Comparing Water-Borne and Solvent-Borne Finishes

Old hands discuss the pros and cons of water-borne and solvent-borne coatings. June 8, 2007

I would like to know what everyone thinks about water based or solvent paints... pros and cons of both when used on wood.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
If you are new to the game, learn with waterborne. You'll be way ahead of all the old timers in 4-5 years when they are scrambling to learn how to use the WB's because the solvents are all gone.

If you care about the environment and your health, use waterborne.

If you want cheap, dirty, and really effective, pollute the earth and fry your brain, kidneys, liver and nervous system while delivering a very good finish with solvents.

As for which waterborne, well... I've tried a lot of them and do a lot of finishing. Look around and see what others use, try them out (lots before commercial use) and decide what you like.

From contributor B:
I still prefer the solvent based solvents. The finishes look and feel better to me. I also pollute the air whenever I drive, buy and eat foods that promote corporate criminality and corporate poisoning and corporate felonies. I do, however, try to lessen the negative effects of such things on myself and other living things.

From contributor M:
I don't think that water base is not without sin. Care must be taken even with water base materials. The odor is masked by other products. It's not right to make it appear that water base is perfectly safe and good for your health, when it is not. It should be known that one must use just about the same personal protection gear as one uses with solvent based coatings.

From contributor A:
Contributor M is right. A lot of the waterbornes I've tried over the years have had some nasty chemicals in them. These include carcinogens, groundwater pollutants, and in some cases more VOC's than a 275 nitro lacquer. Always examine all aspects of the products you intend to use including safety, MSDS, quality of finish, availability, ease of repair and re-finish, etc. I have actually used some waterbornes that are caustic and state clearly on the label that they can kill you as they are for industrial use only. Always look at safety first.

From contributor I:
Contributor A is right about "if you are new to the game, learn with waterborne." If you learn to use solvent lacquers, it will give you a look after spraying that waterborne will not... reason being that solvent lacquers and waterborne lacquers have a different curing process. If you learn with solvent stuff, then you develop a technique that you expect to look the same when spraying water stuff. It's not going to. Normally, and I repeat normally, you need to spray one coat of waterborne and leave it alone... let it dry or start curing out. It will take some time for the finish to level out to what is acceptable. If you use solvents, then you can spray multiple coats without doing any harm, so to speak. It's kind of difficult to explain until you work with both and see what I'm saying. If you start with solvents and a year later decide to switch to water, then you have a bad habit of laying on multiple coats and not getting a good finish or have difficulties to achieving what you want. Basically, spraying waterborne takes a little more patience. This is my story and I'm sticking to it.

From contributor M:
Regardless of what coating you're using, or what coating you're going to use, most companies today have better knowledge of their coatings - they know what to tell you to do, and what not to do. It's not like it was 20 years ago when they sold you the materials and then you were on your own to figure it out.

Water base is no harder to learn today than solvent base is today. If the person who is teaching a new customer knows what he is talking about, he or she will know the weak and the strong features of each of one of these coatings. Water base has come a long, long way, and they are still making it better all the time.

From contributor J:
Another way of looking at the difference between H20 and solvent is that there is only one H20, but many different solvents. So if your H20 dries too slow, the only thing you can do is add heat to help dry, but if your solvent dries too slow, you can also add heat or you can make it in a different solvent lineup and put in faster drying solvents. More choices in solvent based products than H20.

Now you can also use alcohols and such to make your H20 dry faster and slower, but that's where you run into the VOC factors and the hazards with mixing in solvents to your H20 products. Quality wise, H20 products are getting closer to solvent. Some H20 products are so safe they can be disposed of in your municipal sewer systems. Don't do this if you're not sure. Most products must be tested before you can do this.

From the original questioner:
You guys rock! Thank you so much for your help.

From contributor M:
For what it's worth, there was a time when used methylene chloride was allow to pour down the slop sink. It took years before they stopped that, and eventually banned MC as a remover.

From contributor L:
I thought MC is still in use as remover. Didn't know it was banned... When did that happen?

From contributor B:
I think they banned it from being used to decaffeinate coffee beans a few years ago. I do not believe you will find it in off-the-shelf removers. It is in commercial removers still and I am glad that it is. There was a bunch of hoopla about it years ago but it never made much sense to me - the EPA said in one paper I read from their site on line that if it were poured on dirt and the dirt tested after 72 or 120 (can't remember which) hours, there would be no significant measurable amounts in the dirt. I do believe that cigarette smoke, either first or secondhand, is more harmful. Let's see, or maybe the hormones fed to poultry and cows, or how about genetically altered foods or.

From contributor C:
MC is definitely still in stripper, either that or the stripper manufacturers are fibbing when they tell me their product is 80-92% MC.

From contributor M:
Most companies have stopped selling it, though there are some that still do. With all the warnings about MC, they still don't want to give it up.

From contributor I:
Well, it still has not been banned. It's still available for stripping, is it not?

From contributor C:
Yup. You can still get it. If you take proper precautions it should not bite you. Remember that the vapors are heavier than air and floor level exhaust systems do a good job of preventing buildup. Combined with either a positive air flow respirator or an air shower, exposure can be kept below the government regulations.

From contributor M:
Yes, it is still available to manufacturers. The only people still using it are probably some poor workers who don't know what MC is. I bet there are not too many bosses doing the stripping anymore. It was banned in the UK.

From contributor S:
It hasn't gone completely yet, but it is out of most things. Because of slow stock turnover in small shops, you can still pick up MC strippers.