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Natural Oil vs Urethane Finish. Which One is Right for Your Hardwood floor?

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  • The finish on your hardwood floor not only enhances the natural beauty of the wood, but most importantly protects it from wear and tear. Both types of finish have certain advantages and disadvantages, but the major factor in your decision will be based on your unique lifestyle and personality.

The Nature of the Finishes

The two finishes reflect two completely different approaches – penetrating oils work by fortifying and sealing the wood fibers, while urethane works by walling them off. It might help to think of this comparison in terms of an analogy: oil is to urethane as skin is to a raincoat. An oil finish penetrates into the wood and hardens to become an integral part of the floor, just as skin is an integral part of the body. A urethane finish is a protective layer that covers the floor, like a raincoat. Please keep in mind that the Natural Oil finishes are not the same finish in your grandparent’s house that lasted for decades. That was oil-based urethane or tung oil.


The Appeal of a Natural Oil Finish

One of my first questions to a consumer who asks for a natural oil or hard wax oil finished floor is, “what are the main factors that appeal to you for an oil finish?” The following are the typical responses:

“I think it’s a prettier finish”

“Oil finishes are easier to repair”

“I want a low sheen, matte finish

“I want a finish that easy to maintain”

“I want a No VOC, Eco-Friendly Finish”

“I read that it is a more durable finish”

The Appearance

Penetrating oils have a slight advantage over urethane when it comes to overall appearance and feel of the wood floor. Rather than resting on top of the wood and forming a protective barrier, as urethanes do, oil finishes soak into the wood and bond with it at a molecular level, leaving its texture and color unobstructed. Oils do have a slight amber tone which means that we don’t use them or recommend them for white or gray floors unless you want those colors with a slight amber tint.   

Ease of Repair

Penetrating oils also have a slight advantage over urethane finishes when it comes to ease of repair. Light scratches in oil finishes can be repaired by rubbing some oil on the area, letting it dry, and then buffing the surrounding area and it looks great again. Heavy, deep scratches would be sanded out to smooth out the indentation and rubbing some stain (if needed) and oil on it. For Urethane finishes, there are way too many articles out there on the internet that are over dramatic when it comes to repairing scratches on urethane finishes. You don’t have to move out all of your furniture and refinish the entire floor because urethane finishes can be spot repaired. 

Low Sheen/Matte Finish

There’s no specific advantage with either finish. Urethane finishes are available in any sheen level from ultra matte to high gloss. Oil finishes are only ultra matte or satin sheens. You can buff an oil finish to increase the sheen level but it fades down pretty quick where higher sheen urethanes are permanent.


Maintenance Comparison

Urethane finishes are absolutely easier to maintain than the penetrating oil finishes. The required maintenance schedules for penetrating oil finishes is a big factor in deciding which finish is right your hardwood floor and your lifestyle. The following is just a summary for the maintenance of each type of finish so please refer to the detailed cleaning instructions for proper maintenance that are included with your maintenance products:

Urethane Finish:

o Daily: Dust/Sweep your floor.

Every 1-2 weeks: Vacuum then Mop your floor (I personally do every 2 weeks). Mopping means that you can damp mop (and I mean DAMP, NOT WET) with clean water or you use the highly recommended and globally accepted Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner for all types of urethane finish where you mist the cleaner with a spray bottle and use their wide, microfiber mop. Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner is available at most hardware or grocery stores.

Penetrating Oil Finishes:

Each brand of penetrating oil finish says that you must use their specific brand of maintenance products. Those products are not usually available locally and we refer you directly to the finish manufacturer which is the easiest way to purchase the products. For this summary, I am using WOCA brand oil, www.woodcareusa.com.

CLICK HERE  for the full PDF for WOCA Residential Maintenance Schedule.

o Daily: Dust/Sweep your floor. Also this the Soap Spot Spray as needed

o Every 1-2 weeks: Vacuum and then Use the Natural Soap Cleaner to mop your floor. The Natural Soap is necessary to nourish the floor. They compare it to putting lotion on skin. This is where you grab 2 buckets. One has a 40:1 water to soap ratio and the other bucket is clean water for rinsing mop. Make sure your mop is damp and not wet. *NOTE* it has to be a quality cotton yarn twist mop. They say that a microfiber cloth or mops are mildly abrasive and actually wears down the finish.

o Every 3-6 months or more often as needed: This is a similar process to mopping with the Natural Soap

o Every 3-5 years or more often as needed: Reoil your floor. This is similar to refinishing your floor where a professional would be recommended as machine buffers are required.

 

Durability

Urethane finishes are definitely more durable than penetrating oil finishes and offer more scratch and scuff resistance. Penetrating oil finishes do not offer much resistance to solvent damage from substances like cleaners, alcohol, and urine. If cleaned up in a reasonable amount of time, this damage should be repairable without too much difficulty. But those of you that host a lot of play dates, foster dogs, or throw a lot of keggers, you want to consider the more durable urethane finish.

Choosing a natural penetrating oil finish means that you have to be dedicated to maintaining that beauty and beauty takes effort. It’s very realistic that your commitment to the required maintenance schedule for the penetrating oil finishes means that you will have a finish that will last a lifetime and when refreshed, will look like it did the day it was installed. With Urethane, you have a more durable coating that will last for decades, but is not getting refreshed. Eventually, the years of wear and tear will add up and in 20-50 years it will require a re-coat/ refinish to look new again.

The last thing I can do to help is to walk you through my family’s decision process for the new wood floor I put into my home in the Summer of 2017 in regards to the finish. Keep in mind that as the owner of Heidelberg Wood Flooring, I have access to anything, including the skills of some of the most talented job site finishers in the Midwest. We went with my special HHD UV Cured Urethane/Acrylic Finish. CLICK HERE for more info on that finish. I wanted the organic, burnished oil finish which requires multiple thin coats of oil where each coat is high-speed buffed which heats it and pushed into the wood for the greatest penetrating oil finish available. However, I knew that our current, busy lifestyle would not be good for it.

