Choosing the Right Sheen for Your Hardwood Floors

Designer Insights

What is the best finish gloss for my hardwood flooring project?


We get this question all of the time. In fact, if you call us, we’ll make sure that you’re getting the sheen that reflects the look you want. You can pick the perfect wood, color, width, and length, but the completed aesthetic of the project will vary greatly depending on the sparkle of your finish.


Gloss, Luster and Sheen what do they Mean?

Gloss describes the ability of a surface to reflect light.  The higher the gloss level, the more the surface directly reflects light. The lower the gloss level, the more the surface absorbs and diffuses light.  For flooring gloss levels, gloss is measured at a 60 degree angle, roughly equivalent to looking at the surface while standing. The sheen is derived by the amount of reflection at this angle using a gloss meter.


The gloss meter determines luster by beaming light at the floor using this 60 degree angle then compares this value with the black-glass standard, which has a defined refractive index of 100 gloss units. Luster is the percentage of this 100 gloss unit standard (e.g., 50 percent luster)


What are the choices?


There are three main classifications of gloss on the market: matte, semi-gloss and high-gloss. Recently, a finish that falls between matte and semi-gloss called satin has appeared.


Matte (25-35 percent Luster)

Matte Finishes for Family Areas

Matte sheens possess very little shine and reflect the least amount of light. It’s the traditional choice for the most natural, authentic appearance. When used over a natural solid or engineered wood floor, it creates the illusion of raw wood but with the protection of a durable polyurethane finish. Matte sheens work well in high traffic residential homes and for commercial applications because they show the least amount of dirt and scratches. You want to use matte sheens when the grain of the wood is the featured attraction. It can add an earthier feel to a room.



Satin (40%-50% Luster)


A satin sheen is a softer, flatter shine. They’ve become popular because they reflect more light than mattes but hide the effects of wear better than the higher gloss finishes. They also work great in higher traffic residential homes and for commercial uses. Designers like satin sheens in kitchens and places where they’re trying to add more light. They can be used to balance where the eye is attracted.


Higher gloss sheens in kitchens might draw the eye downward and take the focus off of back splashes and granite countertops. In this case, a sheen finish can lift the focus and maintain an overall esthetic.


Semi Gloss Hardwood Finishes from Columbia Flooring

Semi-Gloss (55%-70% Luster)


A semi-gloss sheen is in the middle of the spectrum in terms of shine and light reflection. You want to use it to keep the focus on the color and grain of the wood. It will create a more dramatic effect than a matte finish but in a more natural way. It hides scratches and other wear well enough to be used in almost any area.


High-Gloss (>75% percent Luster)


High-gloss finishes are the highest of all sheen levels. This is your first choice for a lustrous finish with added depth and brilliance. It provides a clear window and casts a spotlight on the beauty of your hardwood floors. High gloss finishes can show imperfections so they require much more attention than the other sheens, but with modern pre-finished floors, cleaning and maintenance are much less of a chore than they used to be. Regular sweeping and mopping will reasonably preserve floors with a high gloss finish.


How do I figure out what is best for my project?


Floor sheen is just another option.


A high gloss, natural white oak floor showing little grain in an ultra-modern Upper West Side apartment with white walls and high ceilings will enhance and already bright, dramatic look. The same flooring in a matte finish and a darker stain would bring life to a rustic cabin.


We sell plenty of unfinished heart pine and Southern Yellow Pine. Some ends up in a country kitchen and as much finds its way into a multi-million dollar ski chalet at a resort in Colorado.


Let your mind run free!


You have plenty of tools: wood species, color, width, length, and sheen. Find the perfect combination that fits best with your project. If you need help, we’re always there for you.