What Are the Different Types of Hardwood Floor Finishes?

Patti Kate

Hardwood floors are made with a variety of finishes, including oiled-based finishes and water-based finishes. A hardwood floor made with an oil-based finish is generally more stain and scuff resistant than a wood floor with a water-based polyurethane finish. Acid-based urethane finishes are durable, yet emit very powerful fumes. Natural, environmentally friendly hardwood floors are typically plant and mineral based, although some may be wax based, as well. Prefinished flooring is another option that does not require additional treatment.

A house with hardwood flooring.
A house with hardwood flooring.

Hardwood floor finishes may be purchased at many home improvement stores. Polyurethane is a common, oil-modified hardwood floor finish that typically takes about 10-14 hours to thoroughly dry. This type of finish is tough and long lasting, and often recommended for high-traffic areas. Those with children and pets may find this finish to be a good choice, as it is also resistant to stains.

Most hardwood floors are now finished using a polyurethane coat that looks glossy and shiny.
Most hardwood floors are now finished using a polyurethane coat that looks glossy and shiny.

An acid-curing hardwood floor finish is generally fast drying. This type of finish is appropriate for many varieties of hardwood floors. Acid-based hardwood floor finishes add sheen and depth of color without casting an unnatural yellow tint. The high-gloss variety will add the most luster and shine, while semi-gloss adds a slight gloss coating. A matte variety is also available in an acid-based finish.

Water-based hardwood floor finishes are used for various floor types. As the water in the application evaporates, the finish will dry. With water-based applications, three or more coats are recommended for the best results. One appeal of the water-based hardwood floor finishes is that they do not change the natural color of the wood. These finishes are typically fast drying and emit no harsh fumes.

There are also environmentally friendly choices for hardwood floor finishing. These floor finishes, often referred to as green products, will protect the hardwood floor surface while being non-toxic. Soy-based satin type finishes are one such choice. A finish made with natural tung oil also is considered safe and non-toxic. The environmentally safe finishes will contain no metals, such as zinc.

Some hardwood floor finishes also come in a touch-up application. These are generally available as a spray. Spray touch-up hardwood floor finishing products are recommended for periodic use to maintain the quality of the finish.

Hard wood floors can be treated with water- or oil-based finishes, as well as various varnishes or lacquers.
Hard wood floors can be treated with water- or oil-based finishes, as well as various varnishes or lacquers.

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Discussion Comments


If you're going to clean and apply hardwood floor finishing to a floor then you should do it right. Doing a good job on a floor takes time and physical labor, so you want to use the products that are going to give you the best results.

Oil-based wood floor finish does a better job of soaking into the wood and protecting it. As the article says, these finishes are also stain resistant. You may have to put up with a stronger odor with the oil-based finish, but it does a much better job of protecting your floor and the floor looks better.


In order to save some time and because I wasn't sure I could properly use a sander, I used a hardwood floor kit I bought from the home improvement store to restore old wood floors. I should mention that this method will not leave the floors looking like new, but I was pleased with the results.

I cleaned the floors thoroughly with the hardwood floor cleaner in the kit, and I mopped the floor. It took several hours to complete the cleaning part because I had to be sure not to leave any of the cleaner on the floor. I actually, got on my hands and knees and wiped the floor with paper towels and cloths.

After the floor was clean, it was time to apply the finish. Some people told me I should use an oil based finish, but I avoid oil based anything when I can find a similar product that is water based. The floor finish in the kit was water based, so that was good.

When I applied the first coat, the floor looked much better. Of course it had looked bad originally because it was dirty. I applied the second coat and the floor looked even better, and it shined more with the second coat. I could have added a third coat to get more shine, but I preferred to stop at two coats.

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