I have 2 kids (10 and 13) that are constantly busy with sports, a wife that is a teacher and year round swim coach, a 110 lb Newfoundland, and I’m busy with manufacturing gorgeous wood floors all day, running the kids around all evening, and coaching soccer. We are not the kind of family that always takes our shoes off in the house and I don’t always wipe my dogs feet when she’s constantly going in and out of the house. That kind of lifestyle means that to keep those floors looking gorgeous; I would have to commit to a more frequent maintenance schedule. My fear was that with our busy schedule, it would mean the special nourishing soap mopping process would get pushed to “next weekend.” The problem with missing the schedule is that it is possible that the finish would be degraded further than just the nourishing soap could refresh and would require a more intense oil refresher or maintenance oil. I am absolutely happy with our decision because it is legitimately a stress-free finish. Paint, caulk, spills, pet accidents have come right up off the floor with no blemishes. We do have one of those little robots going through the house and sweeping daily and clean with the Bona Hardwood cleaner every 2 weeks.


Types of Finish

Heidelberg Wood Floor finishes create lasting beauty and requires minimal care thanks to today's modern technology in wood floor finish products. The right finish protects wood flooring from wear, dirt and moisture while giving the wood your attractive color and sheen. Whether you are choosing one of our prefinished wood floors or you are going with an unfinished floor and a job-site finish, we want you know the unique attributes of each type of finish and why feature particular finishes.


Hard Wax Oil Finish

 

Sheen: Matte

Repair-ability: Excellent

Maintenance:  CLICK HERE>>

Hard Wax Oil finished wood flooring is featured in the Greystone, Old Town, Chateau, and Old Barn Collections. Hard-Wax Oil finish is an ALL NATURAL non-pollutant, non-toxic No-VOC, and we mean ZERO VOC, product with no biocides, no preservatives, and is lead-benzene free. It is produced from natural materials such as vegetable oil and natural waxes made from purified renewable natural raw resources. Its open grain structure allows the floor to breathe which has a regulatory effect on moisture ensuring a healthy room climate— keeping within the spirit of wood’s natural hydroscopic characteristics. The special features of this finish allow the oils to penetrate deeply into the wood pores to enhance, while the wax remains on the surface to maintain a beautiful natural matte finish and create a protective layer offering a resistant and lasting finish. In essence, the wax is bonded to the wood via the oil. By finishing the wood with Hard-Wax Oil the ultimate color of the floor will flourish and continue to enhance with time. MORE INFO>>


HARD WAX OIL FINISHED FLOORING>>


Natural Oil Finish

Sheen: Matte

Repair-ability: Excellent

Maintenance:  CLICK HERE>>

Our Natural Oil finished flooring does not contain wax; they are based on vegetable oils and non-aromatic solvents. The oil penetrates into the surface of the wood, and as they cure, harden to form a protective surface that becomes part of the wood floor. Small scratches and indentations caused by normal wear and tear are less noticeable and can be spot repaired.

The Natural Oil Finish contains hardeners similar to the Hard Wax Oil. The major difference is that the Natural Oil Finish has a unique application method that limits it to hand application at the factory or job-site application on our unfinished flooring.

NATURAL OIL FINISHED FLOORING>>


UV Oil Finish

Sheen: Matte/Satin

Repair-ability: Excellent

Maintenance:  CLICK HERE>>

UV Oil finish has an extremely low build thickness (thin coat) which makes for an attractive furniture type finish. The oil actually penetrates the woods surface and provides rich appearance that is not seen in conventional UV Urethane floors. UV oil finish can also be produced with a very low gloss level (10%) that reflects a minimal amount of light. This lack of gloss is beneficial when it come to dents, dings, and other common house hold or commercial mishaps. With UV Oil finishes, less is better. Because the finished is thin and flexible, it is able to take impacts, conforming to the dent. The finish is left intact to continue protecting the wood, rather than chipping or flaking away. Environmentally, UV oil is made of 100% solids and contains no solvents or after cure products. There is no post installation off gassing of any kind.

One of the greatest benefits of UV Oil is its ease of repair. Conventional UV cured coatings are extremely difficult to repair because of the thick finish on top of the wood. Once the finish is broken it is virtually impossible to touch up seamlessly.Oil finishes however are easy to repair and blend, without any noticeable spots. It’s as easy as wiping touch up oil on a cloth, rubbing it into the wood and letting it dry for one hour. Oil finishes are perfect for commercial applications such as restraints, where there will be considerable wear on the floor. Hardwood floors will dent and scratch, but with UV Oil finish the floor can look like new in no time.

UV OIL FINISHED FLOORING>>


Water-base Finish

Sheen: Matte, Satin, Semi-Gloss, Gloss

Repair-ability: Good

Maintenance:  CLICK HERE>>

AKA Waterborne finish. Our finish is a revolutionary, oxygen-crosslinking, waterborne wood floor finish which can be used on heavy-traffic residential and commercial Hardwood floors. Like our Natural Oil Finish, it has a unique application method that limits it to hand application at the factory or job-site application on our unfinished flooring.

As a polyurethane-type finish, our waterborne finishes are a coating that covers the wood as opposed to our Hard Wax and Natural Oils that absorb and bond with the wood fibers. Unlike our oil finishes, we can accomplish a much higher sheen which is a great benefit for those who choose that appearance. The primary advantage of our waterborne finish is that it does not contain the same solvents that oil base finish does, and are therefore much less toxic.

 

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