Why do people always think that a gym floor finish is the toughest floor protectant?

By the time customers get to Pete’s, they’re often in the middle of a floor catastrophe and determined to fix their floor so well that it will never have to be touched again.

For some reason, this translates into an absolute insistence on a gym floor finish for their dining room floor. In the minds of a lot of people, gym floor finishes have special properties and are somehow tougher than anything sold for other commercial wood floors. People also seem to believe that manufacturers and retailers are actively keeping this product from the ordinary public – apparently because the polyurethane manufacturers will go out of business if everybody has access to their indestructible finish. We even get the occasional customer who will wax nostalgic about the gym coating secretly procured by an uncle-in-law’s cousin and how it lasted for decades and always looked as good as the day it was applied.

To these customers, the process by which we, the retail public, establish our expectations is clearly bizarre and full of warped memories and voodoo. And when I, as a customer, go to find a pair of jeans, insisting that “Even though I am a middle-aged woman, the best-fitting jeans were always the old-style boys’ fit button-flys,” and “What-do-you-mean you-don’t-carry-those!” I am forced to admit that I, too, am part of that cult of unrealistic expectation that creates gym-finish worshippers.

But in the meantime, we need to debunk this crazy gymthane myth once and for all. Gym floor finishes do not have a higher solid content than wood floor finishes, and they are not categorically tougher than other wood floor finishes.

People seem to think that gym floors experience more wear than other floors, so they assume that whatever finish can withstand that level of abuse must be super-duper. The fact is that gym floors are simply better maintained than most floors, residential or commercial. I’ll give you two reasons why:

1. Those floors are in schools, and schools consider gym floors an investment. 

They have a janitorial staff and those floors are dust-mopped daily to remove grit and other particles that would wear away a finish. Thus, excellent maintenance.

2. Gyms primarily experience traffic from soft-soled shoes that aren’t worn outside.

 A clean soft shoe on a clean floor is not very abrasive.  A high-heeled shoe on a dirty floor is pretty much the same as a sander. If you keep sanders off your floor, the finish lasts longer. Why do you think they had sock-hops in gyms in the 50’s? Not because stocking feet make it easier to dance, but to protect the floor. Schools are also much more disciplined about recoating their gym floors, simply because it is much cheaper to recoat a gym every year than fully re-sand it every three years. But nobody ever sees the gym floor being recoated, so they attribute its longevity to super powers.

Sport floor finishes are almost always high gloss because gloss finishes are grippier, which helps with the stop-start motion of sports like basketball and racquetball. Gymthanes also claim to resist rubber marks and scuffing, and that is a useful characteristic if you are trying to keep a gym floor looking pretty.

If these are valuable attributes for the floor in your home, by all means we can sell it to you. But sport floor finishes only come in five-gallon buckets, which is enough to triple coat between 700 and 800 square feet. But if you have a smaller area, frankly, it would be more cost-effective to simply buy one of the cross-linked commercial finishes which are available by the gallon, and they will be more resistant to day-to-day street shoe abrasion.

Learn more about finishing your floors, and read our 10 commandments of hardwood floor maintenance, to make a regular floor finish wear as well as you think the gym floors do.