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Getting to Know Floor Finishes

Once you’ve chosen to get (or keep) wooden floors, the  next question to consider is: what finish will you use?  Finish technologies have improved significantly in recent years, and the vast majority of our customers choose one of three kinds of finish: oil-based urethane, water-based urethane, and natural oil finishes. Here’s what you should know:

Oil-Based Urethane

  • Pros
    • Less expensive
    • Easy to apply
    • Enhance the colour of many woods
    • Low maintenance
  • Cons
    • Strong odour
    • Petroleum based, they emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds, which are air pollutants)
    • Although very durable, urethanes cannot generally be repaired – they must be sanded off completely and re-applied
    • Can have a “plastic” look to the finish

Water-Based Urethane

  • Pros
    • Easy to apply
    • Clearer in colour
    • Water-based, fewer VOCs, safer for tradespeople, less harmful to the environment
    • Low maintenance
  • Cons
    • Difficult to repair
    • Can have a “plastic” look to the finish

Natural Oils

  • Pros
    • Easy to apply
    • Easy to maintain
    • Easy to repair
    • Natural ingredients, very low or no VOCs, no solvents
    • Natural-looking finish
  • Cons
    • Require routine maintenance of the oil
    • Can be vulnerable if not maintained
    • Not as resistant to cleansers, alcohol and urine

In general, when a finish that sits on the surface of the wood (such as urethanes) gets damaged, it can expose is easy to see the bare wood underneath.  Finishes that soak into the wood (such as natural oils) don’t show scratches as readily & can be easily repaired. So even though urethane finishes are “harder,” in high-traffic areas a natural oil finish may be a better idea.

Pre-finished floors also can have urethane or natural oil finishes, so the same considerations apply: does this area get a lot of traffic? Is repairability important? Are you concerned about the use of solvents, VOCs, and air quality in your home?