Here at Pete’s, we sell four types of hardwood floor finishes.
And we only sell what we trust.
We only sell hardwood floor finishes that we have used extensively over a long period of time. There is no one “best” finish here; each of these products has strengths that make them more appropriate for certain applications.
Each of these finishes is the top of its class and we’ve chosen it because we’ve worked with it under many different conditions; we know how it behaves (and misbehaves) during application and under household wear and tear.
If you are simply looking for the cheapest hardwood floor finishes available, you probably won’t find it here. But if you are looking for the longest-lasting finish for your buck, read on.
Oil-modified polyurethane finishes
Yes, this is your dad’s polyurethane.
It’s been available since about 1950, and hasn’t changed. So, if you want old-school, we carry DuraSeal, the best-respected, sold-to-pros, oil-based polyurethane on the market. However, oil-modified polyurethanes are no longer our first recommendation. They have their place, but modern finishes do almost everything they can do, but much better.
- The uniform amber color of oil-based polyurethane is difficult to replicate with any other product. So if you need to “warm up” your wood or enhance the grain, this is your go-to.
- Tends to flow out and self-level well.
- Slightly cheaper than modern waterbornes
- High levels of volatile organic compounds, and currently illegal to use in 12 states (New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California, Oregon, Long-lingering petrochemical solvent odor.
- Mineral spirits cleanup
- Abrasion required between coats
- Grandma-golden color. So much amber.
- Not UV resistant so it will change color in sunlight.
- Minimum three coats and protection is average.
- Much like waterborne polyurethane, oil-based polyurethane is challenging to spot-fix invisibly.
- Designed to handle years of foot traffic, but they don’t resist small, sharp-point scratching from dog toenails or furniture dragging.
DuraSeal is available in gloss, semi-gloss, satin, and matte, but only one price point. It is applied in three layers; layer one has to be their sealer product (DuraSeal QuickDry Sealer), followed by two topcoats.
Application is by t-bar coater, this product does not roll well.
Waterborne polyurethane finishes
Popular option for the first-time DIYer.
Water-based (also called waterborne) finishes are currently the most popular option for protecting hardwood floors, especially for the first-time DIYer. We ♥ DIY-ers.
- As long as you choose a reputable brand, waterbornes are hands-down the most wear-resistant protection you can apply over wood. Under ordinary household conditions, some of these finishes can give you 20 years of protection before they need maintenance coats.
- Much less smelly and toxic than traditional solvent-based finishes like moisture-cure finishes or oil-based polyurethanes
- These are clear plastics, which limits the gold, ambered look that can make wood look dated
- Application is much easier than with earlier, first-generation waterbornes
- Water cleanup is so nice!
- Modern waterbornes come to full cure faster than traditional varnishes or oil-based urethanes. Typically full cure by five days, but some brands as short as 36 hours after final coat. All of the waterborne finishes we sell allow light foot traffic 24 hours after final coat.
- Some product lines can be applied without sanding between coats
- PolyWhey even makes a product that provides interior UV protection to stop sun fade.
- Still requires at least three coats to provide advertised protection, so coating is not faster than more traditional solvent-based finishes
- For some, the fact that waterborne polys do not “bring out the grain” can be a disappointment
- All waterborne finishes raise the grain of wood, making it feel rough to the touch. While these finishes can be engineered to bond to wood and to more layers of finish without sanding, the truth is that you will want to sand at least once between layers to get the best texture.
- Top-quality waterbornes can be expensive, though the value for your dollar is high
- Waterborne finishes are more chemically delicate than regular varnishes, so you can’t let them freeze, or sit in a hot location.
- Hard, high quality film-forming finishes are very difficult to spot repair invisibly.
- Tough waterbornes are designed to handle years of foot traffic, but they don’t resist small, sharp-point scratching from dog toenails or furniture dragging.
Pete’s carries three brands of waterborne hardwood floor finishes to cover every possible flooring need.
All of them come in multiple sheens so you don’t have to have a shiny floor. Unless you want it.
PolyWhey: lowest petro-chemical footprint with easiest use and best price point. PolyWhey EZ-Pro is a triumph of modern chemical engineering that has taken all the anxiety out of floor coating. If you’re on the fence between other similar products, this has the edge. Small, closely held American manufacturer with outstanding customer support.
Check out our Wood Floor Techniques for Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey.
Pallmann: Greatest number of price and quality options with extremely forgiving application. Highlights are their two different white-tinted sealers (WhiteSeal and NatureSeal) and an extremely user-friendly commercial 2-component topcoat (Pall-X Gold). Manufactured in Germany but have a large headquarters in Colorado. Excellent support for DIYers.
Bona: We carry this legacy line because of their long history, and the fact that we have used their products on our contracting side for decades. They carry and anti-slip product (Traffic HD AntiSlip) and five different tinted sealers, as well as the most well-known two-component polyurethane in the industry, TrafficHD.
