports floor.  Hopefully, this page has helped you choose the coating you think is best for your brand, athletes, and budget. 

Both floor finish solutions offer adequate protection and have their own unique pros and cons. The biggest difference between the two is in the visual appearance.  Still, both options present a viable coating solution for any hardwood sports floor.  That being said, whichever option you decide to go with, the recoating process should be left to flooring professionals

A licensed flooring contractor is best equipped to apply these solutions safely.  A professionally-applied gym floor finish will allow you to get the most out of whichever product you choose — longevity, durability, and appearance.

Contact us today to learn more about our professional recoating services.  

If you have any questions on gym floor finishes and the recoating process, contact our friendly flooring experts.  We’ll be happy to provide you with the best finishing solution for your hardwood sports floor.  Call us at (973) 801-7219 or fill out our online form, and we’ll get back to you right away.

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J & J Gym Floors is a full-service gym floor company. Established in 2000, we’ve completed more than 35,000 projects for various types of facilities: NBA basketball courts, college gym floors, high school gymnasiums, K-8 gym floors as well as fitness centers, YMCAs and Jewish Community Centers. We also done some amazing work for homeowners and professional athletes! 

We specialize in: gym floor screening and recoating, basketball court sanding and refinishing, new gym floor installations, gymnasium wall padding, expert gym floor repairs as well as gym floor designs, graphics, logos and game lines.

We’re proud to service the following areas: New Jersey, New York (including NYC‘s five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens & Staten Island), as well as all of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Rhode Island. 

We’re based in Northern New Jersey and we service most of NJ, NY, NYC, CT, PA, DE, MD & RI.
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