Project Description

Protective Wood Floor Finishes

Add years to the life of your wood floors by applying protective wood finishes.

polyurethane cans


Protective wood floor finishes play a crucial role in prolonging the life of your wood floors. You might not realize it, but the wood stain used on your floors is in fact not protective, it is the clear top coat that does the job. These finishes also add a little shine. You can go subtle with satin or blingy with super glossy.

Factors to consider

VOC Content – Huge strides have been made in the flooring industry to reduce the VOC content levels of floor protective finishes. For those of us that forget high school chemistry, VOC refers to volatile organic compound, a chemical solvent that starts in a liquid form and is released as a gas during the drying process through off-gassing. These gases are toxic and long term exposure can cause eye and skin irritation and damage to your lung and kidneys. The higher the number, the larger the content. Some states such as California have a cap that can be sold in stores. A VOC appropriate respirator mask must be worn.

Ease of Application – Protective wood floor finishes run the gamut when it comes to application and some of the most beautiful and durable finishes require intensive application processes. Polyurethane can be applied using a paint brush, roller or lambs wool applicator. Lambs wool applicators are a preferred method because you can cover a high surface area without the bubbles that rollers might leave. Wax finishes can be applied the same way or by rubbing with a cloth. Oil finishes can be applied with a steel trowel or buffed in my hand.

Wax finish information

Wax Finishes are centuries old and harden to create a protective seal.

Pros Cons
  • Dry time is quick. Can be walked on a few hours after application.
  • Spot repair is possible, as opposed to refinishing the entire floor.
  • Easy maintenance, but requires it regularly.
  • Not as durable as polyurethane finishes.
  • Too much wax can attract dirt and debris, leaving the floors feeling gunky.
  • Water turns the finish white.
wood floor oil finishes

There are various types of oil finishes out there.

Pros Cons
  • Easy to apply but does require some good sanding.
  • Natural looking when using the products that do not have a film finish.
  • Some products have low VOCs, i.e. healthier for you and the environment.
  • On the expensive side.
  • Products must be mixed on site due to their quick drying. Which requires a fast working time.
  • Poor chemical resistance
  • Require periodic maintenance.
water based polyurethanes

Water-based polyurethanes leave a clear finish and an easy clean up.

Pros Cons
  • Lower VOC content than other polyurethanes.
  • Leaves a clear finish which might be desirable for light colored woods.
  • Soap and water clean up.
  • Starts the drying process quickly, so you need to work quickly
  • Not as durable as oil-based polyurethanes.
  • Cost more than oil-based polyurethanes.
oil modified polyurethane

Oil-modified polyurethanes give you the durability of oil-based and easy clean up of water-based.

Pros Cons
  • Durability of an oil-based
  • Soap and water clean up like a water-based.
  • Lower VOC content.
  • Shorter dry time than oil-based but still gives you enough time to get a nice flow and finish
  • Leaves an amber glow.
  • On the expensive side.
  • Not as durable as oil-based polyurethanes.
  • Cost more than oil-based polyurethanes.
oil-based polyurethanes

Oil-based polyurethanes provide you with superior durability but high VOC contents.

Pros Cons
  • Superior durability out of all the polyurethane options.
  • Longer dry time which gives you time to perfect the flow and finish.
  • More inexpensive than water-based.
  • Drying times are longer than water-based. Start at 8 hrs and can last up to 24 hrs.
  • Requires a very light sanding between coats to produce a smooth finish.
  • Requires mineral spirits for clean up, i.e. more chemicals.
  • Much higher VOC content than other polyurethanes.

Note: A portion of the information was taken from Hardwood Floors Magazine. A great resource for in depth information on wood floors.

 ottom Line. Definitely take into consideration the VOC content of products. The smells are pretty strong! Think about the type of application you want to do – are you good at sanding?