Best Type of Finish for Hardwood Floors

A 2021 research predicts the global wood flooring market will hit over $55million by 2026, but its growth rate may not take that long. Many people install hardwood floors in their homes because of their durability. The finish of your hardwood floor offers its first line of protection, determining its lifespan and aesthetics. 

The best type of finish for hardwood floors is aluminum oxide. This floor finish is aesthetically pleasing and gives your base high durability, even with high traffic. Also, you will require very little maintenance with aluminum oxide finishes, as it lasts over twenty years. 

The rest of this article will discuss the best types of hardwood floor finishes in detail. I’ll also discuss a few factors to help you choose the best hardwood floor for your home. 

The Best Finish for Hardwood Floors (Aluminum Oxide)

Also known as an alumna, aluminum oxide offers you the best finish for your hardwood floor. An aluminum oxide finish on a hardwood floor will last up to 25 years, and you will not need to spend money maintaining it. 

Aluminum oxide is a chemical compound that acts as a coating on top of the hardwood floor, providing a tough finish. With an aluminum oxide finish on your hardwood floor, you will not experience any of the following: 

  • Scratches
  • Dents 
  • Fading designs

Your wood grain color is safe with the aluminum oxide finish, as it does not affect or change the color. So if you want your wood color to show, this is the best option. 

Additionally, with an aluminum oxide finish, you can opt between several design options based on the shine. As such, you can have the dullest shining feature of the aluminum oxide finish or the most shiny quality. 

Aluminum oxide finish is a type of finish you can do independently or after installation. Installing this finish occurs during hardwood production because of the expertise needed and materials used during the installation process. 

Using this installation procedure means you can’t make any adjustments to a hardwood floor finished with aluminum oxide unless you change the floor. 

While this may seem to be a disadvantage, it offers more durability since the finish is produced with the hardwood. Also, it saves you a lot of time when installing it because it is plug-and-play. 

Let’s examine some pros and cons of this hardwood floor finish: 


  • It saves time on installation. 
  • It can last for a quarter of a century. 
  • It supports high traffic.
  • It gives you glossy options. 


  • You can’t refinish it easily. It is almost impossible to refurbish an aluminum oxide finish. You will need an experienced professional who will most likely require both mild and heavy grits for the job. However, it’s always better to replace the floor. 
  • You can’t install the finish independently. If you’re a DIY enthusiast, this will be a disadvantage. 

The Best Runner-Up Finish for Hardwood: Swedish Finishes

Swedish floors are one of the most ancient floor finishes, but they still have their relevance to date. As the name implies, these floors were created in Scandinavia in early 1950. 

Another common name for the Swedish finish is the acid-cure finish.  

The acid-cure hardwood floor finish is arguably one of the best after the aluminum oxide finish. If you want to add a finish to an exotic floor, it may be even better than the alumna finish. 

This type of finish may come with a high installation cost, as you can’t DIY. Fortunately, it offers high durability to compensate for the initial expenses. Stil, you need to install this finish properly to enjoy its benefits.

Unlike the aluminum oxide floor finish, you will need a lot more maintenance with the acid cure finish. However, you have the liberty to refurbish the wood whenever you feel it is due. 

If you properly use and maintain an acid-cure hardwood floor finish, it should last for a decade at least. It should last longer, but ten years is a reasonable start period. 

This floor finish works with two components – alcohol and acid. The primary material is alcohol mixed with acid, majoring as the curing material. 

The combination of these two components delivers a bright and strong finish that’s resistant to scratches and other factors. Unlike alumna floor finish, the acid cure finish increases the brightness of the wood grain and color, improving the aesthetics. 

However, the mixture of these compounds results in the release of volatile organic compounds into the air. Therefore, you can’t live in your home when you newly install this floor finish. 

Some of the pros of acid cure hardwood floor finish include: 

  • It lasts long. 
  • You can refinish the floor. 
  • It is resistant to scratches. 
  • It enhances the beauty of the hardwood grain
  • It dries quickly. 

Some disadvantages of this type of floor finish include:

  • It is expensive. 
  • You must clear your home for installation and stay away for a while. If you want the best results, you may have to stay away for up to sixty days before moving in, although you can start living in the house after three days. 

There are other types of Swedish finishes apart from the acid cure, such as: 


A varnish finish on a hardwood floor features oil, but instead of penetrating the wood, the oil dries when mixed with resin. This floor finish is usually rugged and durable because of the polymerization that occurs during the curing process. 


The source of shellac floor finishes may be an insect, but it sure delivers one of the best finishes to hardwood floors. Shellac finishes are created by dissolving resin obtained from lac insects in alcohol.  

A shellac finish alters the color of the wood and may hide its grain, depending on the shining property of the shellac. The way the shellac finish shines depends on the alcohol used in the mixture. 

