Top Coat Choices: 7 Best Hardwood Floor Finishes


So you’ve finally installed the hardwood floors of your dreams. That’s great! However, this is only the first step. There’s the whole realm of selecting the right finish out of the plethora of hardwood floor finishes available on the market.

Depending on your needs, you’ll want to pick the right hardwood floor finish that will best protect your hardwood floor. Yet, if you can’t differentiate between your polyurethane and your acid-cured finish, no worries. You’ve come to the right place.

Keep on reading for our full breakdown of the top seven hardwood floor finishes on the market, and how to pick the right one for you.

  1. Hardwood Floor Finishes 101: Water-Based Polyurethane

Before we start our deep dive into the more complex or cutting-edge hardwood floor finishes, let’s make sure you’re familiar with the basics.

Going for a water-based polyurethane finish is a great option for you if you’re thinking about DIYing this whole project.

It’s durable, cost-effective, and easy to apply. Moreover, if you want a finish that will dry up in no time, then going for the water-based polyurethane is the way to go.

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect material out there. Using a high gloss water-based polyurethane will do nothing but magnify and emphasize every single scratch and scrape.

Thus, if you have pets, you’re better off picking a different finish.

Actually, if you do have pets, you should check out going for laminate flooring instead of hardwood. Check out this comparison article on hardwood vs laminate flooring to learn more.

  1. Going For Oil-Based Polyurethane

The second down the list is going to be the oil-based version of polyurethane.

This is made mainly of synthetic resins, linseed oil, and plasticizers. If you’re looking for a strong and water-resistant floor finish, then this one might do the trick. It’s the best hardwood floor finish for your high-traffic areas.

Besides, it tends to leave a slight yellowish tint as time goes by, which can be your aesthetic goal, to begin with.

However, this is a slow-drying finish, that’s flammable and releases a ton of VOCs. So, if you’re aiming for a floor finishing material that’s low on toxicity, you’ll want to choose a different material.

  1. The Moisture-Cured Urethane

While we’re speaking about urethane materials, we can’t neglect the power of using moisture-cured urethane for your floor finish.

If you’re looking for industrial-strength durability, then this is the material for you. All you need to know is that this is a material that was created for bowling alleys. Consider it to be the most durable hardwood floor finish out there.

It’s highly resistant to scratches, stains, and moisture. Yet, it’s rather difficult to apply. You’ll want professionals to take care of that one for you.

In addition to the complexity of the application, the amount of VOCs released are so extreme, that you’ll have to relocate for two weeks after the application for all the fumes to dissipate.

  1. Wax Floor Finish

If you’re looking for a low-sheen finish that you can apply yourself, then you’ll want to go with a wax floor finish.

It’s easy to use and apply. Also, it dries in no time, so you can walk on your new flooring within hours of application.

Unfortunately, it’s not really durable. If your wax finish gets exposed to moisture or water, you’ll start seeing some unwanted white marks.

Therefore, if you’re looking for the right flooring finish for your kitchen or bathroom, you’ll want to stay away from using wax as your floor finishing material.

  1. Shelling For Shellac

If you’re looking for a traditional floor finishing material that stood the test of time, you’ll want to check out shellac.

It’s made of natural materials like the secretions of the lac bug, mixed with denatured alcohol. This results in the formation of a great material that can easily stick to heard-to-deal-with oily tropical woods.

It dries pretty quickly and doesn’t release a lot of VOCs.

On the other hand, you’ll be dealing with a very flammable material that’s hard to apply evenly. Because it dries so quickly, you have to face the fact that might see visible lap lines as it’ll dry unevenly.

Besides, shellac isn’t durable in comparison to the other materials available to you on the market.

  1. Picking an Acid-Cured Finish

This is a specialized hardwood floor finish for special floors. In short, if you have parquet flooring or a different kind of exotic wood flooring with complex patterns, you’ll want to pick this material.

Known as a conversion finish or a Swedish finish, this is a highly durable material, which will dry up in no time.

I’ll give you a shiny finish that emphasizes the beauty of your wood flooring’s color, grain, and natural patterns.

Sadly enough, this comes with a comparable price tag. It’ll cost you a pretty penny, and you won’t be able to DIY this one. This material should only be used by professionals.

  1. Choosing a Penetrating Oil Sealer

This one is a great natural product that will highlight the beauty of the wood’s natural grain.

It’s rather easy to apply, so you can use it and DIY. Yet, you need to be prepared for the hefty price tag, as well as the long time period needed for the material to completely dry.

Also, you need to keep in mind that this material is all about beauty, not durability. You’ll need to recoat your floors every few years, with an additional wax coat as a layer of required protection.

Ready to Give Your Hardwood Floors the Right Finish For the Job?

We know how overwhelming it can be for homeowners to pick the right floor coating for their hardwood floors from what seems like a million options.

Hopefully, our little guide has shed some light on the main seven hardwood floor finishes on the market, so you can start doing your own research into the perfect finishing material for your floors.

Just remember to start slow if you’re going the DIY route, and to call in the professionals if you’re using a complex material as your flooring finish.

If you enjoyed our article, you’ll want to check out similar home renovation tips and trick all on our home section.

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