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I am refinishing the hardwood floor in a bedroom. It was originally finished with shellac, and I'm thinking of using shellac again, rather than taking the standard polyurethane route. I'd be using unwaxed shellac. I find shellac easier to work with, it doesn't have toxic fumes like polyurethane does and it seems environmentally friendlier.

Is there any good reason not to do this? I know shellac doesn't stand up to moisture as well as polyurethane, but I don't anticipate that being a big issue in this bedroom. I also know (from experience) that it's a pain to sand shellac off of a floor, but it's not impossible, and I don't anticipate it being my problem when it comes time to redo this floor in the distant future.

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I can think of two good reasons not to use shellac.

  1. It is not as durable as polyurethane.
  2. Lap marks show (sometimes a lot). It not easy to get a smooth finish, especially because it dries quickly.

Because you do not want to deal with the fumes of oil based polyurethane, I'd recommend using water based polyurethane. (It is only the oil based that has the real nasty fumes.)

You get much better durability, (not as good as the oil based) it is pretty easy to apply, and it dries quickly (not as fast as shellac).

It is kind of the best of both worlds. It has some of the strength of oil, and the low fumes like shellac.

  • Good suggestion, but two interrelated questions: 1) A professional floorer told me he never uses water-based polyurethane because it doesn't hold up well. Do you know how much worse it is than oil-based? I'm not sure if he was just set in his old ways or knew what he was talking about. And 2) is water-based polyurethane significantly better than shellac? The presumably original shellac finish that I sanded off in this room was still on the floor 100 years after the house was built, and it held up surprisingly well apart from high-traffic parts of the room. – taxypayer22847 Dec 24 '18 at 1:53
  • I think oil based is better and have used it for years but with a few jobs I have used water based on the owners request,, but you need the good stuff like bona traffic +100 per jug but it really is tough. – Ed Beal Jan 18 at 23:03
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Water based polyurethane is the way to go. There is no need to use oil based PU nowadays. In states like California, they are being removed from the shelves as we have tighter restriction on VOC.

Sure they are less durable than oil-based, but even high traffic commercial installation uses water based PU. Look for commercial products like Bona Traffic HD. They are a lot more durable than the oil-based PU you find at Home Depot.

And make sure to use PU for floor. Not the same as PU which is generally for furniture.

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I would use shellac in a bedroom, it's not as durable as polyurethane but its not a high traffic area so it would still last a long time. It's cheap, easy to apply, easy to touch up or refinish. Over the course of 15 years you'll probably put the same amount of effort and expense in shellac.

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