4. How To Choose A Hardwood Finish

4. How To Choose A Hardwood Finish

Chemistry is responsible for everything from Dairy Queen to dill pickles to Diet Coke. It also comes into play with, you guessed it, flooring! Today’s modern pre-finished floors often feature an invisible coating designed to add extra durability and protect against scratches, dents, stains, and wear. The more advanced DIY-ers or hardwood aficionados may wish to finish or refinish their floors themselves. It all comes down to your needs, your expectations, and your comfort level.

So, how can you tell which floor coating is right for you? Let’s take a closer look.


When talking about floor coatings, the terms ‘polyurethane’ and ‘urethane’ are used interchangeably; both terms refer to a polymerizing carabamic compound that produces flexible, non-toxic floor coatings. Polyurethanes are polymers, or large molecules. There are a few kinds of urethane on the market today, so we’re going to do a quick breakdown:

PROS: Urethane makes a flexible, abrasion resistant floor covering that is both durable and nontoxic while maintaining a great long-lasting shine.

CONS: Urethane is naturally thick, which can complicate the application process. It must be applied in a thin layer to create an even surface. However, this can lead to consistency issues in the finished application.

Oil-Based Urethane

PROS: The most common of the urethane family of floor coatings. Less expensive than water-based urethane. Easy to apply and very durable.

CONS: If you’re looking for a finish with a quick drying time, oil-based urethane is not for you. Can yellow with age. High Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) content also means a strong odor during the drying process.
Water-Based Urethane

PROS: Dries much faster than its oil-based counterpart. Due to a low VOC content, water-based urethane has less of an odor. Does not yellow over time. Water-based urethane is easy to apply, which makes it a good option for novice DIY-ers.

CONS: More expensive and less durable than oil-based urethane.
Moisture-Cured Urethane

Moisture-cured urethane is frequently used in commercial applications. It’s also great for active homes with a lot of foot traffic from kids and pets.

PROS: Exceptionally durable. Moisture-cured urethane has a fast drying time, so multiple coats can be applied in a single day.

CONS: Extremely high VOC content leaves a pervasive odor that can linger for some time after application. Can only be applied by professionals. Expensive.
Not interested in a urethane formula? Don’t worry, there are plenty of other options available!
Aluminum Oxide

Like urethane and polyurethane, aluminum oxide is a popular choice.

PROS: Long-lasting and very strong.

CONS: Only available on pre-finished floors. Cannot be refinished.

Shellac has transformed from a technical term into a sort of catch-all for all things artificially hard and glossy, but it is, in fact, a genuine thing! It’s also the only product on this list to be naturally produced – shellac is actually a resin secreted by female lac bugs. It’s been used all over the world for centuries.

This is a lac bug. What a lovely shade of red!

PROS: Shellac is nontoxic, inexpensive, and is very easy to work with. It’s also great for spot repairs, especially on older hardwood floors that already have a shellac coating.

CONS: Not very durable and must be refinished periodically. Since many shellac products contain wax, they can’t be combined with more modern finishes like urethane.
Acid-Cured Finish

This is a great option for exotic wood floors and floors with decorative inlay patterns. It’s also known as the Swedish Finish. The ABBA soundtrack is optional.

PROS: A Swedish Finish can dry in 2 hours! It’s worth noting that it can take up to 60 days to fully cure, though. This is another highly durable option.

CONS: Very expensive. Can only be applied by professionals. High VOC content means that a Swedish Finish has a very strong odor, which can very easily make a house uninhabitable for a few days. Once an acid-cured finish is applied to a floor, it’s the only type of finish that can be used.
Penetrating Oil Sealer

PROS: This is a great option for DIY-ers with less experience in floor finishing. It’s inexpensive, and great for older wood floors. Since it’s nontoxic, the odor is far less offensive than other finishing options.

CONS: Needs to be reapplied with more regularity than other finishes, as frequently as every two to three years.

– – – –
David is has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with  W. David Lichty


Follow Team Floors To Your Home on  Facebook  

You'll find discount flooring, in stock, ready to ship to you just by clicking this button