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Water-Based vs Solvent-Based Timber Floor Finishes

Solvent based timber floor finishes are extremely toxic and place home owners and contractors at serious health risk.

There are two basic types of floor coating finishes available for use on timber. Solvent based or water-based. Solvent-based timber floor coatings are toxic and carry serious health risks, as well as being harmful to the environment. Water-based coatings are non-toxic and environmentally friendly. Bona Sweden pioneered the development of water-based floor finishes in 1979 and is now the recognised world leader in non-toxic water-based coatings for timber floors. Choosing a non-toxic water-based finish will protect your health.

What are the health risks of solvent-based finishes?

Some of the health effects related to short and long-term solvent exposure include:
  • Chronic and Acute Asthma
  • Memory Loss, Brain Damage
  • Clinical Depression, Aggressive Behaviour
  • Impaired Fertility, Neurocognitive Development
  • Loss of Smell
  • Peripheral Nerve Conditions
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Increased Susceptibility to Cancers

What is the key difference between solvent-based and water-based finishes? Solvent-based technology is based on chemical formulas which use solvents as the carrier for polyurethane dispersions. This technology was the accepted method for coating timber floors back in the 1950’s when there was no alternative available and the health risks of solvents were not known. Now solvent finishes are classified as poisons and with the advent of water-based technology are rarely used.

Water-based floor finishes use water as the carrier for polyurethane dispersions. They are classified as non-toxic, produce no toxic fumes and contain no harmful chemicals. The technology of water-based finishes provides equal or better wear resistance to solvent-based and better retains the natural colour of timber.

One of the other main differences between the two technologies is the amount of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) which are emitted as gases during the curing process of the coating. VOC gases are toxic and flammable. Solvent coatings release high levels of VOC’s posing serious health risks, with off-gassing continuing up to months after application. A house must be vacated for at least 7 days if solvent based floor-coatings are used. Water-based finishes emit such a low level of VOC’s they are considered harmless, with no long term off-gassing, and no vacating required.

Bona finishes carry some of the lowest VOC content available of all floor finishes. Most Bona finishes are below 80 grams per litre (g/Lt) VOC and none exceed 90g/Lt, well below the strict EU standard of 140g/Lt. Solvent finishes contain toxic VOC’s of between 300-850g/Lt

Regulations in Europe now ban the use of Solvent based timber floor finishes. The European Union (EU) strictly controls VOC levels in building supplies, and solvent based finishes are illegal for use by commercial contractors. In Australia however, there is no such legislation in place. Solvents can still be used by contractors with no health warnings required to protect or warn home owners. Consumers need to be well informed when choosing a floor coating to make a choice which protects the health of themselves and their families.



  • 300-850g/Lt VOC
  • Solvent-based polyurethane
  • Toxic hazardous chemicals & Isocyanates
  • Classified as a poison


  • Toxic fumes and Isocyanates
  • Asthma, Headaches, Nausea, Respiratory irritation
  • Impaired fertility, Nervous System Disorders, Insomnia, Depression, Anxiety, Fatigue
  • Contaminates foodstuffs in fridge & pantry
  • Requires toxic chemicals for clean-up
  • Home owners should vacate home for up to 14 days due to toxic fumes off-gassing


  • Plastic unnatural appearance
  • Yellows
  • Old technology, Designed for yesterday



  • 40-90g/Lt VOC
  • Water-based polyurethane
  • No hazardous chemicals
  • No health risk


  • No toxic fumes
  • GreenGuard Gold Certified
  • No effect on fresh or stored foods
  • Easy clean-up in water
  • No need to vacate premises, Home owner can remain throughout application


  • Beautiful, natural looking finish
  • Non-yellowing
  • Hard-wearing protection proven on millions of square metres

For more information download the Solvent vs Water-based Brochure

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