4 Types of Polyurethane Finishes [And What to Use Them For]

It is pretty common among homeowners to choose wood for their flooring, cabinetry, and other furniture or fixtures. And the next important thing to consider is determining what type of finish to apply to the wood surface.

Wood finish has become synonymous with a polyurethane finish. It is because polyurethane is a form of synthetic resin and has become the preferred choice among planners, designers, and even DIYers. It has shadowed the traditional wood coatings, such as shellac, varnish, and lacquer. It has proven its durability and aesthetic value over time.

Generally, the types of polyurethane finishes are determined according to their luster or sheen level: matte, satin, semi-gloss, and high gloss. The luster shows how much the surface can reflect light. Want to know more? Stay on this page as we dig into the details of each type of finish and their applications.

New Wet Polyurethane Coated Oak Hardwood Floor, 4 Types of Polyurethane Finishes [And What to Use Them For]

1. Matte Finish

Matte finish is the least reflective and has the lowest luster in the spectrum. It has virtually no light reflected on the surface, hence it projects a flat or leveled appearance. This is commonly used in hardwood flooring finishes.

The advantage of this type is that scratches, scuffs, and dirt aren’t readily visible. Wood flaws and imperfections, if there are any, can be easily camouflaged.

Some homeowners love a matte look, while others find it dull and drab. It is a matter of personal preferences and an aesthetic choice. This floor plank gives you the look and feel of the natural wood grain. It is in rustic oak color, which makes marks and blemishes not easily noticed.

Shop for this matte finish floor planks on Amazon.

Aside from appearance and luster, many homeowners prefer a matte finish for practical and functional reasons. The matte coat gives their hardwood floors decent traction and is not slippery. You can easily move around, and it is safe for pets, the elderly, and toddlers.

Baby girl and baby bottle dark coated floor

Unfortunately, your hardwood floor may become slippery in a few unwanted situations. Check out this post to learn more about the reasons why: "Why Are My Hardwood Floors Suddenly Slippery?"

2. Satin Finish

wooden vinyl spc flooring samples swatch showing variety of wooden texture

The satin finish is the popular choice among all the finishing types, especially for hardwood flooring. It is midway and leaning towards the low sheen level. You enjoy the benefits of both the low-luster matte and the glossy finishes. It has enough luster and shies away from being too glossy.

Just like matte, you can hide the wood blemishes well while still clear enough to appreciate the beautiful wood grain. For hardwood floors, footprints, smudges, and pet scratches go unnoticed, yet it doesn’t look cloudy like matte.

It is easier to maintain the natural look of the floor because there is less shine, especially for homes in high moisture areas and harsh weather conditions.

This floor plank is made of natural wood color with a hardwood quality. It has a smooth surface and micro-beveled edges. Best for indoors, only sweeping and vacuuming are needed to maintain the satin look.

Shop for this satin finish flooring in Amazon.

3. Semi-Gloss Finish

wood work of a chair and table

The semig-loss finish is midway and looks more lustrous. The finish can effectively enhance the beauty of wood. Homeowners will choose this type if they prefer a shiny look. This is perfect for floors with less foot traffic. This finish is commonly used in cabinetry and other wood furniture.

This finish type requires maintenance and upkeep because wood blemishes are easily visible.

An example is this working table with the composite wood board is simply elegant. A semi-glossy finish is perfect for a smooth surface that highlights the natural wood grain. The finish can also resist abrasion that can withstand normal wear and tear. 

Shop for this semi-gloss finish table on Amazon.

You would love to learn more about how to maintain your floor from visible scratches and marks. We have this post for you: "Does a Floor Buffer Remove Scratches?"

4. High-Gloss Finish

A fragment of a wooden staircase in a private house

This is the most reflective finish and the highest sheen level. It is eye-catching and mostly applied to exotic hardwood so that the natural grain is emphasized. This works perfectly well for decorative wood carvings, chairs, tables, and balustrades for interior decor. If ever applied to flooring, it is best for low-traffic areas.

This finish type requires high maintenance since the normal wear and tear is highly visible when used for flooring. Dust, streaks, pet hair, watermarks, scratches, dirt, dents, and dings are readily visible. Wood blemishes and imperfections get noticed.

A high gloss finish is perfect for your interior wood decor. It projects an upscale level of home decorating in which the natural wood grain is one of the focal points of the piece, whether on the floors, walls, tables, chairs, or countertops. An example is this retro and classic style table that can easily blend into your dining, living room, or patio.

