Home » Best Hardwood Floor Finish [2020 Reviews & Guide]

Best Hardwood Floor Finish [2020 Reviews & Guide]

There are many different finishes which a homeowner can use to protect the surface of his hardwood floor.

Hardwood flooring finish should be effective and durable in order to protect the floor against damage, moisture, scrape and scratches from pets.

In this guide there are a number of colorful and creative decorative finishes that can be applied on the wood floor to offer protection.

Hardwood floor finishes comes in various types that include the following:

1. Water-Based Polyurethane

Water-based polyurethanes made with synthetic resins and plasticizers, is the most popular surface finish for hardwood flooring in United States because it provide a clear finish and a good feel.

It is also good for use on floors that are in need of a clear finish that dries quickly. More importantly, the finish has is smooth and shiny with a low odor a factor that make it easy to apply and clean up. 

However, as it is said, everything good has its worst side or moments, most high-gloss water-based polyurethane hardwood floor finish magnifies every imperfection on it, such as scratches and scrapes from pets or due to movement of furniture.

The following are the top best water-based polyurethanes:


Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish Satin 1 Gallon

This is a high quality budget friendly finish that can be used to protect and enhance the natural color and beauty of a wooden floor.

The waterborne formula comes in 3 different forms; satin, gloss and semi-gloss. Made with oxygen-crosslinking polyurethane, there is no mixing required thus safe and easy to use.  

There is no worry of wastage or outdated product, Bona Mega wood Floor Finish has unlimited pot life. This non-toxic formula does not produce odor and dries faster thus no waiting for long before you step on the floor.

For greatest experience and outcome, use as directed by the manufacturer.


RUST-OLEUM 200231 Paint, 1-Gallon, Satin

This crystal clear satin formula is one of the most reliable polyurethane for interior floor protection and natural wood color enhancement.

It comes in 5 varieties namely; satin, gloss, semi-gloss, satin finish and transparent.

What makes this formula exceptional is its stain protection mechanism, resistance to scratches and easy cleaning. In addition, this eco-friendly formula has low odor and dries up quickly.

The low price range of this product cannot make it unnoticed by many homeowners.


Bona Finish - Mega HD Clear Satin

Bona products doesn’t disappoint and this water-based polyurethane formula can meet various demands concerning the protection and appearance of your hardwood floors.

While it comes in satin only, this scratch and chemical resistant poly has the greatest features.

Unlike some brands, this hardwood floor finish does not have umber tint that is known to cause yellowing of floor after a long time of use. Bona Finish-Mega HD Clear Satin dries faster and gives an excellent clarity.

This is after an excellent flow and levels during application. What an awesome experience

2. Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethane has been made with synthetic resins, plasticizers and linseed oil.

This type of hardwood floor finish is commonly used in commercial buildings because of its hard-to-wear quality, ability to resist moisture and easy to maintain characteristic. More importantly, the finish is not too expensive but yet its strength and durability is very perfect.

Some homeowners use this finish in their houses in places with high traffic.

Oil-based polyurethane is also good for homeowners who are in need of a slight amber color on their wood floors. The finish has a yellowish tint which adds some rich, lovely, amber color to the floors.

The finish also comes in three types, which include: high-gloss, semi-gloss and satin sheens.

Just like water based polyurethane, oil-based polyurethane finish has a fair share of negative attributes when used. These may include:

  • Releases a strong odor (OVCs), and this can result to health issues.
  • It is slow in drying, after application, you will need at least 48 hours before you begin to walk on the floor and four days before you fill the room with furniture again.
  • Flammable and thus requires a lot of care.
  • The yellowish color intensifies over time, something that can give your floor a bad look.

The following are suitable oil based formulas.

ZAR 33912 Oil Based Polyurethane Wood Finish, QT

This is an incredible product for use on interior floors.

The smooth, self-leveling formula dies faster within two hours to provide a tough abrasion resistant finish on wooden floors. ZAR Oil Based Polyurethane is durable thus offers a requisite protection to your floor.

There is a little concern about the extremely smooth finish that can make your floors to be too slippery. Also if you desire a darker floor appearance, this product may not be the best due to its light nature.

Oil based formulas are highly flammable and should be handled with care.

Rust-Oleum 9141H Oil Polyurethane, 1 Quart, Satin Finish

This is a highly durable oil based formula that can be used for protection of interior wood surfaces, such as hardwood floors, furniture, doors, cabinets and trim.

It offers outstanding scratch and stain resistant finish due to its heavy and thick nature.

Rust-Oleum Oil Polyurethane dries faster within 2 hours to create a classic, even and natural finish. Recoat can follow in 4 hours for a more appealing and durable outcome.

This is an idea product to bring out the natural grain color and patterns of dark wood. You may consider other products if you have light-colored wood to avoid a dingy appearance.

