One important step not to be overlooked in the process of hardwood floor finish selection is choosing the best finish for your hardwood floors.  However, deciding on which topcoat is right for newly installed or refinished boards can be intimidating without the right information.  Here’s a guide to the most popular types of hardwood floor finishes to help you decide which finish is right for your hardwood flooring project.

After choosing your preferred wood, hardwood floor finishes have different sheens (from glossy to matte), price points, levels of ease in application and maintenance, and range in overall durability.  A finish or topcoat protects floors from scratches, spills, and helps to minimize normal wear and tear.  The right hardwood floor finish can accentuate the style and look of the hardwood–adding to the overall aesthetic of the flooring.  On the other hand, the wrong choice of finish can turn your beautiful wood an unwanted yellowish color or make them glossier than desired.  Seasoned professionals, like those at Armstrong-Citywide, can help ensure that you avoid making the wrong choice–as there are several types of hardwood flooring finishes available from which to choose.

There are four basic types of hardwood floor finish products most commonly used: wax, water-based polyurethane, oil-based polyurethane, and penetrating oil.

Wax finishes

Used the longest as a hardwood finish, wax gives floors a warm, organic feel with an almost matte or low-sheen surface which enhances the natural grain and color of the wood.  Wax has a low VOC content–volatile organic compounds or VOCs can give off noxious chemicals even after drying.  It is not as durable as other finishes, but scratches can easily be repaired in a wax coating by reapplying more wax, even in a small area without having to tackle the entire floor.  Floors must be sealed before the wax finish is applied and multiple coats are required to build up depth.  A wax finish is more high-maintenance in that it requires regular buffing and frequent recoating.

Polyurethane–Water-based & Oil-based

Water-based polyurethane is an excellent choice for high-traffic households and low-maintenance homeowners–this is probably why it’s the finish most often used.  It tends to be more expensive than other finishes but is easy to apply, low odor, low VOC, more eco-friendly, and quick-drying.  It also dries clear with a long-lasting finish available in different sheens–matte, low gloss, and high gloss.  The only maintenance required is regular household floor cleaning.  It is extremely durable and scratch-resistant.

Oil-based polyurethane is more durable than water-based but has a strong smell, is slower drying, and dries with a slight amber tint.  Some old-school traditionalists may prefer oil-based polyurethane as they consider it the tried-and-true polyurethane finish.  Generally, oil-based polyurethane is a less expensive option.

Penetrating Oil Sealer

Another more traditional, natural finish option is an oil sealer, also trending recently as a “European-style” finish.  Not considered as durable as a polyurethane finish, oil has a slight sheen that resembles the look of wax without the labor of applying it.  It imparts a warm feel, penetrating the wood and bringing out the natural grain and can deepen the color giving a rich finish.  It is low VOC and easily applied–although it does require more maintenance.  Besides regular cleaning, the surface needs to be refreshed with a product specific to the oil finish every few months and a light coat of oil should be reapplied yearly.

There soon may be another hardwood floor finish option available as manufacturers develop a product with the low-maintenance durability of polyurethane and the aesthetic beauty of popular oil finishes.  When options seem endless and you want to stay on top of the latest product offerings, contact a specialist in hardwood flooring to avoid making the wrong choice with your investment.