Shop for this high-gloss finish pedestal table on Amazon.

What Are the Recommended Products to Maintain Polyurethane Finishes?

A glossy finish requires heavy maintenance to keep your wood furniture and flooring squeaky clean and lustrous at all times. Some homeowners are keen on their priceless wood furniture with intricate carvings and they expect that the wood grain and color should be a standout to entertain their guests.

Microfiber Floor Mop

Shop for this microfiber floor map on Amazon.

This floor mop with microfiber mophead is highly recommended for glossy finish floors. On top of its superior product design, the microfiber mop pads can grab dirt, dust, hairs, and grime while giving your sensitive floor finish with no unsightly marks and streaks. It restores and rejuvenates the luster of your polyurethane finish flooring.

Microfiber Cleaning Cloth 

Shop for this microfiber cleaning cloth on Amazon.

In order to preserve the glossy wood finishes of furniture and fixture, a microfiber cleaning cloth is recommended. When used regularly and correctly, it affords the cleaned surface a mirror shine, streak-free look. The cloth is washable and conducive for many uses. Alternatively, any cloth rag can also be used, but the cleaned surface may result in a dull shine.

Furniture Polish Wipes

Shop for these furniture wipes on Amazon.

A wood cleaner and polish wipes are perfect for furniture to protect the polyurethane finish. During constant cleaning, it removes smudges and swirls while forming a scratch-resistant layer. Aside from cleaning, it also protects the surface from harmful UV rays, especially for your exterior wood furniture.

It restores the beauty and grain of the wood. The wipes have a pleasant smell you would enjoy while to polishing your tabletops and other working surfaces.

To learn more about cleaning your wood finish surfaces, check out this post: "Can You Use Clorox Wipes on Wood?"

Which Polyurethane Finish is More Durable?

You might wonder which of the four types of polyurethane finish is durable. Well, polyurethane, with its superior qualities, forms a plastic resin after drying on the wood surface. The durability of each type is not related to the sheen level or luster but rather to whether it is an oil-based or water-based polyurethane. 

Regardless of wood finish, the oil-based polyurethane has more durability and longevity than water-based polyurethane. Here is a list of their elements to further compare them:

Water-Based Polyurethane             Oil-Based Polyurethane

  • Dries Fast                                          Dries Longer
  • Low VOC; less odor                         High VOC; strong odor
  • Clear and doesn't change               Yellowish with age
  • Expensive                                          Affordable

In terms of looks, oil-based gives color depth and shine. The color tends to darken and become yellowish over time. This may seem unsuitable for certain stain types of finishes. Water-based doesn't ruin the wood color even after many years.

At the price point, oil-based is cheaper upfront. It is more long-lasting and low maintenance which further cuts costs. Also, to coat the same surface, it takes more water-based than oil-based polyurethane. This will definitely make oil-based cheaper than water-based.

If health is a concern, the VOC (volatile organic compound) content is higher in oil-based. The water-based is the advantage due to the low level of VOC, so it emits less harmful fumes during application coupled with its fast drying time.   

The only advantage of high VOC content in oil-based is that it makes it last longer. Only a few reapplications are needed for its maintenance. Oil can also withstand scratches, moisture, and heat more than water.

Shop for this oil-based polyurethane on Amazon.

Which to Choose--Water or Oil?

Woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts give varied opinions on which to choose between water-based and oil-based polyurethane. It still boils down to personal preferences.

Water-based polyurethane is better since, though less durable, is more flexible with wider applications, it doesn't turn yellowish over time, with less odor, is not hazardous to health, and is not flammable due to its low VOC content.

Shop for this water-based polyurethane on Amazon.

Can I Change My Existing Polyurethane Finish?  

Yes, you can change the sheen level of your polyurethane finish at a later time. The process is simply to recoat the surface. The most important thing to note, however, is that you have to change the finish with the same base.

For example, if you wish to change your original oil semi-gloss finish to a satin finish, it is highly required that you should use an oil-based satin finish as the replacement. 

In a few instances that you need to change from oil-based to water-based or vice versa, you need to wait for six months or more to recoat the surface. At this time, the solvent has completely cured the wood.

In Conclusion

New Wet Polyurethane Coated Oak Hardwood Floor

Among the polyurethane options, you'll want to select a finish for the appearance and durability necessary to enjoy and upkeep your wood surface.

You might be interested to know more about the durability of polyurethane finish, we have this post for you: "How Tough is Polyurethane? [And How Durable]."


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