Best Hardwood Floor Finish [2021 Reviews & Guide]

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

A hardwood flooring finish should be effective and durable in order to protect the floor against damage, moisture, scrapes, and scratches.

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

By the way, if you need to shop for a broom well suited for only hardwood floors, check out our article now.

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

1. Water-Based Polyurethane

Water-based polyurethane finishes made with synthetic resins and plasticizers are the most popular surface finish for hardwood flooring in United States because they provide a clear finish and a good feel.

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

However, nothing is perfect. A high-gloss water-based polyurethane hardwood floor finish magnifies every imperfection on it, such as scratches and scrapes from pets or the movement of furniture.

The following are the top best water-based polyurethanes:

OUR TOP PICK: Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish

Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish

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 three different forms: satin, gloss and semi-gloss. Made with oxygen-crosslinking polyurethane, there is no mixing required so it’s safe and easy to use.

There is no worry of wastage or outdated product. Bona Mega Wood Floor Finish has an unlimited shelf life. This non-toxic formula does not produce odor and dries fast, so there’s no need to wait for long before you step on the floor.

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

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EDITORS CHOICE: RUST-OLEUM Varathane 200231 Paint

RUST-OLEUM Varathane 200231 Paint

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

It comes in five varieties: 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 quickly.

The low price range of this product makes it hard to miss.

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BEST VALUE: Bona Finish-Mega HD Clear Satin

Bona Finish-Mega HD Clear Satin

Bona products don’t disappoint. 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 polyurethane is an excellent choice.

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

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2. Oil-Based Polyurethane

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

This type of hardwood floor finish is commonly used in commercial buildings because of its durable quality, ability to resist moisture, and easy-to-maintain characteristic. More importantly, the finish is not too expensive but remains strong and durable.

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 amber color to the floors.

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

Just like water based polyurethane, oil-based polyurethane finish has its own dawbacks. These may include:

  • Releases a strong odor (OVCs), which can result in health issues.
  • Is slow to dry. 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, which can give your floor a bad look.

The following are suitable oil based formulas.

OUR TOP PICK: ZAR Oil Based Polyurethane Wood Finish

ZAR Oil Based Polyurethane Wood Finish

This is an incredible product for use on interior floors.

The smooth, self-leveling formula dies faster than most oil-based polyurethane finishes — within two hours — to provide a tough abrasion-resistant finish on wooden floors. ZAR Oil Based Polyurethane is durable and offers necessary protection to your floor.

There is a little concern about the extremely smooth finish that can make your floors 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.

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EDITORS CHOICE: Rust-Oleum Oil Polyurethane Satin Finish

Rust-Oleum Oil Polyurethane 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 an outstanding scratch- and stain-resistant finish due to its thick and heavy nature.

Rust-Oleum Oil Polyurethane dries fast, 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 ideal 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.

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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 the 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, so 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. Therefore, during its application you will need to relocate your household for as long as two weeks.
  • The strong odor (OVCs), the finish releases can result in health issues for children and adults as well.

4. Wax

Before the emergence of polyurethane finishes, wax 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 importantly, wax releases very minimal levels of OVCs — meaning it’s low odor. It penetrates into the wood easily and can be combined with stains to achieve a perfect floor finish. Also, canned 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 durable; it is susceptible to wear and tear.
  • The finish darkens with time or the yellowish color of the finish might intensify over time, which 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 it was in the early 1990s due to advancements in wood floor finish technology.

However, despite this, there are many homeowners that still give 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 making it too glossy.

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

Despite all the positives, penetrating oil sealer has its own set of drawbacks, including:

  • The finish dries very slowly — it can take an entire day for it to dry.
  • Penetrating oil sealer finishes require specific formulated wood floor cleaners, because water and chemicals easily damage 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 years.
  • The finish magnifies every imperfection on it.

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, and 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 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 grain of the wood.

Just like polyurethanes that have their downsides, acid-cured finishes release very high levels of strong odor. When applied to your hardwood floor, your pets and family members will need to vacate the house for at least three 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.
Durability Lower for low and mid grade brands; Higher for areas with high traffic. Higher Durability.
Odor Smells less and dissipates faster. Smells stronger and does not dissipate fast.
Color Maple natural (yellow-ish). 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 a hardwood floor in your home, consider consulting an expert so that they can help you choose a surface finish that will not only enhance the wood grain, but also help to protect your floor.

The surface finish should be able to complement your home style and your lifestyle as well.

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