Choosing a Finish for Your Reclaimed Wood Flooring

Selwood4-300x150Finishes serve several purposes for reclaimed wood floors. First, finishes provide a layer of protection for reclaimed wood flooring, guarding it from dirt, moisture and wear. Finishes also add an attractive sheen while bringing out the natural beauty of reclaimed wooden flooring. (Some finishes even add color to reclaimed wood floors.)

All of these roles are important for the durability and enjoyment of your wood floor. However, many property owners are unaware of the variety of flooring finishes available today. Read on to learn about the different types of finishes that may be applied to reclaimed wood flooring.

Wax or Paste Wax

Wax is the oldest finishing substance for wood floors, and there are still several advantages to finishing your reclaimed wood floors with wax. Wax is inexpensive, easy to apply, fast drying, easy to repair and long lasting, assuming you provide the proper care. Today’s advanced waxes are also environmentally friendly and more durable than in years past.

Of course, there are a few downsides to wax, as well – water will stain wax finishes, for one thing, so it must be removed immediately. Additionally, occasional buffing and reapplication of wax will be required. Chances are, your grandmother knew how to wax her wooden floors; if you are attracted to reclaimed wooden flooring for its old-school charm, wax may be the best finish for you.


Oil is the most popular finish for wood floors around the world. Like wax, oil has long been used as a finish for both virgin and reclaimed wood flooring. The oil used for finishing wood floors is plant-based, making it an environmentally friendly option. Some wood floors are finished with a brush-and-oil process: A steel brush is rubbed in the direction of the wood grain to open up the wood’s surface and to remove splinters; oil is then applied to the wood.

One downside of selecting oil for finishing your reclaimed wood flooring is that you must also use a paste or liquid wax to protect the finish down the road. New oil finishes are extremely durable and easy to touch up; however, oil finished wood floors are not impervious to staining or everyday wear and tear.

The best way to clean reclaimed wood floors with non-sealed finishes such as oil, wax, shellacking and varnish is to gently vacuum. Avoid using water-based cleaners, which could leave stains. Acrylic and one-step furniture waxes are also a bad idea. Sweeping and vacuuming are the way to go for unsealed wood finishes. If you find that your reclaimed wood flooring is becoming too waxy, it is time to strip the surface and reapply a fresh layer of finish.

Urethane-Based Finishes

Newer floors are often finished with surface sealants, such as urethane. A big advantage of urethane-based finishes is that they are stain- and water-resistant. Urethane finishes are so durable that they are often used in high-traffic areas, such as school gymnasiums. The only maintenance required for surface-sealed reclaimed wood flooring is the occasional dusting and mopping.

Urethane floor finishes are available in several forms. Oil-based urethane dries slowly and brings out a beautiful amber glow in reclaimed wood flooring. One downside to oil-modified urethane is that it is a petroleum product; if you originally purchased reclaimed wood floors out of concern for the earth, you may not want to use a finished based on fossil fuels. Water-based urethane has grown in popularity in recent years because it has the same positive properties as oil-based urethane, but it has very low (or no) volatile organic compounds. There are many water-based products that are easy to apply, dry quickly, are hard enough for commercial floors and create a clear to amber tone. These are occasionally more expensive than their oil-based counterparts. Moisture-cured urethane is also available; it is extremely durable and moisture resistant, but it’s also so difficult to apply that it is best to call in a professional if you choose this finish.

Swedish Finishes, AKA Conversion Varnish Sealers or Acid Cure Urethane

Swedish finish is alcohol based. It was developed in Scandinavia in the 1950s and has been popular in Europe ever since. Like urethane seals, Swedish floor finishes require virtually no maintenance beyond light damp mopping.

A major downside of using a Swedish finish on your reclaimed wood floors is that it is an extremely toxic process. It is not recommended that you apply this finish yourself; instead, call in a professional, who will probably require you to evacuate the premises for a couple of days. Again, if you are hoping to avoid the use of toxic chemicals, this may not be the best finish for you. Finally, Swedish floor finishes are notoriously smelly; the strong odor from this type of finish may linger for weeks.

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