Understanding Differences in Finishes for Wood Floors

Understanding Differences in FinishesWhether you’re installing new hardwood floors or having your floors refinished, you’ll discuss different stain and finish options with your flooring company. Although most homeowners think about color more than finish, both are important. When choosing a finish, there are a few factors that go into choosing the best option for your wood floors. As you discuss your home and lifestyle, your flooring company may recommend one product over another. If you already understand the differences between finishes, you’ll be better able to make the best decision for your flooring and lifestyle.


The two most common polyurethane options are water and oil-based. Each comes in high-gloss, semi-gloss, and satin sheens. You can clean both with a broom and a damp mop. You won’t want to wax either of these finishes, which makes them easy to care for and relatively low maintenance. That is where the similarities end.

Water-based polyurethane has a faster drying time and less odor, so the project will be finished quicker and you’ll be able to walk on it sooner (although we still recommend waiting several days before putting furniture down and at least two weeks before laying area rugs). If you’re looking for a shiny finish, a high gloss water-based product is a great choice. Although you should be aware that the higher the sheen, the easier scratches show (especially with darker stains).

Oil-based polyurethane is stronger than water-based. You will be able to go longer between refinishing jobs than with a water-based finish. However, one complaint of some homeowners is that oil-based finishes tend to have a yellow hue which can increase over time, especially on lighter stain.

Other Options

Polyurethane is the most common wood flooring finish for homes, however, there are many others that are available. The two we are most often asked about are shellac and wax. Shellac is a natural product and gives a nice matte finish. Beware, however, that shellac is not as effective at protecting your floors from spills and can spot or stain.

Wax gives a low-sheen finish. You will need to re-apply wax regularly to protect the wood, so there is more maintenance involved. It doesn’t give off VOCs and you can walk on it almost immediately. One drawback is that you may find your wood floors grow darker over time after multiple applications.

As a flooring company, our goal is to find the right color and finish for new or refinished wood floors. After our consultation, we’ll recommend the products we think are best for your home and lifestyle and explain why. If you’re looking for new floors or need your current flooring refinished, call Seer Flooring at (727) 469-7963 or fill out our contact form for your free in-home appointment.