3. Moisture-Cure Urethane

Moisture-cure Urethane is indeed a very tough and durable finish.

It is commonly used in commercial buildings and production firms, because after it dries to a very high shine, It becomes resistant to Stains, general wear and tear, moisture, scratches and scrapes from pets or from movement of furniture.

However, though the finish is extremely tough and durable, some of the common drawbacks of this finish (Moisture-Cure Urethane) include:

  • Application of the finish is very difficult and therefore you will require the services of a professional.
  • The shine may take a considerable time to dry after application because, how fast or slow the finish dries depends on the level of humidity in the air.
  • The finish releases high levels of OVCs which can linger in the air for weeks and therefore during its application you will need to relocate your household family members for as long as two weeks.
  • The strong odor (OVCs), the finish releases can result to health issues to children and adults as well.

4. Wax

Before emergence of polyurethane finishes, was the only wood floor finish available.

Even today, wax is still a popular option for many homeowners because it can be used anywhere a low sheen is required, it gives the wood floor a natural appearance and its application is very simple and does not necessarily require a professional.

For example liquid wax is usually applied with a wool applicator whereas; paste wax is usually applied with a rag.

More important, wax releases very minimal levels of OVCs (little odor), penetrates into the wood more easily and can be combined with stains to achieve a perfect floor finish. Also can wax finish dries quickly and can be walked on within a few hours of application.

However, though the finish gives your wood floor a natural look, some of its draw backs include:

  • The finish is not very much durable; it is susceptible to wear and tear.
  • The finish darkens with time or the yellowish color of the finish might intensify over time, something that can give your floor a bad look.
  • Application of the wax finish is simple but labor-intensive.
  • Exposure of the hardwood floor with wax finish to water can create white marks, spots or stains.
  • In case you need to replace the wax finish with polyurethane finish, you will be required to completely strip the wax from the wood floor.

5. Penetrating Oil Sealer

Penetrating oil sealer may not be as popular today as they used to be in early 1990s due to advancements in wood floor finish technology.

However, despite this, there are many homeowners here in the United States that still gives penetrating oil sealer preference because of its ability to create a low-shine finish that highlights the grain of the wood and brings out the beauty and natural depth of the wood floor without adding either high-gloss or semi-gloss.

Also, penetrating oil sealer being a natural product, it is fairly easy to apply it; you do not necessarily require the services of a professional.

Despite all the positives, penetrating oil sealer a fair share of the drawbacks, some these drawbacks include:

  • The finish dries very slowly, it can take an entire day for it to dry.
  • Penetrating oil sealer finishes only require specific formulated wood floor cleaners, because water and chemicals easily spots or damages the finish.
  • The finish is not very durable.
  • The finish is very expensive.
  • When applied on your hardwood floor, the floor will require recoating every couple of the year.
  • The finish magnifies every imperfection on it, such as scratches and scrapes from pets or due to movement of furniture.

6. Aluminum Oxide

Aluminum oxide is a naturally occurring mineral that provides an extremely long-lasting resilient coating on hardwood floors.

The finish comes in several levels of glossiness and does not require too much maintenance or attention.

Also, the finish is able to withstand scratches, fading, spots, stains, wear and tear without hiding its grain or changing the color of the wood. This quality makes the finish suitable for use in high traffic areas of the floor.

Aluminum oxide is usually available in several levels of shine and as an option on prefinished flooring planks, a factor that makes its application to require professional handling. In other words, it’s not possible to handle or apply it by yourself.

7. Acid-Cured Finish (Swedish Finish)

This is the top best finish that is more durable than polyurethane finishes.

The durability and toughness makes the finish resistant to chemical damage, scratches, scrapes, stains, scuffs and spots. More importantly, the finish is able to highlight the color, natural beauty and the wood’s grain.

Just like polyurethanes that have their worst side, acid-cured finishes releases very high levels of strong odor and when applied on your hardwood floor, your pets and family members will need to vacate the house for at least 3 days.

Water Based Polyurethane Vs. Oil Based Polyurethane: The differences

Basis of Comparison
Water Based Polyurethane
 Oil- Based Polyurethane
Color Impact
Lighter and clearer (Not yellow).
Darker and more amber look; darkens and becomes yellow over time.
Lower for low and mid grade brands; Higher for areas with high traffic.
Higher Durability.
Smells less and dissipates faster.
Smells stronger and does not dissipate faster.
Maple natural (yellow-less).
Color has more depth and looks a bit darker.
Drying time
Dries relatively faster.
Takes longer to dry.
Sheen Level
Has lower sheen level.
Color has more depth and has higher sheen level.


When you are ready to install hardwood floor in your home, consider consulting an expert so that he or she helps you to arrive at the desired surface finish that will not only enhance the wood grain, but also help to protect your floor.

More important, the surface finish should be able to complement your home style and your lifestyle as well.

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