First you have to determine what type of finish you have. For this article we will discuss the more common finish types. Here are some easy techniques to help you determine which one you have.
Surface finishes are very popular today because they are durable, water-resistant and require minimal maintenance. Surface finishes are blends of synthetic resins. These finishes most often referred to as urethanes or polyurethane's remain on the surface of the wood and form a protective coating. They are generally available in high-gloss, semi-gloss, satin and matte. Surface finishes are most suitable for rooms like the kitchen and bathrooms.
Varnish / Shellac Finishes
If the floor was installed, or last served, before the mid '60s, you should assume the finish used was Varnish or shellac. To determine this, scratch the surface with a coin or other sharp object in a corner or other inconspicuous space. If the finish flakes, it is probably shellac or varnish. Shellac and varnish are rarely used anymore and require full sanding to remove before application of a surface finish or wax finish.
To check the floor for a wax finish go to an inconspicuous area, either a corner or behind a door, then apply two drops of water. If, within ten minutes, white spots appear under the drops of water, the floor has a wax finish. To remove the white spots, gently rub the spots with # 000 steel wool dampened with wax. If the finish does not flake from scratching with a coin and white spots do not appear from the drops of water, the floor has a surface finish and should be maintained accordingly.
Now lets discuss some of the less hear of finishes and their characteristics.
Swedish finish or acid cure urethane
Both have a clear and fast drying finish. They are durable and non-yellowing. These finishes have an extremely strong odor and should only be applied by a highly skilled wood flooring professional.
Aluminum Oxide Finishes
The newest in wood floor finishes, Aluminum Oxide offers a long lasting more durable coating than past wood floor finishes. Aluminum Oxide finishes carry a limited 20 year wear warranty, and is the latest trend by major prefined wood floor manufacturers.
Penetrating Stain and Wax finishes
Penetrating Stain and Wax finishes soak into the pores of the wood and hardens to form a protective penetrating seal. The wax gives a low-gloss satin sheen that wears only as the wood wears. It will not chip or scratch and is generally maintained with additional thin applications of wax. Usually, wax finishes are applied more often than surface finishes. Only solvent-based (never water-based) waxes, buffing pastes or cleaning liquids specifically made for wood floors should be used.
Modified Urethane finishes
Modified Urethane finishes are generally the most common surface finish and is easy to apply. It is a solvent-base polyurethane that dries in about eight hours. This type of finish ambers with age.
Water-based urethane finishes
Water-based urethane is a waterborne urethane that dries by water evaporation. These finishes are clear and non-yellowing. They have a milder odor than oil-modified finishes have and they dry in about two to three hours. Water-based urethanes are generally more expensive.
Wax Finishes is the oldest, and in some ways the best. Wax is the easiest to apply, least expensive, fastest drying, easiest to repair, and with proper care will survive for ever. Wax over a penetrating stain, and the system is in the wood so you wear the wood, not the finish. Proper care guarantees maintenance with colored waxes. Water will spot the waxed surface and must be removed (or prevented). Buffing is required.
"Custom," – by definition, means performed to individual specifications. Custom finishing of wood floors is performed in the home on the completely installed new floor, or to refurbish a previously finished floor. Custom finishing permits the decorator and owner to select from a full range of color and style.
So now that you know what differentiates them, how to test to see what you may have and the best methods in maintaining the finish, its time to make, and keep, your hardwood floors glorious.
Here are some other finishes, paints, stains, & tints you may find of interest that are not covered in this article:
o Acid Curing
o Gym Finishes
o Urethane-High Solids
o Adhesion Promoters
o Penetrating Oil
o Urethane-Moisture Cured
o Conversion Varnish
o Urethane-Oil Modified
o Curable Sealers-Topcoats
o Stain-Oil Based
o Finish Removers
o Stay in-Water Based
o Urethane-Latex-Water Based
o Game Line Paints