Hard-Wax Oil or Polyurethane? Which Hardwood Finish Is Best?

Hard-Wax-Oil-v-Polyurethane by DuChâteau

Upgrading your home with a beautiful hardwood floor is like adding a work of art from centuries past. Each plank is a canvas in and of itself, with tannins that respond uniquely to different finishes, which penetrate the wood at a granular level. The type of finish you choose can mean the difference between bringing your artwork to life and letting its one-of-a-kind brilliance go undiscovered.

An all-natural, non-toxic hard-wax oil finish, can give your masterpiece lasting protection and unparalleled elegance. A polyurethane finish, meanwhile, offers convenience and value but can never quite match the unique matte aesthetic that hard-wax oil provides to tie your décor together.

Ease of use, durability, and value are all important factors to consider when choosing a finish. In what follows, we’ll take a look at how polyurethane stacks up against hard wax oil. After comparing the two, we think you’ll agree that it’s difficult to match the old-world craftsmanship feel that hard-wax oil provides.

Polyurethane Finishes

When it comes to commercial polyurethane finishes, there are two different bases from which to choose: water-based and oil-based. Each has its pros and cons when compared against each other—as well as when compared against a hard-wax oil finish.

Water-Based Polyurethane Finishes – Advantages

Water-based finishes were created a non-yellowing alternative to oil-based polyurethanes, which tend to imbue floors with an amber hue. Water-based finishes dry much faster than oil-based, are odorless and easier to apply. They offer better durability and abrasion resistance, and in most cases, floors don’t need to be cleaned as often. The most common finish among factory pre-finished floors, water-based polyurethanes include aluminum oxide particles, which act as a hardener that minimizes wear-through.

Water-Based Polyurethane Finishes – Disadvantages

Because polyurethane is basically a plastic in the form of a liquid until it dries, water-based finishes are apt to create an artificial, plastic appearance. This is true of oil-based polyurethane as well. When using a water-based finish, the entire floor must be refinished—spot repairs are out of the question. They are not as forgiving as oil-based finishes and are prone to leave “lap-marks” if administered incorrectly. Finally, water-based finishes are generally more expensive than their oil-based counterparts.

Oil-Based Polyurethane Finishes – Advantages

While they are less durable than water-based polyurethanes, oil-based finishes do offer better durability than shellac and lacquer. They are more user-friendly than water-based finishes, making them easier to apply. And as aforementioned, oil-based finishes are less expensive than water-based polyurethanes.

Oil-Based Polyurethane Finishes – Disadvantages

In addition to being less durable than water-based finishes, oil-based polyurethane finishes contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are toxic and strong smelling. That signature “oil smell” will take some time to dissipate. Oil-based finishes tend to yellow or amber the color of the floor. As with water-based finishes, the entire floor must be refinished, which can result in an artificial appearance.

Scratch marks are more noticeable on both oil-based and water-based polyurethane finishes, oftentimes resulting in stubborn white lines, which can be difficult to repair. Since these finishes are essentially a plastic film on the surface of your floor, they also have the tendency to trap excessive moisture, which can lead to mold and costly damages.

Hard-Wax Oil Finishes

Like your hardwood floor itself, hard-wax oil finishes have a range of unique characteristics. When applied by hand, these finishes offer a combination of protection, conditioning, and beauty that you simply won’t find with polyurethane finishes.

Hard-Wax Oil Finishes – Advantages

Hard-wax oil finishes are non-toxic with no biocides, preservatives or benzenes. These finishes offer a range of colors, from clear to dark amber, and create a warm, natural matte appearance. In addition to providing color to the wood, hard-wax oil finishes keep it from drying out over time, protecting against warping and weakening. Indeed, one of the chief advantages of hard-wax oil finishes is that like a comfortable old leather chair, the finished floor gains more character and gets better with age.

A wax finish permeates the wood and acts as a barrier against stains and moisture. Yet, the cells of the wood are not closed off, so the floor is allowed to breathe. This can prevent mold. Because they harden the wood, hard-wax oil extends the life of your floor, making it look nicer longer.

Hard-wax oil finished floors are more water resistant than polyurethane-finished floors because they more readily allow for expansion and contraction. A polyurethane-finished floor essentially creates a plastic film over the wood, which can trap moisture and damage the floor.

With hard-wax oil, the actual finishing process is much easier and faster than traditional urethane finishes. This means that the repair process is easier as well. Hard-wax oil finished floors can be spot-repaired with just a light sanding of the affected area followed by a topical coat of oil.

Hard-Wax Oil Finishes – Disadvantages

When compared against polyurethanes, hard-wax oil finishes do not have a lot of downside. Floors finished with hard-wax oil do require a periodic coat of maintenance oil. This process is not difficult, though, and does not require a trained professional. After applying maintenance oil, you will notice a change in sheen level. However, the floor will return to its original gloss level after a few days.

Conclusion

Not unlike a timeless work of art, a quality hardwood floor requires a careful finishing touch before truly coming to life. Hardwood floor owners have a choice when it comes finishes. While polyurethane finishes have a few positive things going for them, at the end of the day, nothing quite compares to hard-wax oil finishes.

In keeping with the long-standing European tradition, all Atelier floors are finished with an all-natural, non-toxic hard-wax oil for a lasting protection and unparalleled elegance. Our hard-wax oil is non-toxic with no biocides, no preservatives, and benzene-free. It’s one reason why DuChâteau hardwood floors are engineered to be superbly safe for those who experience them firsthand.

Contact us today to learn more about our many hardwood styles, colors, and finishes! 1.888.382.4283