Choosing the Right Hardwood Finish

Believe it or not, the finish on your hardwood floor plays a major role in how you clean and maintain your flooring. Some make it easy to keep your flooring clean with basic soap and water. Others cannot be cleaned with water. Knowing the difference in hardwood finishes is important to the longevity of your flooring.

Surface Finishes and Seals

These finishes are the most common on pre-finished flooring. These create ease of cleaning and maintenance.

There are several types of finishes used in surface finish floors. These include:

  • Aluminum Oxide. You’ll usually find this in factory-finished floors or pre-finished floors. The material is almost as tough as diamonds, so you’ll know your floors will last you for years to come. It is also the same protective layer found in laminates.
    • This type of finish shouldn’t be done on your own. It requires the help of a professional to properly mix all the chemicals for the best results. It’s made of polymers, making it highly durable.
  • Polyurethane. Keeping moisture out is one of the best ways to keep your floors looking great for years to come. A layer of polyurethane stops liquid from penetrating your floors when you clean them or when something is spilled. There are many options available for this finish, such as high gloss and matte. Because of its flexibility, it’s one of the most popular finishes available.
  • Urethane. This is available as an acid or water base finish. If you’re doing the installation on your own, you must use the water based finish. It dries quickly, so be careful! If you’re hiring a professional to finish your hardwood floors, they should know how to use the acid base. But be warned – the acid base has strong odors and chemicals.
  • Combination. Many manufacturers will have their own specialized finishing technology that combines the power of spill protection and durability.

Penetrating Finishes and Seals

As the name suggests, penetrating finishes or seals are the ones that go into the wood to protect it from moisture and other damaging agents from the inside out. Even though the wood is finished, it’s still prone to water damage, so it must not be cleaned with water. These are most common with floors that are purchased un-finished and completed on site.

Penetrating finishes leave the textural integrity of the wood. When touched, you will feel the grooves and grains giving it a more natural look. Here are the various types of penetrating finishes or seals.

  • Oil and Wax. This finish goes back centuries. It works by preventing dirt from digging into the grains and corroding the wood. When treated with oil and wax, the floors have a nice shine.
  • Shellac and Lacquer. Shellac is a resin is secreted by insects when making cocoons. It’s used to add shine to floors and Lacquer, made from cellulose, is used with shellac to coat the wood. They’re rarely used because they’re not able to protect the floors against spills or stains. This used to be a popular type of finish, but now fewer people use it because it scratches easily.

Finding Your Perfect Finish

There are many options available to you; narrowing the selection and finding the right hardwood finish for you isn’t easy, unless you know what to look for.

Oil Based vs Water Based

The first thing to consider is oil-based vs. water based finishes.

Oil based finishes are acid and moisture cured. They’re used to add a hint of tint to the flooring, while bringing out the natural grain texture. However, they have a strong odor and take days to complete the curing process, making them decreasingly popular.

Water based finishes are environmentally friendly. They’re also perfect for people with allergies. The finishes prevent fading or darkening over time. Unless an alcohol based sealer is used, these finishes could raise and harden the grain. They’re applied and treated within hours instead of days.

Glossy vs. Matte

You’ll also want to consider how your floors look. Do you prefer a glossy look or a matte finish?

High gloss finishes are shiny. In bright sunlight, they can even give off a glare. Although they leave a beautiful appearance, more maintenance is required to keep the floor clear of dust, dirt and foot prints.

Matte (or low gloss, satin, or low luster) is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s not shiny, which helps hide scratches and dust. It’s the most commonly used in finished floors.

Semi gloss is the middle ground between too shiny and too dull. It’s usually used as a compromise between these two types of floors.

To find which one is right for you, we recommend getting samples and looking at the various finishes in your home. You might be surprised by which finish you like more.

Have questions? Need a little bit of extra help? We’re here for you. Start a chat with one of our flooring experts in the box on this page and get a fast answers to your questions.

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