How to Choose the Best Finish for Your Hardwood Flooring

There is no better way to bring your dining or living room floors alive than with classic hardwood. And when it comes to wooden floors, the type of finish you choose can make a huge impact on its appearance and longevity. But no matter which type of hardwood you have installed in your home, whether it is traditional oak or exotic Brazilian walnut, you need to choose the proper finish. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of surface finishes available to protect hardwood floors and enhance your flooring’s grain.

Reasons for Getting a Wood Floor Finish

Your floor may have been made from trees that can withstand rain, snow, and wind, but your hardwood flooring requires a finish to protect it from daily wear and tear. When the wood grain is enhanced with the proper finish, it accentuates the colour, texture, and overall beauty of your hardwood floors.

However, each of these finishes come with its own pros and cons. In order to help you make an informed decision, we have listed a few popular finishes and their unique features.

Different Types of Wood Floor Finish

There are a lot of options for hardwood surface finishes, but whether you want a high-gloss, semi-gloss or matte finish depends on your taste.  Previously, we told you how you can choose the right sheen for your finish. In this post, we will talk about the different finish materials.

In the case of hardwood, you have options like prefinished and site finished floors. While prefinished ones do not give you much of a choice, as the finish is already applied, for unfinished or site finished ones, you get to select the finish and the sheen level of the floor.

In general, the most popular types of hardwood floor finishes are oil-based, water-based, and conversion varnish. Of these, conversion varnish is only available for site finished flooring.

1. Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil-based Polyurethane Finished Hardwood Floor

A century ago, it was traditional to use oil-based finishes on hardwood floors. It is only recently that a polyurethane additive has been used to make oil-based finishes stronger. These modern finishes are also known as ‘polyurethanes’.  This type of finish is not flammable, gives an amber shade to natural wood, and makes the floor highly resistant to wear and moisture.

However, when applying an oil-based polyurethane finish, you will come across three challenges.

Firstly, you need mineral spirits to clean up oil-based finishes, instead of soap and water. Although it is not a major issue, it is still an important factor.

Secondly, when the mineral spirits evaporate from the oil-based finish, they create fumes. In order to get rid of these fumes, you need to open up doors and windows to dilute it with fresh air, or you can use a fan to blow fumes out of the room. The only problem you will have while doing this is that dust particles will get in and get stuck onto your wet and sticky finish. Additionally, outside cold air can disturb the drying process.

Lastly, it takes a lot more time for the oil-based finish to dry compared to the water-based one, meaning it will be more vulnerable to dust and dirt.

For this reason, much research and development has gone into creating a water-based formula to replace the traditional floor finish.

2. Water-Based Polyurethane

Water-based polyurethane finished Hardwood Flooring

Applying a water-based finish is a two-part system, where the stain is first applied to the wood to bring out the desired colour, and then another coating is applied on top of that. The second finish is to provide a semi-gloss, satin, or matte sheen, as well as to seal and protect your precious hardwood.

Usually this type of finish consists of synthetic resins and plasticizers, and you end up with a non-yellowish finish that appears to be much clearer than an oil-based finish. What you end with is a very durable and non-combustible finish that is far more resistant to moisture than an oil-based finish.

Since water evaporates much faster than the mineral spirits present in an oil-based finish, the water-based finish dries much faster, reducing the chance of dust getting caught in the finish. Also, water does not create any harmful fumes when it evaporates.

Another advantage of water-based finishes is that you can clean them with soap and water. The water-based finish is not water-soluble, nor does it get softened by water. After the resins in the finish have dried and hardened, the finish becomes water-resistant.

You may be wondering if water-based finishes are as durable as oil-based ones. Let’s be honest. Water-based polyurethane finish is a relatively modern product, and there is still scope for research and development, but the prospects look bright. In terms of durability, oil-based finish is stronger than water-based but only by a small margin.

3. Conversion Varnish

Hardwood floor with a conversion varnish finish

Acid-cured Swedish varnish, also known as conversion varnish, is one of the toughest flooring finishes for your hardwood and is meant for professional use only.

The primary reason people still choose this varnish is that it can be tinted with various colours. To make the application easier, oil can be introduced to thin it slightly. However, this has a drawback: it softens the finish.

Conversion varnish contains highly volatile organic compounds, or VOC, and you may need to stay elsewhere after applying it until the odour clears out. For this reason, it is highly advisable to wait at least for 60 days for the finish to be fully prepared, although you can walk on it three days after application. Also, keep furniture off the floor for at least two weeks before settling down.

It is a rather inexpensive finish and less durable than polyurethane ones, and is best suited to high-end homes with flooring made from exotic woods.

You may be wondering, “How can I find the right finish for me?” Seeking out the help of a professional at a flooring store near you can be beneficial. The right finish will not only enhance the beauty of your magnificent wooden flooring but prolong the longevity of your expensive flooring by years, if not decades.

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