Installing this floor option is complex and dangerous because of its explosive properties. Also, the finish is not the best to use in areas susceptible to water and sun, as it fades quickly. 

Still, it is not so hard to refurbish a shellac finish once it fades, but you can only do so with another shellac flooring finish. 

Penetrating Oil Sealers

Penetrating oil sealers would have been the most common option if you were searching for a floor finish in the 1960s. These sealers are still common today amongst people from that generation.  

If you are a DIY enthusiast, this floor finish is perfect, as you don’t need much help with its installation. This video can help you install your oil sealing finish to your hardwood floor easily: 

Applying the penetrating oil sealers to the floor hardens, usually after one or two days. Like paint, the durability of the oil sealers depends on how thick you make the coatings. However, the coating thickness and the type of oil used will affect how long the oil sealers take to dry up. 

For instance, if you apply only two coats, the finish will not be as durable as when you lay about five coats. Regardless of your coating, the oil-sealing finish will fade within three years. 

After adding the oil sealers to your hardwood, the natural result is one of the highest advantages of this floor finish option. Although your floor won’t shine too bright, the finish has a way of enhancing the wood grain design naturally. 

Some pros of this floor finish include the following: 

  • Easy installation
  • Quick drying period
  • Safe odor

Some of the disadvantages are: 

  • It can be a bit expensive depending on how much coating you intend to finish with. 
  • You will need to refurbish it in less than five years. 

Most Popular Finish for Hardwood Floors: Water-Based Polyurethane 

Water-based polyurethane is the best option if you are looking for a floor finish that can work for different areas of your home. The versatility and durability of this floor finish earn it the popularity it experiences. 

The main constituents of water-based polyurethane finishes are plasticizers and resins. Installing water-based polyurethane is not arduous as long as you have the right tools. Here is the process: 

  1. Get all the necessary materials for the installation, like buckets, paintbrushes, etc.
  2. Choose the type of water-based polyurethane you want. You have options from the common shining type to the semi-gloss and setting types of the polyurethane floor finish. 
  3. Apply each coating and wait till it dries. Like the oil-based sealers, the water-based polyurethane finish requires drying time. 

This video will give you a visual understanding: 

It takes about four hours maximum for each coat to dry up, so you can finish applying it in a single room in one day. 

The water-based polyurethane finish has a milky appearance in its raw form, as shown in the video. However, after application, it presents a clear color, retaining the wood color with an additional shine. 


  • It does not emit high chemical gasses.
  • It dries easily.
  • You can install it on your own.
  • It enhances the aesthetics of the hardwood floor.
  • It can withstand moisture. 


  • It doesn’t have high durability. 
  • If you choose the shiny type, scratches may become too obvious. 
  • It can be expensive, depending on your budget. 

The Best Finish for Frequent Use: Oil-Based Polyurethane 

Oil-based polyurethane finishes are another popular hardwood floor finish, and their popularity is due to their affordable price and high durability. 

This floor finish type is not as tough as the aluminum oxide finish when it comes to considerable traffic, but it is cheaper and offers similar durability; hence, its everyday use. 

Usually, there is a high comparison between oil and water-based polyurethane among users and experts. While they are both polyurethane materials containing plasticizers and resins, the oil-based one comes at a lower price and a higher resistance to scratches. 

However, the oil within the finish releases volatile organic compounds, making it unsafe to install independently. Still you can apply it alone with the proper safety equipment. 

You can check out this video for a more precise understanding of oil-based polyurethane finishes: 

You will need more hours for each coat of the oil-based polyurethane to dry after installation. 

Maintaining this floor finish is not exactly a challenging task, as you only need to do regular cleaning. 


  • It is excellent for high-traffic locations. 
  • It is cheap.
  • It enhances the beauty of your hardwood floor. 
  • It resists moisture excellently. 
  • You can use this finish on different floor types, including epoxy floors. You can check out this article to learn the difference between polyurethane and epoxy and why they work together. 


  • It releases harmful chemical substances.
  • Because of the released VOCs, you will need to vacate any space you are installing.

Final words

Highlighted above are some of the most common hardwood floor finishes you can choose from for your home. The aluminum oxide and the acid-cure finishes will perform best under most circumstances. However, there are key factors to consider when selecting a floor finish, such as: 

  • Your home design and aesthetics.
  • The traffic of each location. 
  • Your budget.
  • The durability of your preferred floor finish.

Damien Madeira

Damien has been doing woodworking for the last 5 years. He began as a hobbyist with hand tools and slowly worked his way up to own larger machines and mill rough wood into beautiful creations. While still considering himself a hobbyist, he has a passion for woodworking and enjoys working with epoxy as well.

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