How to Choose a Finish for Your Wood Floors

Finishes protect your hardwood flooring and help maintain their beauty. There are various types of wood floor finishes to choose from.

Hardwood floors are very popular with homeowners and homebuyers, and for good reason. Wood flooring is not only attractive, easy to maintain, and cheaper than other options as they won’t require replacement for a long time to come. However, you will need to regularly clean and refinish your wood floors in order to keep them looking stunning. Choosing the right finish for your flooring will protect it from wear, dirt and moisture. It will also enhance the color and texture of your floors.

The frequency with which you will need to refinish your floors depend on how much wear and tear they get. If you’re living alone, or with a spouse, you might not need to refinish more than once every 10 years. But if you have children and pets, refinishing might be required every 3 to 4 years.

Each finish has its distinct advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to find out as much as you can about them before deciding which one to use. Make sure to consider the room, how it’s used and how you want your hardwood floors to look once you’ve applied the finish.


Wax finishes have been around and in use for a very long time and is considered the traditional option for hardwood floors. Certainly, it’s one of the best finishes to use for any type of wood floor. Wax is available in both paste and liquid versions and is perfect for those who prefer natural products. In addition, it is one of the least expensive options when it comes to wood finishes.


  • Easy to apply, making ongoing maintenance simple
  • Fast-drying
  • Easy to repair
  • Mild odor
  • Penetrates into wood
  • Low luster
  • Less expensive


  • Requires regular maintenance (refinishing)
  • Prone to stains
  • Tendency to darken and stain wood over time
  • Difficult to remove once applied
  • More susceptible to surface abrasion caused by fine debris

Tip: If you don’t want your wood floors to darken but still use wax finishes, you can apply a base coat of shellac or sanding sealer before applying the wax.

Water-Based Polyurethane

Nowadays, polyurethanes have become the popular choice for a wood floor finish. The water-based variety is a logical option because of its eco-friendliness; however, years ago, it was passed up in favor of its oil-based counterparts that were more durable. The good news is that the formulation of water-based polyurethane these days are nearly as hardy as, if not hardier, than the oil-based ones. It is a waterborne urethane with a mix of synthetic resins, plasticizers, plus other film forming ingredients. The result is a durable surface that is resistant to moisture.


  • Fast-drying
  • Mild odor
  • Noncombustible
  • Moisture-resistant
  • Low VOCs
  • Clear and doesn’t yellow like oil poly
  • Let the natural color of the wood come through
  • Environmentally-friendly


  • More expensive than oil-based polyurethane
  • Must be applied with focus to avoid brush or lap marks
  • Not very forgiving if unevenly applied
  • More expensive

Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethanes combine plasticizers, synthetic resins and other protective ingredients with a petroleum base. It has a long, proven history of producing a durable, moisture-resistant surface, even when used for areas that get a lot of use, which is why it has been widely-used by professional floor finishers. This type of finish gets yellow with age, which can either be a benefit of drawback, depending on your preference.


  • Easy to apply
  • Less expensive than water-based polyurethane
  • Extremely durable, doesn’t scratch easily


  • Slow-drying (8 to 10 hours between coats)
  • Strong odor (use of respirator recommended; keep away if you have breathing problems; area must be well-ventilated – odor lingers until polyurethane is fully cured)
  • Dents easily
  • High VOCs
  • Flammable