Different Types of Finishes for Hardwood Floors

Different Types of Finishes for Hardwood Floors

Floors constantly endure wear and tear. The second they’re installed, they get to work, providing sturdy groundwork and enduring endless daily wear, from foot traffic to moving furniture. On top of their practical properties, floors also add ambience to a space, creating and complementing various design styles.

Taking care of your floors ensures that you’ll reap all their benefits and keep them in top condition throughout the years. Although modern engineered wood flooring offers one of the most durable and long-lasting floor options, a little tender care and love can maintain its optimized quality, strength, and longevity.

One way to keep your wood flooring in top condition is to refinish it. Finishes add a surface layer of protectant that enhance and implement certain properties, such as moisture- and scratch-resistance. Refinishing your floors every now and then keeps them protected from the bumps and bruises of everyday life. Here are the different types of finishes for hardwood floors to help you find the best protectant for your engineered floors.

Water-Based Polyurethane

One of the most popular finishes is water-based polyurethane. Polyurethane mixtures feature high scratch-resistance, adding thick, durable layers to the surface veneer of your planks. Polyurethane finishes are also eco-friendly. They release the least amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which means they produce minimal amounts of pollution and toxins.

Water-based finishes go on clear, allowing your wood’s natural burls and coloring to shine through. They also come in various sheens, offering matte and glossy final looks. They dry quickly, which speeds up the refinishing process and puts your floors back in business by the end of the day. However, water-based polyurethane requires multiple coatings—three or four layers—with drying and sanding between each coat.

Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil-based finishes offer durable, highly resistant solutions. However, their oil-based structure creates an even more durable composition—but with stronger odors compared to water-based finishes. They also come in various sheens, but instead of painting clear, they leave a slight amber tinge, which can turn even more yellow over time. Oil-based polyurethane usually takes a whole day to dry, but it only requires one to two coats.

Unlike water-based finishes, oil-based finishes consist of mineral solvents or petroleum as a base to hold the polyurethane solids. This base creates a thicker mixture with denser properties and a more pigmented stain. Many woodworkers like to use oil-based finishes to seal their final products, using the amber tint to enhance the wood’s colors and natural markings. Plus, the oil composition creates water-resistance, further optimizing the wood’s durability and longevity.

Moisture-Cured Polyurethane

Moisture-cured polyurethane is solvent-based finish akin to oil-based finishes. During the drying process, these finishes take in the air’s moisture vapor, stimulating a reaction that causes the coat to harden. They thrive in humid atmospheres.

Moisture-cured finishes feature a combination of qualities from both oil- and water-based polyurethane. Like oil-based mixtures, moisture-cured finishes offer higher durability and better water-resistance due to their thicker solvent density on top of their cured, hard surface. They take up to a day to fully dry but require only one to two coats. Moisture-cured finishes also come in clear and amber-tinted coats, providing you with two different types of looks similar to those that the other polyurethane finishes create.


For many years, wax has been a tried-and-true wood finish. It’s one of the oldest types of finishes available, and it features the most organic composition compared to other options. It consists of beeswax, carnauba, linseed, paraffin, or various other plant species. Sometimes it comes mixed with enhancements for added properties, but for the most part, it includes all-natural and nontoxic ingredients.

Different wax compositions provide varying characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages, but overall, wax finishes create smooth wooden surfaces and protect against surface-level scratches. Compared to other finishes, they take the shortest amount of time to dry, taking only a couple of minutes. Once applied and slightly dried, wax finishes need buffering to smooth any bumps, remove excess drippage, and evenly distribute the wax. Although wax dries quickly and creates a ready-to-use finish in under an hour, it requires multiple reapplications in the long run.


Like wax, shellac is a veteran wood finish that dries within minutes and consists of natural ingredients. Shellac derives from the resin that lac bugs produce and secrete. It creates a warm-toned, shiny stain that seals various surfaces in a glaze.

Due to its quick-drying capabilities, shellac is easy to layer. However, despite the number of coats you layer on, it still provides minimal protection against wear and tear. The thin layers act as a surface barrier against minor scratches and scuff marks, but besides that, shellac lacks other protective qualities.


Varnishes consist of a mixture of various resins, from synthetic resins such as acrylic to natural resins such as pine resin. They also sometimes include shellac and polyurethane. Depending on the resin mixture, varnishes possess a wide range of properties. However, most varnishes feature water-, UV-, and abrasion-resistance. Since varnishes come as various resin blends, they come in clear as well as tinted solutions. They also create thicker coats, adding more layers of protection against wear and tear.

Added Protectants and Properties

All of the various finishes can come with added protectants and properties. Since floors consistently endure foot traffic, heavy weights, and a range of external influences, finishes that include various protective features can best maintain the quality of your wooden floors. Some popular characteristics and enhancements that are often applied to finishes include:

  • UV protection
  • Water-resistance
  • Scratch-resistance
  • Color stain
  • Moisture-resistance
  • Gloss
  • Matte sheens
  • Cured topcoats

The different types of finishes for hardwood floors vary in application and properties. However, they all act as a first-line defense against the various wear and tear that floors endure. The type of finish you choose will depend on your living situation, location, home, and hardwood species. From the Forest offers prefinished engineered wood flooring, providing you with well-protected floors and finishes that’ll last for years before they need a touch-up. Give your wood floors a little love and attention with a refinish using a finish that’s best suited for your needs.

Different Types of Finishes for Hardwood Floors

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