8 options to help with the right finish for your hardwood floor

A large living room with wood floors and a fireplace, featuring hardwood floor options.

Newly furnished hardwood floors, whether they be the rich brown hues of oak or maple, are a sight to behold. Their luster and the intricate patterns characteristic of wood make hardwood a popular choice for gracing most homes.

However, before you stop to admire the beauty of your hardwood floors, now might be the time to consider what finish they will need to preserve their qualities for as long as possible.

Whether you have new floors or floors in need of another finish, in this article, we bring you eight popularly used finishes to protect the integrity of your precious floors.

What Should You Look for in a Finish for Your Hardwood Floors?

There are a couple of factors that will affect your final decision when it comes to picking the right hardwood finish. These are based on:

  • How durable the hardwood finish needs to be depending on the use of the room
  • If the hardwood floor needs extra moisture protection
  • Your personal taste

Finishes can be glossy, satin, or matte. A gloss finish is attractive but will easily show signs of wear, such as scrapes, with time. A satin finish will still provide some shine and give your house a more conventional appearance. Finally, a matte finish is lackluster but much more sensible because any marking can easily blend in.

The Best Drum Sanders to Help You Achieve Your Dream Finish

Before we get into the types of hardwood finishes, consider if you need a drum sander. Drum sanders are essential power tools to have on hand if you intend to finish your hardwood floors as a DIY project. They have abrasive sheets to help you sand your floors to produce a smooth finish onto which you will apply your top coat.

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Want to know which drum sander might be the right one for you? Head over to the hyperlink above to help you choose your very own drum sander to ensure that your DIY project is a success.

The 8 Types of Hardwood Floor Finishes

Now that we have settled the basics, let’s jump into the different types of hardwood floor finishes that are commonly used in homes:

1. Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethane is a finish made up of plasticizer, synthetic resins, and linseed oil. It is excellent for high traffic areas in your home as this finish is durable; hence you won’t have to refinish your floors quite so often. It is also cost effective and moisture resistant. Finally, its low maintenance property means that when it comes to cleaning, a simple broom and mop will help you do the job.

Oil based polyurethane has a gold to amber hue that will add rich golden tones to your floors which only gets darker with time. It comes in three varieties: satin, semi-gloss, and high gloss sheen.

The only drawbacks of using this to coat your floors is that if you choose to undertake this project yourself, you will need to invest in a gas mask to protect yourself from inhaling toxic volatile compounds.

Furthermore, you will need at least 2-3 coats to coat all your floors, where each coat requires 10 hours to dry. Make sure to clean up with mineral spirits and not soap and water afterwards. Even after all this, you will require 48 hours of wait time to walk on coated floors with shoes and four more days until you can put on the furniture.

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2. Water-Based Polyurethane

Water-based polyurethane is made up of plasticizer and synthetic resins. It is a pale colored liquid that dries into a transparent finish. It can be used for a high gloss, satin, or semi-gloss finish. Moreover, it is moisture resistant, great for use by amateurs, releases much less toxic gas and dries very quickly, only taking 48 hours until you can fully walk on and place furniture on the floors.

Apply between 3-4 coats and wait 2-4 hours between each coat. Once you are done applying this coating to your hardwood floors, do not wax these floors as that can seriously damage their luster. Only use a broom and damp mop for upkeep.

3. Penetrating Oil Sealer

Penetrating oils, such as tung oil, seep into the wood’s pores thus protecting the wood from wear and tear. Because this finish doesn’t form a layer over the wood, wax is used as an additional top coat.

Despite the beautiful finish provided by the penetrating oil sealer, it doesn’t hold up very well with use over time, so you will have to re-oil your floors every 3-5 years.

Furthermore, if any area of your finished floors suffers damage, contact with chemicals and water may lead to the actual wood suffering damage. Hence, you should only use wood floor cleaning agents. This finish also takes forever to dry, requiring about 24 hours drying time between coats.

4. Wax

Wax comes in a fluid or puree form, and is applied by using a rag or a wooden instrument. It can be used to provide a satin and traditional look to hardwood floors. You can also mix in some wood paint with the wax to add color to your floors.

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Unfortunately, it is not very long lasting, as it becomes discolored when in contact with water and is vulnerable to wear and tear. It also has the tendency to darken with time, so it is best used on wood floors with a warm cast.

5. Moisture-Cure Urethane

Out of all the finishes on this list, moisture-cure urethane is one of the toughest, and most longwearing as it can withstand heavy wear and tear. When applying this as the coat, it dries down to a high shine finish and gives off a lot of volatile organic compounds (VOC), so the general area becomes uninhabitable for as much as two weeks.

Unfortunately, the moisture levels of the air are very important for this finish to dry. If the air is too dry, the finish will not dry evenly. If the air is too humid, the finish may dry too quickly even before you are done coating all the floors. Furthermore, this is best used by experts.

As a result of the many disadvantages of using moisture-cure polyurethane, it is primarily used in bowling alleys, banquet halls, and eateries, where sturdiness and appearance are essential.

6. Shellac

Shellac provides a high gloss finish with warm orange hues to your hardwood floor. You can add extra tint to color your floors as well as add in more denatured alcohol to make your floors look matte. It dries very quickly, emitting little to no fumes, so it is environmentally friendly.

Unfortunately, shellac is difficult to apply, flammable, not long lasting, and vulnerable to water, ammonia, and alcohol.

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7. Acid-Cured Finish

Acid-cured finishes are insanely durable, even more so than polyurethanes, and emphasizes the loveliness of whatever wood it is applied on. It is ideal for use on parquet floors.

However, this finish releases a lot more VOCs and may require you to relocate for days until the fumes leave your home. It is difficult to touch up, but with its high durability, you wont need to so often.

8. Aluminium Oxide

Aluminium oxide has a longevity of up to 25 years; hence, it is extremely long lasting. With this finish, you can choose a glossy or matte look depending on your preferences.

However, you cannot apply this yourself as wooden floorboards sold with this coating are prefinished. Moreover, if you would like to refinish your aluminium oxide finish floorboards, you will either need expert help or you will need to replace your floorboards completely.


In the end, it doesn’t matter how old your floorboards are; the right kind of finish can bring out the unique and beautiful qualities of any kind of wood flooring. Once you have figured out how your floors will be used and your personal tastes, you can then choose the right finish to transform the look of your wood floors.

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