There are many different options when it comes to hardwood floor finishes. From dark stains, to light whitewashing, varnishes and shellac, the choices are numerous. Before you make the final decision, it’s good to understand the most common types for residential and commercial projects. With a little knowledge and some solid research, you can choose the best finish for your floors today.

Oil Based Finish
Oil finished floors are one of the most popular choices on the market. They come in a variety of colors and stains and can be tailored to your individual project. This finish is durable and resistant to scuffs and scratches which makes it a common selection for sports and commercial installations. When properly cared for, this finish can help floors last for years – although it does tend to yellow over time. Oil finishes also require a long drying time between coats and can be slightly smelly due to the high VOC content.

Water Based Finish
Like comparing oil and water-based paints, water-based finishes have a quicker drying time and lower VOC content. They do tend to be a bit pricier on the front end but are easy to apply and less susceptible to the yellowing caused by age and UV light. Water-based finishes are available in single and double component varieties and will require a few more coats to reach the same level of shine than oil-based finishes do. They are a good choice for jobs out of the sunlight that require a low VOC installation.

Acid Cured or Swedish Finish
As one of the most durable options, Swedish finish is popular for smooth textured or exotic wood flooring that needs extra protection. It is also referred to as conversion varnish, which means the wood is cured by a chemical reaction. Unlike oil or water-based finishes, which sit on top of the wood, an acid cure seeps into the planks and chemically bonds with the wood itself. This process results in increased hardness and durability but does take a very long time to reach full cure – sometimes up to 60 days.

While wax is an old technique, it’s also one of the easiest to apply. Wax is a natural, non-toxic finish that gives wood a warm look and brings out the color and grain. It also provides an excellent level of protection from moisture and everyday scuffs. Wax is easy to touch up and DIY friendly in terms of application although it does not provide the hard seal that oil, water, or polyurethane finishes do.

UV Curing
Used in conjunction with UV stains and sealants, this method of finishing floors relies on the chemical cure provided by ultraviolet light. It is great for situations when a short turnaround time is required and durability is prized. It is often used in commercial settings and high-traffic areas, not often in the home.

Aluminum Oxide
As one of the most durable, Aluminum Oxide finishes are typically used for engineered hardwood floors. Since engineered flooring relies on a thin veneer over a composite wood to create each plank, they are not able to be sanded or refinished down the line. Aluminum Oxide however can last up to 25 years and can be pre-finished before installation. This saves time and makes application easy and quick. It is great for high-traffic areas and comes in different levels of glossiness. It can be applied without changing the look or color of the planks and will not affect the grain pattern.

Shellac is not the most popular choice due to its finicky nature during application. It is usually used under wax as a base coat and it not compatible with many modern types of flooring. When using this method, a spot test is often recommended. While it is non-toxic and has low VOC levels adhesion can sometimes be a problem leading to sticky or non-drying floors.

Whether you are installing new floors or refinishing old, choosing the perfect finish for your floors is a big decision. Let our experts help you make the best choice for your home and project.