Hardwood Floor Finishes - Selecting the Right One

By Wendy Meltzer

Finishing School – Different Hardwood Floor Finishes

You have decided to install a gorgeous new hardwood floor – congratulations! Your floor is going to be one of the most important features of your home and something you’ll enjoy every day, but now you need to decide on the right finish.

Historically, most hardwood flooring was installed and then finished on-site – which involved manual sanding, multiple layers of application, and significant drying time. That’s not necessarily the case these days, as there are many beautiful pre-finished flooring options you should consider.

In the world of wood flooring, there are two main types of hardwood floor finishes – surface finishes and penetrating finishes. Understanding the differences will help you determine which will work best for your lifestyle and family.

Buying Wood Flooring Corner Cottage Laura Brophy Interiors Unique Hardwood Flooring

Surface Hardwood Floor Finishes

Hardwood Floor Finishes Polyurethane and VOCs

This type of finish sits on top of the wood and forms a hard, protective layer.  Examples of surface finishes include polyurethane, aluminum oxide, and wax. Surface finishes are often applied on-site which can add a significant amount of time to your job as they require sanding, application, and drying time. If you want a glossy finish, a surface finish like polyurethane and aluminum oxide will achieve this.

While they’re relatively easy to apply, surface finishes require some effort to maintain. Repairing a scratch in the surface finish will generally involve sanding back the whole area and reapplication of the finish.  It’s important to repair scratches as soon as possible because if you don’t, water can penetrate this protective layer and seep into the wood below ruining its appearance – and requiring a deeper sanding treatment to remove them.

Surface finishes generally use chemicals to achieve such a hard, protective finish – and these chemicals are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are emitted as gases which can be unhealthy for your family and pets.

Penetrating Hardwood Floor Finishes

Penetrating finishes sink in, enhancing the natural qualities of the wood, filling the pores, and creating a protective barrier that expands and contracts with the seasons. Hardwax oil is an examples of penetrating finish. These finishes are used to enhance the natural color and grain of the wood – and as a result, they are favored by wood flooring purists. It’s important to note that you won’t be able to achieve a glossy sheen with a penetrating finish.

While the application process for penetrating finishes can be more involved, many are pre-finished before being delivered to the job site. Once they’re in use, they are easy to repair and maintain. Penetrating finishes are more natural and breathable than surface finishes, so they are also more environmentally friendly.

One of the biggest benefits of selecting flooring that’s prefinished with a penetrating oil is that you can start enjoying your new floor immediately without having to wait for sanding, application, and drying time. You also get to skip breathing in all those harmful VOCs.

Penetrating finishes like hardwax oil have been popular in Europe for years and are gaining momentum in the US. Here at Unique Hardwood, we offer engineered hardwood flooring that’s pre-finished with UV-cured hardwax oil – with no harmful VOCs or formaldehyde.

It’s always best to consult with a flooring professional to get the best advice on the type of finish that will work best for your specific project and needs, and what will match your home decor best.

Wood Flooring – A Naturally Beautiful, Organic Product

Hardwood Floor Finishes - Buying Wood Flooring large format samples Unique Hardwood

If you’re still having trouble deciding on the right hardwood floor finish after reviewing the information above, I invite you to visit our showroom in SOCO, Costa Mesa. Our trained staff can help you consider all the options and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

I always recommend that my clients consider why they chose a wood floor in the first place. Wood is an organic product that’s naturally beautiful. The finishes we use at Unique Hardwood allow you to protect your flooring with a product that’s healthy for your family while also enhancing the wood’s natural characteristics and allowing for a certain amount of movement. In our coastal climate, that’s important to prevent cupping and cracking.

We carry the full range of Legno Bastone European oak engineered wood flooring – and our showroom has been thoughtfully designed to display large format samples of each of our finishes.

Wood Flooring Inspiration

Looking for more inspiration? Check out this page to see a variety of different Legno Bastone flooring installations. You can also look at our five different flooring collections available in different widths with a huge variety of colors here.

More articles to help you make the right wood flooring decision:

Buying Wood Flooring – The Top 10 Questions to Ask