The Ultimate Guide to Hardwood Flooring: Finish Options

There have never been more finish options in the hardwood flooring market than there are today, and probably never more confusion about which one to choose. Here’s what you need to know to prevent the wrong finish from ruining your hardwood floor!


Hardwood Floor Finishes Options and Types

When choosing the right type of finish for your hardwood floors, consider your lifestyle and maintenance preferences. All hardwood floors will require routine maintenance, such as sweeping, dusting, or mopping, to keep them looking new and beautiful. However, different hardwood flooring finishes will have a big impact on how you care for your floor long-term, as well as how your floor will look in the years to come. Here is a summary of the most common finish types found in today’s hardwood flooring market.


First Thing’s First – What is a Hardwood Flooring Finish?

A finish is a top coat (see blue star in below picture) that will protect your floor from everyday wear and tear. The finish is also what gives the floor some of its color and luster. Finishes are a great way to personalize your hardwood floors. Whether you like light-colored wood or dark, a satin finish or high-gloss, the options are endless.


Hardwood Flooring Layers - Engineered Hardwood - Top Coat Finish Options


Prefinished Hardwood Floors or Unfinished Hardwood Floors? 

Prefinished hardwood floors are also called “factory finished”. Unfinished floors are also called   “site-finished”.

Hardwood Flooring Finish - Prefinished or Unfinished

When considering finishes, you need to decide whether you want to apply it yourself or buy pre-finished flooring. Prefinished floors have the finish applied during manufacturing, so all you have to do is install them and they’re good to go. Unfinished floors on the other hand have the finish applied on-site at the customer’s home.


  • Prefinished Hardwood Floors 

Hardwood Flooring - Prefinished - Finish Options

Hardwood flooring with a factory-applied finish is not only faster and easier to install, but it performs better over time. To produce the highest quality hardwood flooring, stains and finish coatings are applied and dried in a factory-controlled environment. High-performance aluminum oxide urethane coatings are subjected to as many as seven passes of ultraviolet light to cure the urethane to the wood and preserve its color, thus creating an extremely durable finish. By comparison, site-finished floors typically receive only 2-3 coats of polyurethane and then are allowed to cure by air drying.

At Flooring Creations, we only carry prefinished hardwood floors, for a hassle-free installation and their great warranties ( many them have a warranty for up to 35 years for residential use). Our prefinished floors are typically 2.5 times harder than untreated hardwood floors of the same species. Plus, they have superior scratch and stain resistance.

Advantages of Prefinished Hardwood Floors:

• Less time to install: flooring arrives already sanded and finished
• No drying or curing time required – floors are ready to walk on immediately after installation
• No strong odors or dust from sanding during installation
• No need to relocate family during finishing
• Prefinished floors come with a manufacturer’s warranty against board defects
• Can be sanded and refinished multiple times

Prefinished Hardwood Floors Finish Options: 

• UV-cured – Factory finishes are cured with Ultraviolet lights instead of heat.
• Polyurethane – A transparent and durable finish applied as a wear layer.
• Acrylic-urethane – A variation on Polyurethane with similar benefits.
• Aluminum Oxide – Often added to the urethane finish to increase abrasion resistance.
• Acrylic Impregnated – Traditional wood floors that have been injected with high-strength acrylics for added durability against dents, dings and damage.

  • Unfinished Hardwood Floors

Hardwood Flooring - Unfinished

Unfinished hardwood flooring ships from the factory in its natural state. Sanding, staining, and finishing are all done on site after the boards are installed. End and edge treatments are typically limited to “square”.

Advantages of Unfinished Hardwood Floors:
• Can be easier to match existing hardwood flooring or other interior decor
• Custom color staining
• Easier for installer to do customized elements, like inlays
• Some plank widths and exotic wood species are available only as unfinished    hardwood flooring
• Can be sanded and refinished multiple times
• Less expensive than prefinished boards, but there are additional expenses  associated with finishing on site

Unfinished Hardwood Floors Finish Options:
• Water Based Urethane – Water is added to the chemical composition of the polyurethane finish.
• Solvent Based Urethane – Oil is added to the chemical composition of the polyurethane finish.
• Moisture Cured Urethane – Similar to solvent based urethanes, but requires humidity in the air to cure.

  • Which Should You Choose?

Whether you choose prefinished or unfinished flooring depends on your preference and your particular project. If you’re building a new home, for example, you may prefer to have your hardwood floors installed on site. For existing homes, prefinished floors install faster and easier – and there’s no inconvenience to your family or dust and fumes to deal with.


What Are The Different Types of Finishes?

Regardless of whether you opt for pre-finishing or finishing the floor yourself, you will need to know what types of finishes are available. There are two kinds of hardwood finishes: surface finishes and penetrating finishes.


Surface Finishes
Surface finishes are the most popular kind. They require a stain to achieve the desired color and then a top coat of polyurethane or varnish for protection. Surface finishes are easy to maintain and quite durable. The four surface finishes are:

Oil-Based Urethane – The most common surface finish, oil-based urethane is applied in two or three coats and is available in gloss, semi-gloss and satin sheens. The downside to this type of finish is the drying time — up to 8 hours for each coat. You will also need adequate ventilation. And, keep in mind that oil-based urethane finishes do yellow with age.

Water-Based Urethane – A good option for the DIY-er, this finish dries quickly and cleans up easily with soap and water. Water-based urethane has less odor than oil-based urethane and doesn’t yellow over time.

Moisture-Cured Urethane – Slightly more durable than others, this finish is most often used on commercial projects and is best handled by a professional.

Conversion Varnish – Because of the strong odor and fumes, this finish should only be applied by a professional.

Penetrating Finishes
Penetrating finishes penetrate the wood deeper than surface finishes. The finish soaks into the wood and then a wax is applied to give a low-gloss sheen. With this finish, wax needs to be reapplied periodically and only certain cleaners can be used on the floor. For this reason, surface finishes may be a better bet for the non-professional installer.

Sheen Finishes
Next, as if there weren’t enough options already, you also have to select the sheen of your finish. Sheen is the shine of the floor. You can choose from high gloss (very shiny), low gloss or satin finish.

Though high-gloss finishes look professional, they show scratches more easily. Low-gloss or satin finishes are typically used in residential hardwood floor installations. Keep in mind that if you go with prefinished flooring, you will need to make the finishing decisions when you order the product.



Want Some Help Selecting The Best Flooring and It’s Finish Type For Your Home? 

Contact us here at Flooring Creations to set up a FREE DESIGN CONSULT where we can go over the whole processing of selecting flooring- from the type of flooring and the finish of it, to what flooring products will have the best aesthetics and functionality to compliment the existing elements in your home, and everything in between!