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WHAT FINISH FOR YOUR HARDWOOD FLOOR?

Choosing the right finish for your hardwood floor will enhance its beauty for many years. A finish protects your floor from everyday wear, dirt, and moisture, and provides color and luster that give your floor its own personality.

You can choose from two types of finishes: surface finishes or penetrating finishes.

SURFACE FINISHES

These are the most popular choice and involve applying a stain to achieve a particular color, followed by a top coat of polyurethane or varnish to give a protective coat. Surface finishes are durable, they resist moisture, and are easy to maintain. There are four options for the top coat, and each has its own benefits:

OIL-BASED URETHANE is the most commonly used floor finish. Available in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin sheens, oil-based urethane is generally applied in two or three coats, with drying time of up to 8 hours for each coat. This type of finish emits fumes as it dries, so adequate ventilation is important. Clean up is accomplished with a solvent similar to paint thinner. An oil-based urethane finish ambers with age.

WATER-BASED URETHANE provides a clear, non-yellowing finish and produces fewer odors than other choices. This product dries quickly, and clean up can be accomplished with soap and water. Some manufacturers make available additives called "cross-linkers" that can be mixed into the water-based finishes for added durability.

MOISTURE-CURED URETHANE is a solvent-based polyurethane that is more durable and more moisture-resistant than other surface finishes. It is mostly used in commercial, high-traffic settings like stores or offices. This finish is available in a satin or gloss non-yellowing formula, as well as one that will take on an amber hue with age. This finish has a strong odor and its application is best left to the professional.

CONVERSION VARNISH is a clear, non-yellowing product that dries in about 8 hours. Like moisture-cured urethane it produces a very strong odor and should only be applied by a skilled wood flooring professional.

PENETRATING STAINS AND FINISHES

These finishes do exactly what their name implies: they penetrate the wood to form a protective seal. The stains soak in to provide color, and a wax coating gives a low-gloss satin sheen that can be maintained with additional thin application. These finishes require special care—water-based products should never be used to clean or maintain the floor, only solvent-based waxes, buffing pastes, or cleaning liquids specifically made for wax-finished wood floors.

SHEEN

High gloss, low gloss, satin finish—your choice is a matter of personal preference. Keep in mind, however, that high gloss finishes show scuffs and scratches more readily than low gloss or satin finishes. High gloss finishes reflect more light and are typically used in more commercial or contemporary settings, while satin finishes reflect less light and are favored for more traditional settings.

EXTRA-DURABLE FINISHES

The latest trends in finishes include products designed to further extend the life of hardwood floors and make them more durable than ever. Some polyurethane finishes contain aluminum oxide to enhance the abrasion-resistance qualities of the floor. Some manufacturers report that this finish is 10 times more abrasion-resistant than other wood finishes, and are guaranteed for up to 25 years.

Swedish finishes are resin-based finishes that originated in Sweden. They form a tough film that is thin enough to allow the grain of the wood to be felt. Swedish finishes do not require waxing and can be recoated without sanding.

Acrylic finishes provide an extremely hard, durable barrier to dirt, moisture, and wear and tear because the finish is actually forced into the pores of the wood at the factory. Acrylic-impregnated floors are among the most expensive and are often used in commercial settings.

Article courtesy of the American Hardwood Information Center.