Hardwood Floor Finishes Which Is Best
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Hardwood Floor Finishes: Which Type is Best for Your Flooring

Installing new hardwood floors or refinishing existing ones is a major project, but it can transform the aesthetic of your home. A key decision is choosing the right finish to protect the wood and enhance its natural splendor. With various options available, it can get overwhelming. This detailed guide breaks down the most popular finishes so you can pick the best one for your needs.

What is a Wood Floor Finish?

A floor finish is a protective coating applied after installation or sanding. It serves crucial functions:

  • Shields against scratches, stains, and moisture.
  • Accentuates the grain patterns and color.
  • Provides varying gloss levels — matte to high sheen.
  • Simplifies cleaning and maintenance.
  • Extends floor lifespan.

When it’s time to refinish your hardwood floors, be sure to research and find a reliable floor refinishing service with experience applying your desired type of finish. Hardwood floor finishes come in different forms. The most common options include:

  • Oil-based polyurethane.
  • Water-based polyurethane.
  • Lacquer
  • Wax
  • Oil finishes (like tung oil).

Each has unique properties. Let’s explore the pros and cons of each so you can make an informed decision.

Hardwood Floor Finishes Which Type is Best for Your Flooring

Oil-Based Polyurethane Finishes

For decades, oil-based polyurethane has been the most popular wood floor finish in the US. This durable finish is made from mineral spirits and resins, providing a high level of protection for hardwood floors.


  • Very durable and long-lasting. Provides excellent protection from scratches and gouges.
  • Highly resistant to water damage.
  • Can be used for any gloss level from satin to semi-gloss or high gloss.
  • Enhances the natural color of the wood.
  • Relatively low cost.


  • Has a strong odor during application. Requires adequate ventilation.
  • Long drying time. May need 24 hours between coats.
  • Prone to ambering over time, giving floors a yellowish tone.
  • Difficult to touch up and repair. Full refinishing is often required.
  • Not environmentally friendly due to VOCs.

If you want a classic, protective finish for your floors, oil-based polyurethane is an excellent choice. Just be prepared for the odor and drying time required.

Water-Based Polyurethane Finishes

As a lower-odor, more eco-friendly alternative to oil-based polyurethane, water-based polyurethane finishes have gained popularity in recent years. The resins are suspended in water rather than mineral spirits.


  • Very low odor compared to oil-based.
  • Dries very quickly. Regularly, can apply another coat within 2 hours.
  • Less prone to ambering over time. Maintains clarity well.
  • Easier to apply final coats without extensive prep.
  • Lower VOC emissions, more environmentally friendly.
  • Easier for spot repairs and touch-ups.


  • Not quite as hard and durable as oil-based polyurethane.
  • May raise the wood grain slightly requiring additional sanding.
  • More prone to water-spotting from plant pots, vases, etc.
  • Not ideal for a high-gloss finish. Limited to satin or semi-gloss sheen.

Water-based poly gives great protection for most homes, with quicker drying time and easier application. Just don’t expect a piano-like glossy finish.

Lacquer Finishes

Lacquer has been used for centuries to finish furniture and other types of woodworking. As a floor finish, lacquer provides a durable, natural-looking, protective coat.


  • Dries extremely fast. Subsequent coats can be added within 30 minutes.
  • Minimal odor compared to oil-based poly.
  • It creates a crystal-clear finish, allowing the natural color of the wood to shine.
  • Easy to repair and touch up without having to refinish the entire floor.
  • Comes in matte, satin, semi-gloss and high-gloss sheens.


  • Not as protective as polyurethane against moisture and spills.
  • Relatively soft finish, more prone to scratches and dents.
  • Requires more frequent applications (every 3–5 years) for optimal look.
  • Prone to showing scratches and dulling from dirt.
  • Can be temperamental to work with. Requires careful application.

If you love the natural look of wood and want to showcase its color, lacquer can be an excellent choice. Just know it requires more frequent care to maintain its brilliance.

What is a Wood Floor Finish

Wax Finishes

For a traditional low luster-look, wax can be used to finish wood floors. Natural waxes like carnauba are applied in a thin layer and buffed to a soft patina.


  • Creates a charming, old-world matte finish and feel.
  • Enhances the subtle character of the wood grain.
  • Easily touched up and repaired as needed.
  • Non-toxic and low odor.


  • Not durable enough for a high-traffic home. Prone to scratches and water stains.
  • Requires frequent reapplication to maintain the finish.
  • Gives floors a hazy, dull look compared to clear finishes.
  • Can be difficult to apply evenly to non-professionals.

Wax finishes are best suited to lightly used spaces like studies, libraries, or dining rooms. Use with caution in busy areas or if you dislike a worn, vintage look.

Oil Finishes

Penetrating oil finishes like tung oil or Danish oil give hardwood floors a natural, muted appearance. The oils soak into the wood pores without covering the surface completely.


  • Enhance the depth and visual texture of the wood grain.
  • Easier for DIY application than polyurethane or lacquer.
  • Minimal odor and VOC emissions. Eco-friendly.
  • Easily touched up and repaired as needed.


  • Susceptible to water marks and stains. The surface is not sealed completely.
  • Provides less abrasion resistance than film-forming finishes.
  • Requires more frequent recoating to maintain the finish.
  • The gloss level is limited to a low satin sheen.

Oil finishes bring out the inherent beauty of the wood naturally. Just be prepared for more frequent maintenance and touch-ups.

Which Hardwood Floor Finish is Best?

So which floor finish should you choose? Here are a few guidelines:

For high-traffic areas like kitchens, entryways, and family rooms, oil-based or water-based polyurethane provides maximum durability and abrasion resistance. They offer the best protection in active households.

For living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and other lightly used spaces, water-based polyurethane or lacquer offers a good balance of protection and ease of application. Lacquer gives the clearest natural wood appearance.

For a subtle satin finish that enhances wood grain, penetrating oil finishes are an excellent eco-friendly option. Just expect to touch up high-wear areas more frequently.

For traditional spaces like studies, libraries, or antiquated interiors, wax finishes provide an old-world distressed patina.

No finish will last forever. Expect to have your floors professionally refinished every 5–10 years on average, depending on traffic. Focus on choosing a finish suited to your lifestyle, priorities, and design aesthetics. And always work with an experienced hardwood flooring contractor for the best results.


With this overview of the most common wood floor finish options, you can make an informed decision about the optimal finish for your home and hardwood flooring investment. Carefully finished and maintained floors will provide years of beauty and enjoyment.

Article written by admin

By Profession, he is an SEO Expert. From heart, he is a Fitness Freak. He writes on Health and Fitness at MyBeautyGym. He also likes to write about latest trends on various Categories at TrendsBuzzer. Follow Trendsbuzzer on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.