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Finishes for Hardwood Flooring

Finishes for Hardwood Flooring

I love hardwood flooring because of the custom look you can provide. It is a inherently unique and every piece of wood is different. So apart from the type (species of wood) and the stain color, what can you do to make the floor more custom? Well, the answer is the finish. We use two types of finishes here at Textures, Polyurethane and Oil. The Oil finish is a more traditional finish that really provides a nice petina to the wood. Polyurethane is a topical protection that sits on the surface of the wood and is applied in layers.

An Example of Semi Gloss on a Poly'd floor


A natural oil finish cannot be compared with today’s more popular acrylic, polyurethane, and aluminum oxide finishes. These finishes protect the floor by forming a wear layer, in fact a plastic film on the surface of the floor. They scratch and get dull over time and cannot be spot repaired. Only a costly re-coating of the entire floor is necessary every so often for complete rejuvenation. An oil finish penetrates the wood fibers to harden them while not altering the natural beauty of the wood. With no visual film on the surface, oiled floors are distinguishable by their elegant patina. They are easy to care for and are repairable. An oiled floor never need to be sanded, only regular applications of a Maintenance Oil are necessary to nourish the wood and bring the luster back. 

An Oil rubbed floor-- notice a more soft look

Natural-Oiled Floors vs. Polyurethanes 

Natural oils have been used to finish wood for hundreds of years. Our natural oil finishes are made with linseed oils, an old standby for finishing wood. Polyurethane is the new kid on the block, developed about 50 years ago and its primary design purpose is to make furniture shiny. 

Polyurethane is a plastic made from petroleum, a flammable liquid often used in chemical energy sources such as gasoline and diesel, and which gives polyurethane its distinct “chemical” scent.

 Zero VOC vs. Low VOCs 

Rejuvenating a 325 sq. ft of a Navarre floor project will require approximately 1/5 of a liter of Woca Refresher maintenance oil, which will emit zero VOCs and leave you without that harsh chemical scent. A typical polyurethane floor will require three gallons of finish, one gallon for the sealer coat and two more gallons of the top wear layers. VOCs from polyurethane evaporate into your home at the rate of about 4 lbs. per gallon, which means that 3 gallons of poly used to coat 325 sq.ft equals 12 pounds of VOCs floating around in your home for your family to enjoy. 

Bond and Strengthen vs. Surface Coatings 

The natural oil used to finish  oiled floors is not a surface coating, but is designed to become part of the wood by penetrating, bonding and hardening with the first layer of wood. 

When wood is finished with natural oil, it will dent, it will scratch, and it may be repaired. To bring your Navarre floor back to a fresh state: first, lightly sand the desired area of the floor, then apply a coat of Woca Refresher maintenance oil. It is not necessary to treat the entire floor, only the effected area. Typically, only spot sanding on extreme wear marks and scratches would be necessary, and a total wall-to-wall sanding is normally avoided. 

It’s a much more laborious and disruptive process with cured surface coatings such as polyurethane. Polyurethane is a plastic coating that sits on top of your wood, and acts as surface coating. The purpose of a surface coating is to separate wear and tear from the wood, which polyurethane can achieve, however, a polyurethane floor will never look better then the day of the final finish application. Immediately polyurethane finishes begin picking up small and large scratches – abrasions that defuse the light and pick up dirt – and quickly become visible from all angles. The end of the life of a polyurethane floor is not because it is worn out – it just becomes ugly. This process is accelerated when the floor is damaged by scratches that penetrate the surface coating and expose wood, which happens when dents penetrate the soft wood (NOTE: all wood is soft enough to dent and scratch). Unfortunately, all too often polyurethane floors must be maintained by sanding again and again, eventually exposing nails that hold the floor in place. 

Re coating a polyurethane floor is the recommended maintenance option. When should this be done? It has to be a joint effort, as soon as you have a scar that penetrates the surface coating, or when the floor looks dirty after you wash the floor. This “dirty” look means there is an abundance of surface scratches holding dirt. Scuffing and recoating will remove most of the dirt and provide a smooth cleanable surface. 

Living With vs. Living On 

The vast majority of my polyurethane customers live on their floors. They take off their shoes at the door, they have floor protectors under all furniture, and care to have nothing foul left on the surface. A normal expectation of a polyurethane floor is that it is maintenance free. Homeowners with natural oil finished floors live with their floors. They seem to recognize that wood expands and contracts with the seasons. Some believe this movement is a sign the wood still thinks of itself as being a tree. Feeding wood natural oils supports the notion that you are living with your wood and in turn, the wood responds to appropriate care that’s given. 

Reparability vs. Durability 

Wood is very durable on its own. Natural oils enhance the durable nature of wood, and allow the floor to be easily repaired if damaged. While polyurethanes provide a durable barrier, this barrier also consumes a layer of wood each and every time it is applied. At best there are three to four sandings in a floor’s life before the floor must be replaced. Over time, reparability is more important than durability.

Polyurethane finishes are a more modern approach to finishing a floor and probably the biggest benefit is that you can control sheen. Oil does not allow for this.

Special Thanks to US Floors for some great research.

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