To maximize its longevity, hardwood flooring must be sealed and finished. There are many different types of finishes available that can create a wide array of styles while enhancing your flooring’s durability and resistance to scratches and dents. However, confusion can arise when choosing a finish. When you know what the different types of finishes for hardwood are, you can more easily discuss with your flooring installation contractor which will be the right choice. If you are choosing pre-finished wood, the method the contractor uses to finish the planks should be an important factor.

Types of popular hardwood finish

The following are some of the best hardwood finishes from which you can choose when you are looking to site finish or refinish your existing flooring, or are simply buying pre-finished planks:

  • Water-based polyurethane

This is the most popular choice of surface finish for hardwood flooring as it retains the traditional look and feel of hardwood while providing a durable clear finish. The finish is smooth and lustrous and imparts a traditional “wet-look” to solid and engineered hardwood. While multiple coats help achieve a high-gloss polyurethane finish, it also comes in semi-gloss and satin finish options. High-gloss pre-finished wood planks available in stores are usually finished with a water-based polyurethane.

  • Oil-based

This is another popular finish for hardwood and is particularly prevalent in commercial areas and sports floor settings (think basketball courts) because of its durability. However, it requires a long time to dry between coats during installation and has high volatile organic content (VOC). Another drawback of this finish is that it develops a yellowish tinge over time.

  • Oil sealer/penetrating oil

If you want your hardwood floor to have a natural sheen, this is the go-to choice of finish. It highlights the grain patterns as the oil penetrates the wood and is easy to apply, making it a great choice for homeowners planning to finish their floors themselves. It is ideal for homes with traditional and antique décor. The main ingredient used for oil penetration is Tung oil which is extracted from the nut of the Tung tree (or Verniciafordii) which originated in southern China. It is not a permanent sealant and has to be re-applied every five to seven years. The primary benefits of this finish are its natural finish, less VOC fumes, and its durability.

  • Aluminum oxide

This is one of the toughest finishes for hardwood flooring. It cannot be done on-site because the application and drying process is complex and requires factory equipment that cannot be moved to the site; this is why it is only available in pre-finished floor planks. It can last up to 25 years and is particularly suited to engineered hardwood. Choosing floor planks that are pre-finished with aluminum oxide can be quickly installed. The only drawback of this finish is that it cannot be spot-finished or refinished, and if the coating gets damaged, the floorboards must be replaced.

  • Varnish

Before polyurethane finish was introduced, this was a popular choice for coating wooden floors. It is very durable and has a clear or amber colour that enhances the grainy texture of the wood. However, it has a very strong odour and the varnish emits high amounts of VOC which can be harmful. If you are getting varnish finish for your wood flooring, your house will have to be evacuated for a few days after installation to let the fumes dissipate.

Choosing the right finish for your hardwood flooring will ensure that it lasts for decades and does not require frequent refinishing.  Consult the experts at a flooring store near you to find out which is the best option that meets your needs and preferences.

Published by Eric Foley