Categories: Hardwood Floor Finishes, Home Improvements

The Best Hardwood Floor Finishes and How to Choose the Right One for Your Home

Your home renovation project is going to totally transform everything. You’re redoing the kitchen, opening it up to the living room, and installing gorgeous hardwood floors throughout.

As you’ve started your research on which flooring to choose, however, you’ve noticed that there are multiple hardwood floor finishes to choose from. While choosing a finish is partly up to your personal preference, different finishes work better for different lifestyles. Here are the pros and cons of some of the hardwood floor finishes you’ll encounter as you research the best choice.

What You Need to Know About Hardwood Floor Finishes

Polyurethane Finishes

Polyurethane hardwood floor finishes are some of the most common choices for all home renovation projects. This category includes water-based and oil-based poly finishes. Although they both do a great job of protecting your floors, there are some differences between the two.

Water-based polyurethane finishes are more eco-friendly. They don’t put off a lot of fumes and are very low in VOCs. Each coat dries pretty quickly (in about two to four hours) and turns into a clear finish. The main drawbacks of water-based poly finishes is that they’re more expensive and less durable than their oil-based counterparts.

While oil-based polyurethane holds up longer and much better at a lower price, it’s important to know that it will take on a bit of an amber tone when it dries. It will also take longer for each coat to dry — as long as eight to 10 hours. Oil-based poly puts off quite a bit of fumes, so you and your pets will need to be out of the house while this part of the project is being completed.

Moisture-Cured Urethane

One of the most durable and long-lasting hardwood floor finishes isn’t standard polyurethane; it’s moisture-cured urethane. This treatment isn’t for the do-it-yourselfer, as it requires expertise and ventilation equipment to apply correctly and safely. It dries quickly, so it must be applied correctly, and its high VOCs and long-lasting fumes mean that ventilators must be used during application and the house must be vacated until the chemicals air out.


For a more traditional hardwood floor finish, you can always opt for wax. This was what everyone used in the days before polyurethane and it’s seeing a comeback amongst people looking for an eco-friendly way to protect their floors.

Wax is easy to apply and makes it a snap to go back and touch up scratches and scuffs that may occur later. It’s not as durable as polyurethane, however, so those touch-ups will be a necessity. Wax will darken the wood a bit, although you can avoid this by sealing or applying shellac to the wood before waxing it. Wax is incredibly labor-intensive to apply it, but it dries quickly and with very little odor.

Oil-Based Sealer

The most commonly-used ingredient in oil-based sealers is tung oil. People like them because they’re low in VOCs and create a hard coating after they dry. Applying a few coats will be necessary and the final result isn’t as durable as a polyurethane hardwood floor finish, but it’s easy to touch up should damage occur. Sealers tend to give hardwood flooring a low sheen; many people opt to apply a wax coating after the sealer dries in order to give their floor a deeper, more beautiful sheen.

While these are a few of the more commonly-used hardwood floor finishes, it’s important to discuss other available options with your contractor. They’ll help you figure out which choice will work best for your home and lifestyle, as well as which finish will help you get the result you envision.

Was this article helpful?
reaction thumbnail No

View More

Skip to content