Wax Finish

What is the best finish to use on wood flooring?

How to choose the right wood finish for you!

After having to pick the type of flooring, pick the supplier and then pick the flooring installer/floor finisher, sometimes these final decisions like the right finish can seem overwhelming! There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to a wood finishes. Lets review the options.

Wax Finishes

Wax Finish

Easy to applyNot as durable as polyurethane finishes
Low Luster/MatteStains more easily
Penetrates into woodNeeds regular upkeep (refinishing)
Mild odorMust be completely removed before applying a polyurethane finish

Wax finishes have been around for a long time. It was the main finish choice through the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s until polyurethane became available in the 1970’s. It can be applied as a DIY job but it is labor intensive. If you are specifically looking for a matte look to your floors, then it is a good choice. However, beware that it does take more upkeep and doesn’t seal the wood as well as other finishes.

Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil Based Polyurethane Finish

From thefamilyhandyman.com: Oil Based Polyurethane yellows the wood as seen above (right side).

Less expensive than water-based polyurethaneLong drying time (8 to 10 hours between coats)
Extremely toughHigh odor during application; high VOCs
Easy to applyGets yellow with age (benefit to some)

Oil based polyurethane finishes have been used in the wood floor finishing industry since they came on the scene in the 1970’s.  The sheen is based on personal preference, from high gloss to satin. Chances are a professional flooring finisher will recommend this type of finish because of its low cost. If the project is being finished before moving in, then it could be a good choice. However, we feel like its negatives outweigh the pros especially if it is a remodel job while living in the residence. The long drying time and high odor levels makes home flooring refinishing a long, smelly procedure.

Water-Based Polyurethane

Fast drying time (2 to 4 hours between coats)More expensive than oil polyurethane
Low odor; low VOCs (eco-friendly)Slightly less tough than oil polyurethane
Doesn’t yellow like oil based polyurethane
Easy to apply; good for DIYers

Water-Based Polyurethane is the winner in our books. It is tough and dries quickly which means you can re-finish and not necessarily have to move out of the property (depending on individual sensitivity).  It will not yellow over time, ensuring it is a long term investment that will pay off. On top of all that, the low VOC means you are making a healthier choice for your family and the environment. Similar to oil based polyurethane, the sheen is based on personal preference. Professionals Tip: For high traffic areas, pick satin or a low gloss option to help keep floors looking new.


  • Thanks for the information on the different types of wood finishes, such as how oil based polyurethane can have different sheens and is inexpensive. Taking all the different aspects into consideration, such as the look, how to apply it, price, and the outcome would probably be important when choosing which one to use on your flooring. I’d imagine that having a professional apply it could help you save time and make sure it’s done correctly so the outcome looks and works great. If you get a new floor installed, it would probably be a good idea to talk to a professional about the different types of wood finishes they offer and how they’d work with your type of flooring.

    July 25, 2017

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