Comparing Wood Floor Finishes + Sheens
Finishes and sheens often are the unsung heroes of our wood floors.
The finish gives its all to protect the floor from daily life – spills, scratches, dirt. Along with sheen, finish plays a big role in making us feel good about the floor we live with. It brings out the wood’s grain and character, and draws the spotlight from every window.
Like with any products, the technology of wood floor finishes we use has evolved over time. So in this post we’re highlighting the not-quite-history of finishes.
All these finishes still exist, and to some degree each type probably still is used. But as finish manufacturers have developed their products, as professionals’ skills and preferences have adapted with the new opportunities, and as consumers’ knowledge has grown and their interests for things like low-VOC products have become larger, we’re seeing trends.
Let’s look at what means what when comparing finish types and sheens, from the more popular options to those of, say, a niche use.
Comparing Types of Wood Floor Finish
Water-based finishes are clear and will resist turning yellow over time. They are a lower volatile organic compound (VOC) option, and don’t need as much drying time as an oil-based polyurethane.
Waterborne finishes typically need two to four hours to dry between coats, but often require more coats than oil-based finishes do. They cost more than oil-based finishes.
UV-cured finishes are a water-based product that are cured using ultraviolet (UV) light. That UV finish needs two to three hours to dry before it then can be instantly cured by a professional using specialized UV light equipment.
This option is especially helpful for business owners who want to hire for the work to be done overnight before reopening for business again the following morning.
Penetrating oil finishes penetrate the wood and fill the pores to create a durable seal. Penetrating oil consists of a blend of natural oils.
Penetrating oils are low-VOC and have a mild odor during application. It is a particularly good option to use on antique flooring, as it can darken the wood. The drying time for penetrating oils is one to two days.
Oil-based polyurethane finishes are amber in color and are higher in VOC content than waterborne finishes, though some newer poly finishes are made with lower VOC content than in the past to meet government mandates (where applicable) and consumers' interest in greener products. Drying time for each coat of oil-based poly usually is eight to 10 hours. There is a stronger odor during application than with a water-based finish.
The Older Generation of Finishes
Conversion varnish finishes, also known as Swedish finishes, are clear to slightly amber in color. They have high VOC levels. Drying time takes around two hours per coat. It takes two months to fully cure.
Moisture-cured finishes are clear to amber in color. This type of finish cures by absorbing moisture vapor from the air.
Moisture-cured finishes have much higher VOC levels. They also require a certain expertise by the professionals applying them, for the safety of themselves and the homeowners. Adequate ventilation is critical due to the strong fumes the finish emits during application. Respirators need to be worn during application.
Penetrating wax finishes soak into the wood and harden to create a seal that is low-luster and amber in color. Penetrating wax finishes can be more susceptible to water.
4 Levels of Wood Floor Sheen
Sheen refers to how shiny the floor finish is. That level of shininess is based on reflection of light at a 60-degree angle, or about the angle a floor usually is viewed at by an adult standing on the floor.
There are four levels of sheen on finished wood floors:
Gloss sheen offers the most light reflection, at around 70-75 percent of the light that reaches the floor. Think of gym floors and lanes at the bowling alley. High shine. Glossy floors more readily show dirt, dust and scratches. They require more effort for maintenance.
Semi-gloss measures around 55-65 percent luster. You get your shine, if that’s your preference, but it’s a bit lighter on the maintenance efforts.
Satin is the most popular sheen level, with its 40-50 percent luster level. It’s enough shine from the window light to highlight the beauty of your wood floors without causing anxiety over every streak of dust or every minor ding from a shoe heel when viewed from across the room.
Matte, as you know by now, offers the least shiny finish. It doesn’t show scratches as easily as other sheen levels. To others, the floor seems a shade too dull, as if the floor is worn and in need of a recoat. But this is becoming a more popular choice of sheen.
How to Choose Your Wood Floor Finish and Sheen
Talk with the flooring professional providing your wood flooring. If the floor will be site-finished or refinished, talk with who you are hiring to do that work.
Ask them what is best, and they should ask questions to learn about your personal interests and needs, like: Does your living room double as a tap dance studio? Are you looking for the most environmentally friendly option? Do you have limited time and need a finish that can be applied and cured faster than others? What’s your love level for dry-mopping a wood floor on a scale of one to 10?
Know more. Talk with your Palo Duro outside sales rep or call our inside sales team at 303-375-0280.
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