Everything about Wood Floor Finishes - Pro Construction Guide
Everything to Know about Wood Floor Finishes

Everything to Know about Wood Floor Finishes

The floor is sanded. Check. Smoothed. Check. Now if you’re ready for the staining, here is everything you need to know about wood floor finishes. As you approach the process, there are two options available – a colored finish, or a stain or wood dye.

The colored finish includes things like browned lacquer, a floor paint or white oil. When using colored finishes, the color stays in the finish on top of the wood.

With a stain or dye approach, which typically feature water or solvent-based liquids, the stain soaks into the less dense parts of the grain. Translation: It exaggerates the patterns in the grain.

The key is to tabulate how much floor the stain will cover, and then make sure you have enough stain (with at least 15 percent more stain on hand).

Here is a rundown of the wood floor finishes and types available today:

Oil-modified urethane generally is the most common surface finish and is easy to apply. It is a petroleum base with a blend of synthetic resins, plasticizers and other film-forming ingredients that produces a durable surface that is moisture-resistant. It has varying degrees of luster with a plastic-looking finish. It can darken or yellow the wood over time, though some new paints don’t affect the wood as much. While good for high-moisture or high-traffic areas, it can be extremely difficult to spot repair if nicked or gouged.

Water-based urethane features a blend of synthetic resins, plasticizers and other film-forming ingredients that produces a durable surface, which is moisture-resistant. These types of hardwood finishes are clear and non-yellowing and are different sheen levels. Featuring a milder odor than oil-modified finishes, they dry in about two to three hours. Water-based urethanes generally are more expensive.

A solvent-based polyurethane, moisture-cured urethane, is more durable and moisture-resistant than other finishes. Available in non-yellowing and ambering types, it generally is offered in satin or gloss. To note, they are harder and have a strong odor. Curing of this type of wood finish is by absorbing minute quantities of moisture vapor from the air, which causes them to dry and harden. The curing process is dependant on relative humidity.

Varnish (matte-glossy finish) is available in a variety of lusters, with higher gloss being more durable. These types of wood floor finishes darken with age, though more slowly than polyurethane, and are easily spot repaired.

Penetrating sealers are natural looking finishes that bring out the grain of the wood. Also known to darken over time, they offer solid protection to hardwood floors, especially when waxed. They are the least durable, but easiest wood floor finish to repair.

Paste wax is the oldest and, some would argue, the best finish. It ticks all the boxes: easy to apply, inexpensive, quick drying and easier to repair. Wax is spread in thin coats for a surface protection after the stain and/or sealer is applied, then buffed to the desired sheen.



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