Board School is our series of educational pieces created to help you maximize your appreciation and the longevity of your wood floors.
There are many creative possibilities with wood flooring finishes, but they mostly fall into two main categories: top coat or wood saturation styles. Generally, top coats are made of urethane and wood saturation finishes are oil-based.
Top Coat Finishes: How They Work
This type of finish serves as a protective barrier for your hardwood floor. The durability of the finish is typically measured in its ability to resist abrasion, which in real life means how well it can resist the appearance of foot traffic patterns. Being resistant to scratches is important, but disguising them is even better. For example, low gloss levels make wear-and-tear less visible.
Top Coat Finishes: Care Guidelines
Priority number one for this type of finish is to protect the top coat itself. If the finish wears through, the wood floor beneath can become damaged, making repair a much larger project. Start with entrance mats, then encourage your family and visitors not to wear shoes inside — try keeping a selection of house slippers by the door. Lastly, make sure to sweep regularly to prevent scratches. Learn more in our Maintenance Guide for Lacquer Finishes.
Our Detour Coffee Shop project featuring a top coat finish. View the project.
Mythbuster: Some unscrupulous wood floor marketers claim that a particular finish can make your floor harder and more resistant to dents. This is untrue. Dent resistance is determined almost entirely by the density of the wood below the finish.
Wood Saturation Finishes: How They Work
For this wood flooring finish, the entire plank is soaked through, typically with a botanically-derived oil. Since the wood is saturated, any liquids that spill on the floor are not absorbed and sit on top, which mimics the way wood operates in nature. Wood saturation finishes are typically lower gloss and appear more textured, which provides a base level of innate wear-and-tear camouflage. Over time, your floor is likely to develop a patina depending on your maintenance regime.
Wood Saturation Finishes: Care Guidelines
The most crucial thing to remember with this finish it to maintain the saturation level of the wood over time. If your floor gets too dry, it becomes vulnerable to damage. Maintain the saturation levels by cleaning the floor on a regular schedule with products designed for this finish — typically a type of soap that contains trace amounts of the saturating agent that is absorbed when you clean. Learn more in our Maintenance Guide for Oil Finishes.
To maintain this type of finish over the long-term, you will need to re-apply the saturating agent from time-to-time. Despite this additional maintenance, wood saturation finishes are easier and less expensive to clean and repair than top coat finishes.