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Breaking Down Floor Finishes

Dogs running, cats jumping, kids throwing, heels clicking, and the trips and falls of everyday life are all enemies of hardwood flooring. A good wood floor finish is a homeowner’s only protection against such calamities. There are two main types of wood finishes to choose from: surface finishes and penetrating finishes.

Surface Finishes

Among surface finishes, which remain on the surface of the wood and provide a protective coating, you have five different choices. Surface finishes are popular because they are durable and easy to maintain. They are a mixture of synthetic resins almost always based in urethane or polyurethane. The five main surface finishes you’ll follow:

  1. Oil-based Urethane finish is common because it is easy to apply. Available in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin sheens, oil-based urethane finish dries in about eight hours and takes on an amber hue with age.
  2. Water-based Urethane dries exceptionally fast and does not yellow with age. If it lacks anywhere it is in durability. However, some manufacturers offer additives which can be mixed with the finish for better strength.
  3. Moisture-cured Urethane is a very strong, solvent-based polyurethane. It gives off strong fumes, is difficult to apply, and is usually used by professionals in commercial settings.
  4. Aluminum Oxide is relatively new to the floor finish world. It is very tough, to the point that manufacturers offer 25-year warranties on it. It is as yet only available through manufacturers on pre-finished products.
  5. Conversion Varnish is a clear, non-yellowing floor finish that also gives off a powerful odor. It should be applied by professionals only.

Penetrating Finishes

Penetrating finishes include a stain and wax. Just as you would think, the stain penetrates the wood to provide a protective seal. After that, the wax is applied to form a low-gloss, satin sheen. Hardwood floors with penetrating finishes require specific maintenance. Water should never be used to clean the floor. Only solvent-based waxes or cleaners, designed for wood floors, should be used. Typically, as the wood wears, thin layers of wax are reapplied to restore sheen and revive the look of the hardwood.

Alternate Finishes

Along with the finishes listed above, there are two other finishes that manufacturers have recently begun employing to increase the life of their products.

  • Swedish finishes are tough, resin-based finishes that are from…guess where…Sweden. They are also known as acid-cure urethanes. They are clear, fast-drying, and emit professional-grade odors.
  • Acrylic finishes are as close to rock-hard as floor finishes get. The acrylic finish itself is forced into the wood’s pores during the manufacturing process. This type of finish is very high-end in terms of cost and is typical of commercial settings.

Knowing what type of finish should be applied, or is already applied, to your wood floor is critical for proper maintenance. Again, most of these finishes have strong fumes and should either be applied by a professional or with plenty of ventilation. It’s easy to get free estimates on finishing or installation of your hardwood floors.

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