Choosing the Right Hardwood Floor Finish

There is no further question, and we are not going out on a limb when we say that hardwood is one of the most widely used and popular flooring materials today. With its functionality and value-adding features to the property, homeowners really love them. However, whether you have installed walnut, oak, maple, or exotic wood species for your flooring, your hardwood floor needs a good finish to look stylish and elegant all the time. A good hardwood floor finish provides protection and enhances the texture and color of your wood flooring. These days, you can have a world of options when it comes to hardwood floor finishes. Depending on varying levels of durability, glossiness, and ease, each hardwood floor finish has its merits and drawbacks that are important to know. 


hardwood floor finish

How to decide which floor finishing option is right for your hardwood floor? The decision will depend on how exactly you want your hardwood floor to look once the finish has been applied. You may want to find out how durable the wood finish needs to be or if your hardwood floor needs extra moisture protection. There are several things to consider in choosing the right hardwood floor finish. So, to make it easier to decide, we will walk you through the most popular hardwood floor finishing options in the market these days. 


Option 1: Wax Finish

A traditional and time-tested choice to refinish the hardwood floor, the wax finish was already available in the market before polyurethanes were introduced during the 1970s. Available in paste and liquid versions, wax creates a low-sheen, natural finish. It is a DIY-friendly finishing option, although labor-intensive, as you can apply wax finish by hand working smaller areas at a time. It is so easy to apply and touch up, which makes maintenance a lot simpler. Wax also comes from natural products, so it is a good choice for a homeowner who wants natural wood finish that emits little odor and less volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

hardwood floor finish

While the wax finish is low maintenance, it is not a durable finishing choice. It is prone to stain formation that even exposure to water or humidity creates white marks on the floor. Over the years, the wax will turn yellow to dark, so it really requires frequent refinishing and recoating. 

Best Way to Use Wax Finish: Antique Floors (in Historic Houses)


Option 2: Acid-Cured Finish

The acid-cured finish is for pro-application only. It typically stands as the top choice for hardwood flooring because they are one of the toughest hardwood flooring finishes today. It could last for up to 10 years with proper care. The acid-cured finish, or conversion or Swedish finish, is an alcohol-based hardwood floor finish that uses acid to cure. As it brings a shiny finish to the wood flooring, it is a good option for high-end flooring with exotic wood species. With exceptional durability, this type of wood finish can resist damages, scratches, and scuffs. It also dries up quickly (as little as 2 hours). 


Although the acid-cured finish is durable and resilient, it takes 60 days to fully cure. It also emits high levels of VOCs and a strong odor, so you need to stay away from the project area for several days. 

Best Way to Use Acid-Cured Finish: The Best Hardwood Floor Finish and For High-End Homes


Option 3: Moisture-Cured Urethane

An extremely durable hardwood floor finish, moisture-cure urethane draws moisture from the air to dry or cure. It has great resistance to moisture, stains, and scratches. The application of this wood finish is affected by its reaction to humidity in the air. If the air is too humid, moisture-cured urethane will begin to cure and spread evenly. However, if the air is dry, you won’t expect it to cure or dry evenly. Low humidity also extends drying time. That is why moisture-cured urethane is so tricky to apply and for pro-only application—making it a bad choice for DIYers. Not to mention that it also emits extremely high VOCs, which may stay in the air for a few weeks. Often, homeowners are advised to relocate the house for two weeks once after moisture-cured urethane is applied on the floor. 

Best Way to Use Moisture-Cured Urethane: High-Traffic Areas and Homes with Kids and Pets 


Option 4: Water-Based Polyurethane

Water-based polyurethane contains plasticizers and synthetic resins, which makes it exceptionally durable, non-inflammable, and resistant to humidity or moisture. Because of its durability, this type of hardwood floor finish is an ideal choice in commercial areas. Unlike its oil-based counterpart, water-based polyurethane gives a clear, non-yellowish finish that dries up quickly. In fact, the fastest drying time takes about 2 to 4 hours between coats, so it is a good finishing option for DIYers. As recommended, you may need to apply at least 3 to 4 coats to achieve great results. And if you are worried about strong odor and harmful chemicals, water-based polyurethane is safe to use as it emits low VOCs and less odor. The drawback of water-based polyurethane, however, is that it magnifies each scratch or scrape showing on the floor—making it unpleasant to the eyes. 

Best Way to Use Water-Based Polyurethane: Basement Floor and Rooms with Minimal Ventilation


Option 5: Oil-Based Polyurethane

The oil-based version of polyurethane contains synthetic resins, plasticizers, and linseed oil. Unlike its water-based counterpart, oil-based polyurethane has a slightly amber to yellowish color. Due to its durability and strength, oil-based polyurethane is a great choice for high traffic areas. It has an incredible resistance to moisture, which makes it easy for upkeep. Less expensive selections of this finishing product are readily available in the market as well. 

hardwood floor finish

While it is true that oil-based polyurethane is low maintenance and hard-wearing floor finish, it takes longer to dry. A waiting time of 8 to 10 hours between coats is required and at least 48 hours more before you can even walk on the floor. Also, oil-based polyurethane releases a high level of VOCs and is very flammable. You must have a well-ventilated area and a respirator if you plan to use this finishing product on your floor. 

Best Way to Use Oil-Based Polyurethane: High-Traffic Areas and Professional-Finished Floors


Option 6: Penetrating Oil Sealer

A great choice for DIYers, penetrating oil sealers are easy to apply and touch-up. It can either be made from solvent-based or natural oil. Natural oil sealers from pure tung oil and linseed oil improve the hardness of the wood floor as it dries up. Solvent-based sealers, on the other hand, will soak into the wood when applied. Penetrating oil sealers are an ideal choice for homeowners who want to see the natural appearance and depth of their wood flooring. This hardwood floor finish creates a low-shine finish to highlight the grain and texture of the wood. It is also non-toxic and has a mild odor. However, penetrating oil sealers are not durable unlike other modern finishing options. It does not hold up well in high traffic areas and needs recoating every two to three years. 

Best Way to Use Penetrating Oil Sealer: Historic Homes with Antique Wood Flooring


Option 7: Shellac

Non-toxic and emits low VOCs, shellac is a natural product from denatured alcohol and lac bug secretion. It creates a natural appealing finish and dries up quickly. While it may be an inexpensive hardwood floor finish option, shellac is not durable enough to hold up well in high foot traffic. It is very susceptible to stains from spills and water too. 

Best Way to Use Shellac: Antique Wood Floor Already Coated with Shellac 


Option 8: Aluminum Oxide 

An extremely hard and durable hardwood floor finish option, aluminum oxide is a naturally occurring mineral that offers long-lasting protection to wood floors. It can last up to 25 years with proper care, and typically an excellent choice for high traffic areas. Because of its durability, aluminum oxide provides supreme protection from water damage, fading, scratches, and general wear without compromising the grain and color of the hardwood. However, this super-tough wood finish is only available in prefinished wood planks. Meaning, you cannot apply it yourself, so may need to seek help from a professional flooring contractor. It also requires a special refinishing technique as it can be difficult to touch up or remove when you plan to change your finish to a different type. It makes the surface of the wood so hard that a sander may cause damage if you refinish it yourself. 

Best Way to Use Aluminum Oxide: The Most Durable Hardwood Floor Finish and For High-Traffic Rooms



Deciding on a Hardwood Floor Finish

The type of finish you choose should not only provide protection but also add value to the appearance and elegance of your hardwood flooring. We hope that, through this guide, you have already decided which hardwood floor finish is right for your home. However, if you feel the need to seek help in sanding and refinishing your wood flooring, feel free to contact us today.