When it comes to hardwood flooring, choosing the right floor finish is just as important as selecting the right wood species and grade. The finish determines how your hardwood floors will look and perform, so it’s important to choose the right one. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the different types of finishes and how to choose the right finish for your hardwood floors.

hardwood floor with the start of a finish application

Types of Finishes

There are two main types of finishes for hardwood floors: surface finishes and penetrating finishes.

Surface finishes are applied to the surface of the wood and create a protective barrier. These finishes are typically made of polyurethane, acrylic, or a blend of both. They are the most popular type of finish because they are durable, easy to maintain, and come in a range of sheens from matte to high gloss.

Penetrating finishes, on the other hand, seep into the wood fibers and create a protective seal from within. These finishes are typically made of oils or waxes and are less durable than surface finishes. They give hardwood floors a natural look and are easy to repair, but they require more maintenance than surface finishes.

While there are other types of finish these are the ones that we most commonly deal with in our business. Check out our work.

Within each type of finish, there are several options to choose from. Here’s a breakdown of the most common finishes and their characteristics:

  1. Water-Based Finish: A water-based finish is an eco-friendly option that has a low fumes and low VOC emission, making it safer for the environment and your health. It’s easy to clean, dries quickly, and comes in various sheens ranging from matte to high gloss. We use Bona for a lot of applications as they are accessible and affordable.
  2. Oil-Based Finish: Oil-based finishes may not last quite as long as a water based finish has better resiliency, looking better for the life of the finish. This makes it ideal for high-traffic areas. It takes longer to dry, emits more VOCs, and has a slight yellow tint that deepens over time. It’s also resistant to scratches and chemicals, making it an excellent choice for households with children and pets.
  3. Penetrating Finish: A penetrating finish is a natural-looking option that seeps into the wood fibers and creates a protective seal from within. It’s typically made of oils or waxes and requires more maintenance than surface finishes. It gives hardwood floors a natural look and is easy to repair, but it’s less resistant to wear and scratching than surface finishes.
  4. Ceramic Coating: A ceramic coating is a newer option that offers superior wear and scratch resistance. It creates a thin, hard layer that protects the wood from scratches, scuffs, and stains. It’s also easy to clean and maintain, making it a popular choice for busy households. It’s not recommended for DIY installation and requires a professional to apply. Our ceramic coating option also comes with a lifetime wear guarantee. 

It’s important to note that no finish is indestructible. All finishes can be damaged, nothing can protect your floor from ice skating indoors or 37 gallons of animal urine. It sounds quite silly writing this, and I’m sure to you as well reader, but you’d be surprised at what people have asked of their floors to endure in the past. 

Choosing the Right Finish

When choosing the right finish for your hardwood floors, consider the following factors:

  1. Durability: If you have high-traffic areas, pets, or children, choose a durable finish like ceramic.
  2. Sheen: The sheen of the finish can affect the overall look of your hardwood floors. Matte finishes give floors a more natural look, while high gloss finishes make them appear more formal.
  3. Maintenance: Some finishes require more maintenance than others. Surface finishes like water-based polyurethane and ceramic coating are easy to maintain, while penetrating finishes like natural oil require more upkeep.
  4. Environment: If you’re concerned about the environment, choose a natural oil finish or water-based polyurethane, which have low VOC emissions.
  5. Personal preference: Ultimately, the finish you choose should be based on your personal preference and the overall look you’re trying to achieve.


In conclusion, selecting the right finish for your hardwood floors is crucial to achieving the desired look and performance. Consider factors such as durability, sheen, maintenance, and personal preference when making your decision. By understanding the different types of finishes and their characteristics, you can make an informed choice that meets your specific needs. Whether you opt for a water-based polyurethane for its low VOC emissions and easy maintenance, or an acid-cured finish for its durability and scratch resistance, the right finish can help you enjoy beautiful and long-lasting hardwood floors for years to come.


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