High quality products, but more expensive and less user-friendly than their competition. Alas, this is a big company that does NOT believe that their products should be used by DIYers, which puts Pete’s in an odd relationship with them.
Resin-Tung oil varnish
Even older school than oil-based polyurethane, Waterlox uses 19th century technology to protect and beautify wood.
This varnish is made by essentially heating tung oil with phenolic resins to produce a varnish that becomes a solid upon exposure to air.
All varnishes are made this way, but the combination of tung oil plus phenolic resin makes an especially flexible and tough protective surface for floors that replicates that polished waxed appearance of historic floors.
Tung oil is one of the darkest natural oils, so the varnish that results from is also deeper in color than other varnishes, or even oil-based polyurethane.
- Tough but not brittle, the dried surface wears well because it is more elastic and less affected by minor scratching and friction. Great Dane toenails, however, do not count as “minor scratching.”
- Magnificent deep, amber-red color.
- Waterlox makes both interior and exterior wood protection products.
- Extremely easy to apply with lambswool block, roller, brushes, or pad painters.
- Does not require sanding between coats.
- The finished surface is easier to spot-repair than polyurethane finishes
- Relatively expensive
- Minimum 24 hour wait time between coats
- The tung-oil/resin mixture is dissolved in massive amounts of mineral spirits, so this is a very high VOC product that will take up to two weeks to fully cure.
- Softer woods like pine may need four coats
Waterlox is manufactured by a very old, family-managed company in Cleveland, Ohio.
They have the deepest commitment we have ever seen to explaining their product and educating the consumer we have ever seen. We aspire to their level of support. They recognize our company when we call to place an order – that’s a relationship we value.
That said, Waterlox is not for every customer. If you are interested, call the shop at 651-698-5888 and have a chat about your project. There are lower-VOC options within the Waterlox product family that can make it more accessible.
Check out our Wood Floor Techniques for Waterlox tung-oil based finish.
Due to shipping restrictions, we can only sell Waterlox from our storefront in St. Paul, MN or ship within the state of Minnesota. If you live in our fine state, but can’t get to the shop, give us a call and we can help: 651-698-5888.
Zero-VOC (Volatile organic compounds) finishes
Paints with absolutely no VOCs have been around for over a decade.
But achieving the same zero-VOC level in clear finishes is proving much more difficult; we have yet to see a zero-VOC varnish or urethane coating. But the alternative is a class of actual oil finishes known as “hardened oils” or “hardwax oils” that protect floors without needing solvents to dissolve solids.
The protective solids in these finishes form as soon as the oils themselves are exposed to oxygen and the protection forms IN the wood, not on top of it.
Now, many natural oils do this automatically, but the problem is they do it very slowly, and the solid that forms is pathetic – certainly not wear or water resistant enough to walk on. But modern chemical engineering has worked its magic and with some tinkering, we have a finish that protects without any odors or solvents whatsoever.
This protection is particularly popular because of how natural, almost invisible it looks on wood. It has no sheen- just a matte, silky texture. And because there is no film that builds above the surface of the wood, these finishes are more forgiving to spot-repair.
This class of finish has been popular in Europe for decades, but is slowly making headway here.
We carry two well-known, easy-to-use brands: linseed-oil based Rubio Monocoat and soybean-oil based Pallmann Magic Oil.
- Invisible, matte appearance
- No-VOCs. Especially good if you have to finish floors in the homes of pregnant or chemically sensitive persons.
- Fast-drying, single coat technology means you can apply one day and move in the next
- Much easier to spot-repair than waterborne or oil-based polyurethanes.
- Great coverage rate for volume – lower shipping costs
- More choices: Rubio comes in 54 colors; Pallmann has 8
- Application involves learning how to run a flooring buffer
- Used application materials are flammable
- The finished surfaces are slightly thinner and require more frequent topcoating than typical polyurethane, but the maintenance is easy and can be done just in the heaviest wear areas
Pete’s Bonus Tips
Can I call for free advice, for free?
Yes and no.
We love educating people, but it's expensive. And we're uncomfortable taking questions about products you bought on Amazon.
So, calls are free and unlimited if you:
- bought product from Pete's
- are shopping in Pete's online shop and need help choosing between products
- currently have equipment rented from us and need advice
- are planning to rent from Pete's
But please use our cheap and splendid Help Hotline consulting service if you:
- bought a product we sell, but from a different supplier
- have a complex flooring problem you don't see addressed on the website
- have questions about products we don't carry
Buy online, or stop by our cute store in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Pete's sells supplies online across the continental U.S., and rents equipment to Minneapolis/St. Paul DIYers. Our store at 186 Fairview Avenue North in St. Paul, MN is at the corner of Fairview and Selby.
It's just the cutest sander rental shop you'll ever visit. Call us at 651-698-5888.
- Monday - Friday: 8:30-5
- Saturday: 8:30-3
- Sunday: Closed