Types of Flooring Finishes

Published on Thursday, December 17th, 2020

Types of Flooring Finishes

Whether you’re building or remodeling your home, you will come to the point of needing a certain flooring finish. Once you install that perfect wood floor, it will become necessary to apply the coating for extra protection and enhanced style. That will have a huge impact on the aesthetic of your home and the lifespan of the floor. Depending on the applied type, the floor will last for longer and gain a natural or supper glossy look you see only in fashion magazines. 

Still, choosing the perfect option among many types of flooring finishes is not always easy. There are a variety of colors and styles to mix and match for satisfying results, and you will want to consider the most convenient and durable options as well. Here is a list of some options you can choose from and the pros and cons of each one of them. Hopefully, that will help you make the best decision for your application. 

Polyurethane Finish

Polyurethane is a popular flooring solution ever since 1970. It came like a superior floor coating because of the tough and easy-to-apply formula, which hasn’t changed over the years. Polyurethane is still a durable and convenient option that comes with a water or oil-based formula. 


Water-based polyurethane is a modern flooring finish that has low toxicity and odors. It applies clear and dries super quickly. The main benefit of this type of coating is user convenience and a natural look. Water-based polyurethane preserves the wood color and gives a glossy, semi-glossy, and satin finish to the surface. 


  • Provides a clear and durable finish without odors
  • Resistant to scratches and damages
  • Gives the surface a natural and fresh look
  • Available in different sheen levels
  • Applies in a breeze and dries fast
  • Cleans up well with soap and water 


  • A pricier option, especially compared to the oil-based polyurethane
  • Doesn’t give the wood a deep, rich glow
  • Frequent reapplication might be needed because of the watery formula


Oil-based polyurethane gives the wood a warm amber color. It forms a tough film to stay longer on the surface and protect it from excessive use. Oil-based polyurethane is highly popular because it requires low maintenance and proves to be super glossy. 


  • An affordable and durable option
  • Thicker than water-based polyurethane
  • Gives a surface a warm finish
  • Available in different sheen levels
  • Easy to clean


  • Can have strong odors
  • Dries slower than its water-based counterpart
  • Can change the color after a while and become yellowish
  • Spot-refinish is not an option, only full-floor makeover

Moisture-Cured Urethane Finish

This is a durable finish that makes an upgrade from water and oil-based polyurethane. Compared to these two options, moisture-cured urethane is a tad tougher and more durable. It’s somewhat tricky to apply but makes an excellent option for every residential and commercial application. 


  • One of the hardest flooring finishes
  • Suitable for both residential and commercial purposes
  • Dries quickly and allows for multiple coats per day
  • Incredible durability


  • Tricky to apply and requires professional help
  • Strong fumes
  • Expensive

Oil Finishes

Along with the oil-based polyurethane, there are other similar products based on oils of some sort. They penetrate the wood deeply, giving it a natural shine and more protection from moisture. Oil-based floor finishes are also easy to apply, so homeowners can get the job done all on their own and save some extra cash. 


  • Enhance the color of the wood and give it a natural shine
  • Allows for easy application and additional touch-ups
  • Give the wood moisture-resistant properties
  • Removes scratches and scuff marks


  • Takes a long time to dry
  • Might require several coats
  • Need extra maintenance, particularly using a special cleaner every few months
  • Not very durable

Wax Finishes

Wax is one of the oldest types of flooring finishes that is still used widely. It is easy to repair and dry and looks good on different flooring options. On top of that, wax flooring finishes are the least expensive option. The only thing that makes them less favorable is the need for high maintenance. 


  • A matte or low-sheen surface gives the floor a warm feel
  • Dries quickly
  • Easy to repair
  • Durable
  • The least expensive option


  • The application requires extra elbow grease
  • Needs regular buffing and recoating
  • Low scratch resistance

Acid-Cured (Swedish) Finishes

Acid-cured flooring finishes, also called Swedish flooring finishes because of their origins, are extremely durable and reserved for pro applications. Some would say they hold up better than polyurethane. This flooring finish is ideal for smooth-textured surfaces and exotic woods that need all the protection they can get. It also looks incredibly on all types of floors and matches every interior style. 


  • Extremely durable and resistant to damage
  • Ideal for surfaces that require extra protection
  • Dries after two to four hours
  • Suitable for every wood surface


  • High toxicity levels
  • Strong odors that linger for a while
  • Requires professional help for the application
  • The most expensive option 


The lacquer flooring finish is another highly popular option. It sits on the top of the wood without sinking deep in like oil. That allows for superior shine and gives the room a modern look. Lacquer is also a convenient option for DIYers who want to apply a flooring finish on their own. 


  • Protects the floor and gives it a glossy coat
  • Doesn’t sink in the wood like oil
  • Water-resistant
  • Durable
  • Easy to apply
  • Budget-friendly


  • Scratches and scuffs easily
  • Even the smallest dirt particles are highly noticeable
  • Can’t be repaired in patches but needs to be sanded completely
  • Demanding maintenance


Shellac is an old flooring finish solution that hasn’t been used so frequently in modern times. It’s mostly present in houses built before 1970 and used for refinishing floors. Because it’s not compatible with modern finishes, shellac can be coated only with another layer of shellac. The good thing is, this flooring finish is easy to repair and lasts for quite a while. 


  • Natural and non-toxic product
  • Easy to work with
  • Allows for quick repairs and touch-ups
  • Affordable


  • Not extremely durable
  • Susceptible to stains and damages
  • Must be recoated frequently
  • Not compatible with modern floor finishes

Types of Flooring Finishes FAQ

We are well aware that all these details about different types of floor finishes can be quite overwhelming. To clear up some of the confusion, we answer frequently asked questions about flooring coatings. These are mainly focused on the maintenance of flooring finishes because most people are worried about the upkeep and convenience that comes with each of them. 

What is the best way to maintain my floor?

It depends on the floor and coating type, but most of them need to be cleaned regularly. The process involves using a concentrated cleaner or some mild soap mixed with water. The liquid is then applied to the surface with a dampening cloth or a mot. Overall, the cleaning process is pretty straightforward. The only thing you should avoid is using abrasive cleaners. They can significantly damage the surface and do more harm than good. 

What is the most durable floor finish?

Moisture-cured urethane finish and polyurethane finishes are among the toughest ones, but the other ones are not far behind. The least durable one is shellac. Oil-based finishes also tend to show damages quickly after the application but are easy to repair. 

How to remove scratches from wood floors?

Some flooring finishes don’t show scratches and scuffs, so you don’t have to worry about frequent repairs. However, others are not that resilient, and you have to apply a proper oil on the damaged area to restore the look. 

It’s good to keep in mind that not all flooring finishes can be restored partially. Some require treating the entire floor. Make sure to double-check this before applying the finish on the surface, so you can know what to expect. 

Which Flooring Finish To Choose

When choosing the flooring finish, we all tend to lean toward the one that matches our aesthetic ideals. Those who prefer natural options and want to add another warm tone to their homes will opt for oil finishes. Polyurethane is more suitable for those who favor modern interior design and want to follow new trends. 

No matter which option you prefer the most, we recommend checking them out in person. If you’re about to hire a professional flooring company, have them provide a few samples of each coating. That will allow you to decide from first-hand experience and ask for professional advice on the most suitable types of flooring finishes

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Scottsdale Flooring America has been family owned and operated in the valley for over 20 years. Our team believes in the value of local ownership and deep roots within the community. You will receive expert help finding the perfect flooring in Scottsdale for your home with…

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