Water-Based Vs. Solvent-Based Epoxy — Does It Matter?

If you're considering an epoxy coating for your garage, you'll need to make quite a few choices to find the perfect coating for your application. In addition to choosing the color, texture, and thickness of your epoxy coating, you'll also need to decide on the type of coating you want to use. The two standard options are solvent-based and water-based, but which is right, and how much does your choice matter?

How Do Epoxy Coatings Work?

To understand the difference between these two options, it's crucial to understand how epoxy coatings work and how installers will apply them to your garage floor. If you've ever worked with epoxy adhesives before, you know that they typically come in two parts. Epoxy garage floor coatings are similar—they include resin and a hardener.

The resin and hardener must normally remain separate to prevent the mixture from curing. Once these two parts come into contact, a chemical reaction will begin, and the curing process will start. The simplest epoxy coatings consist of nothing more than these two chemicals. Once you mix them, you have a relatively brief window to apply the coating before it begins to harden.

Most epoxy coatings used in commercial and residential applications will instead add an extra element to the mixture. This ingredient is usually either plain water or a specialized solvent, but both serve a similar purpose: to prevent the mixture from curing until the additive evaporates. As the additive evaporates, the hardener and resin can start the chemical process and begin to harden.

What Are Water-Based Epoxies?

Water-based epoxies use plain water as an additive to slow the curing process. These epoxies are relatively easy to apply and cheap, but they have a few drawbacks. In particular, they may be less resistant to wear, weaker, and more susceptible to damage from common chemicals in garages, such as oils and greases.

The primary advantage of a water-based epoxy is that it produces no harmful vapors as it cures. Since the only additive is water, no harmful compounds are released as the mixture dries. While you'll have to wait for your coating to cure before walking on it, there's no harm in being around your floor as it cures.

What Are Solvent-Based Epoxies?

Solvent-based epoxies use specialized solvents instead of water. These solvents can release potentially harmful volatile compounds as they dry, but the result is usually a stronger surface more resistant to physical and chemical damage. Solvent-based epoxies may take longer to cure than water-based epoxies, although curing time will depend on the product and solvent used.

Because of the potential for harmful fumes during the curing process, it's important to rely on a qualified installer to apply these products. Additionally, you will want to discuss any precautions you should take during the curing process with your installer. Note that these epoxies only release chemical compounds while curing; once they dry, they are entirely safe.

Contact a garage floor coating contractor to learn more.