When it comes to hardwood flooring, there’s a wide range of options available to consumers—from warm, cherry wood to a cool, rustic oak. But despite their differences, one thing all hardwood species have in common is the need for a protective finish to help maintain their color and durability.

Whether your customers are choosing a hardwood finish to protect their brand new floors or refinish their older ones, the key is in selecting the right top coat. And as the expert, you want to ensure your customers are making the best choice for their floor type.

Floor Covering Installer reached out to several floor finish manufacturers in the industry to find out the latest trends in hardwood flooring finishes.

Types of Hardwood Finishes

Today’s market features an array of finishes including waterborne, oil-modified and natural penetrating oil.

“Most finishes come in a variety of durability levels and sheens,” said Dee Lenston, professional sales training manager at Bona. “The safest finish on the market that allows a high level of durability is waterborne finish. Natural penetrating oil is also growing in popularity due to its low VOC (volatile organic compounds) and natural appearance.”

Robert McNamara, director of marketing and sales for Basic Coatings, says the flooring industry is split between the “old technology” of oil-modified urethanes and “new technology” of water-based sealers.

“In some areas of the country, OMUs simply don’t exist anymore, as they’ve been legislated out of use,” said McNamara. “The trend is definitely water-based, lower VOC, and higher-performing sealers and finishes for sport, commercial and residential use.”

Alisia Field, interior wood care marketing assistant, DuraSeal, says water-based and oil-based finishes are also used for different purposes.

“It all depends on the overall look and protection a homeowner wants to achieve,” Field said. “Water-based finishes are best for neutral colors as well as whites since they will not amber over time and cause the stain to have a golden hue, while traditional oil-based finishes can be applied to give that overall warm home feel; think browns and golden stains. There are also one-component finishes versus two-component finishes; two-component finishes will give you the most durable finish, it is perfect for high traffic areas or home with kids and pets.”

Two other common finish types are polyurethane and hardwax oil, says Keith Hardisty, marketing manager at Rubio Monocoat.

“Polyurethane builds up a plastic layer on top of the wood surface, allowing for a high sheen,” said Hardisty. “Hardwax oil has been popular in Europe for quite some time and has recently increased in popularity in the states. It is typically more environmentally friendly than a poly and gives the wood more of a matte finish that keeps the wood’s natural look and feel.”

Advancements in the Industry

According to industry experts, hardwood finishes are advancing more towards coatings with low odor and more protection.

“Basic Coatings has recently introduced HyperTone Stains, which is a low-odor, easier-to-use stain,” said McNamara. “It’s really gaining momentum, as there are very vibrant colors; the colors can be mixed-and-matched to create endless color palette; and they will not cause the rags used in staining to spontaneously combust, which is a huge safety advantage on jobsites.”

Field says keeping products environmentally friendly with low VOCs is also very important and can be done with water-based stains and finishes.

“Having a water-based finish that dries in two hours, has no smell and provides great protection while giving you that warm, ambered look is possible with the DuraSeal water-based polyurethane,” said Field.

Water-based coatings also dramatically extend the life of hardwood floors, McNamara adds.

“While there are some products out there that theoretically offer a natural look, they do not offer the sacrificial layer a water-based coating offers,” said McNamara. “Additionally, water-based coatings can offer multiple sheen levels, from gloss to a pure matte. All of these sheens give (customers) flexibility on the trendy look they want while extending and protecting the life of the wood floor.”

Solvents and resin structures have also been making significant headway in the industry, according to Mike Brezina, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Valentus Specialty Chemicals.

“In recent years, technological advances in solvents and resin structures have enabled stain and floor finish manufacturers to significantly reduce VOCs in traditional stains and finishes,” said Brezina. “As we invest in research and development of next-generation performance, contractors can expect safer, quicker return-to-service and higher-performance products to exceed their customers’ expectations.”

Other advancements include natural penetrating oils as well as one-component and slip-resistant finishes.

“Natural penetrating oils offer exceptionally low VOCs and minimal environmental impact,” said Lenston. “More recent advancements include one-component finishes and slip-resistant finishes that are durable and safe.”

Eco-friendliness is another way manufacturers are enhancing their products.

“Our two newest products, Universal Tung Oil Sealer and H2OLOX Finish, are sustainable, low odor and low VOC, and perfect for customers looking for eco-friendly products,” said Kellie Schaffner, president and CEO of Waterlox.

Educating Flooring Installers

For installers working with different types of hardwood finish, education and training is key. The National Wood Flooring Association offers training and resources to distributors at the local level as well as corporate locations. Manufacturers that currently offer training and resources in floor finishes include:

  • Waterlox
  • Bona
  • Basic Coatings
  • Rubio Monocoat
  • DuraSeal


You can check out their websites for more information.