Wood Floor Finishes: Knowing Your Options

When it comes time to lay a wood floor, it's not just the type you'll need to consider. An array of wood floor finishes can give your flooring a variety of looks and levels of durability.


According to the National Wood Flooring Association, surface wood floor finishes are applied directly to the surface of the wood for excellent protection and are extremely popular. Consumers like them because they hold up against water, they last a long time and maintenance is easy. There are several types of surface finishes that fall into the category of urethanes or polyurethanes. They vary in color and have several degrees of scent when applied.

A water-based wood floor finish is known for its durability, and it's a good choice if you want a clear look. This finish is unique in that there's no need to worry about discoloration. It also dries rather quickly — just two or three hours — and has just a mild odor when applied. This is a good option if you're tackling the job yourself and prefer an eco-friendly material.

An oil-based finish will give your floors an amber hue. If you go this route, you'll need to wait about eight hours until the finish is dry, and expect a moderate scent. Oil is a good choice if you're working with professionals but have a tight budget.

For extreme durability, an acid-cured finish is the way to go. However, its initial odor can be a doozy, so you'll need to let the room air out after installation. Nonetheless, it dries in a few hours. Acid is a popular choice for wood flooring in high-end homes, especially with exotic woods or if your flooring is slated for more wear or traffic.

If you're in a humid climate, you might consider a moisture-cured finish. Although the odor is strong when applying, it should dry in two to three hours, and ultimately resists moisture better than other finishes. You can also count on it for its durability. This product is sought-after by busy families with kids and pets underfoot.


If you're after a seal that penetrates and protects — and looks low-lustre and amber — wax on. The odor of a wax finish is mild and drying time varies depending on surrounding conditions. Although water spots will show, the finish is very long-lasting. Wax finishes are popular in older, antique homes.

Penetrating oils are easy to apply yourself, but not as durable as a poly finish. This hardening oil takes a day or two to dry and requires several coats. They're seen frequently in historic homes.

If you're after a quick result, a UV finish will be ready right away. It is cured via ultraviolet light and you can choose your sheen level.

Impregnated acrylic finishes are actually injected into the flooring, providing a hero-worthy durability. But this option is rarely seen in homes; its resilience makes it more appealing to commercial establishments that deal with higher levels of foot traffic during the day.

Whichever finish you opt for, the key to great-looking floors is keeping up with maintenance. Regular sweeping, dust mopping and using specially formulated cleaners will keep the wood vibrant and healthy throughout its life.

This article was brought to you by Colgate-Palmolive Company, the makers of Murphy® Oil Soap. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of the Colgate-Palmolive Company.