6 Types of Hardwood Floor Finishes

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With all the new advances and VOC standards there are many new wood finishes, each with its own specific feature that is useful for specific purpose, to choose from. It is important to compare them all before purchasing or using them on your floor. Depending on their composition they might also require following their own directions for successful finishing. So here are some of the most common hardwood floor finishes.


Shellac is a resin developed from the secretions of lac beetles. The resin is broken down into flakes and dissolved in alcohol to give it a liquid form. Hence it is measured in pound cut, that is the amount of resin present in the liquid. The VOC, volatile organic compounds, levels of shellac are comparatively less than other finishes. Shellac by itself is completely harmless and is used as a coating for candy and pills.The alcohol used as a liquid base is what makes it volatile.

Oil Modified Polyurethane

Also known as OMU, it is simply polyurethane with an oil base as the solvent. Most of the oil bases are mineral oils, but some can also have water in them. These kind of finishes are easy to use, slow drying and might be odorous. Some new VOC compliant finishes take longer to dry as they are made from bigger particles and have high build per coat.

Waterborne Finishes

Waterborne finishes come in different kind of compositions. Some might have acrylics, or polyurethane, or a combination. The VOC levels are usually less for all waterborne coatings. Unlike other finishes, waterborne coatings are clear in color and works well on maple and hickory. They have relatively faster drying times and are available for both residential and commercial areas. By nature waterborne finishes are not flammable unlike others.

Moisture-Cure Urethane

Moisture-cure urethane finishes as they say draw moisture from the surrounding environment to dry and cure. Hence it is ideal to apply in climates with optimal humidity. High humidity causes it to dry faster making it difficult to apply where dry climate makes it longer for the finish to dry. It is recommended because of the volatile nature of the finish to wear full suits and masks while application.


Wax finishes for hardwood floors are made from the leaves of a tree called Copernical Prunifera. Mineral spirits are added to the wax to create a liquid solution for applying on the wood. Though the wax itself is safe the mineral spirits are volatile.

Natural Oil Finish

There are many types of natural oil finishes. Using penetrating oils to finish the wood doesn’t leave a film on the surface as it is absorbed by the wood. Hard wax oils on the other hand do leave a film on the surface. And then there are hybrid oils. These oil finishes are easy to use and give a natural look to the wood. Using oils helps the wood adjust faster as unlike other finishes there is no film that forms a barrier to the atmosphere.

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