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Comparing Hardwood Floor Finishes

Comparing Hardwood Floor Finishes

There are many hardwood floor finishes available. The right one can add warmth and charm to any home. Choices should blend with the style and activity level of each room. Different finishes are best suited for particular circumstances. Take a look at the pros and cons of each.

Oil and Solvent Based Urethanes

These are the most common finishes. Oil-based is easy to apply but takes 8 hours to dry and yellows over time. The Swedish finish, a durable acid-based urethane, dries faster and is non-yellowing, but has solvents and strong fumes, and is only available to professionals. These two types are slowly being eliminated because of changing environmental laws, and may not be available in some parts of the country.

Water Based Urethanes

These products dry in 2-3 hours. They are clear and non-yellowing with less odor. This finish is tough, durable, and resistant to spills, but is more expensive and usually require three coats. When used alone it can raise and roughen the grain of the wood. Using a sealer first will prevent this.

Varnish and Sealers

A varnish or sealer is used to add color and seal the wood. They can be solvent, alcohol, or natural oil based.

Paste Wax

Paste wax is the oldest method of finishing. Paste is easy to apply, inexpensive and dries fast. It can be repaired easily, and will last forever if maintained properly. It is usually used over a penetrating stain.

Natural Finishes

These are products made from plant oils and natural waxes. The finish bonds to the wood on a molecular level and only one coat is needed. This is a good option for people who are chemically sensitive or concerned about VOC’s, or Volatile Organic Compounds, which are natural off gasses that come from synthetic floor finishes, and can be considered a public health hazard.


Something else to think about is sheen, which is the level of light reflecting from the finish. High gloss is elegant, used mostly in commercial settings, but quickly shows imperfections and wear. Low gloss or satin is most often chosen for residential. It isn’t as shiny, but it’s easier to maintain and does not show wear as much. Semi-gloss is in between the two. Newer, matte finishes are becoming popular. They are less glossy than satin and showcase the wood’s natural grain and beauty.



Guys, The Hardwood. “The Hardwood Guys- Hardwood Floor Refinishing Installation Contractor Seattle-Tacoma, WA.” The Hardwood Guys- Hardwood Floor Refinishing Installation Contractor Seattle-Tacoma, WA. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2010.

“Hardwood Flooring, Floor Finishes, Floor Sander Distributor | onlinefloorstore.” Hardwood Flooring, Floor Finishes, Floor Sander Distributor | onlinefloorstore. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2010.

“Monocoat Natural Oil Wood Floor Finishes.” Monocoat Natural Oil Wood Floor Finishes. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2010.

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