On average, homeowners report spending $2,000-5,000 dollars to refinish 1,000 sq.ft. of hardwood flooring. There are numerous beautiful hardwood floor finishes that you can select the revive the aesthetics of the floors in your home.
Refinishing is the fastest and most economical way to make your old, scratched hardwoods look like new again. Another huge benefit is that you will preserve your wood floors for many more years to come.
Get in touch with local flooring pros to get FREE ESTIMATES on the cost of refinishing your hardwood floors.
Best Hardwood Floor Finishes
There are a number of different types of wood finishes you can choose from. You will find that these products have different durability, aesthetics and pricing. They can be suitable from low to high-
end flooring applications.
Here is a quick summary of each popular hardwood finish to help you decide on the best option for your home.
1. Polyureathane Wood Floor Finish
Polyureathane is the most commonly used wood floor finishes. It is highly resistant to staining and scratching and can withstand heavy foot traffic. There are two types of polyurethane finishes available, each with distinct properties:
Water-based Finish: dries quickly (2-3 hours between coats), and will remain clear over time, keep your floors the same color. The downside of this product is that because it dries so fast and cannot be worked on when wet, a contractor must carefully avoid making any mistakes, as they are very difficult to fix.
Many of these water-based finishes are also available as a low VOC option. On the up side, this type of finish is a great option for environmentally conscious homeowners.
Cost: $40-60/gallon, which covers about 400 – 500 sq.ft.
Oil-based: takes 8-10 hours to dry between coats and it is easy to fix mistakes along the way. The downside of this finish is that overtime its color turns amber-yellow, and leaves a very strong odor that lingers on for days. Also contains toxic VOCs. An oil-based finish is an ideal choice for homes that have average price wood flooring.
Cost: $18-40/gallon, which covers about 500 – 600 sq.ft.
2. Moisture-Cured Urethane Hardwood Finish
This finish is a step up from both types of polyurethane finishes in terms of durability and longevity. Dries very fast, but requires pro only application. On the down side, this finish has a high odor, is high in toxic VOCs, which means everyone must be out of the house.
Moisture-cured urethane is a great option for homes with high traffic areas, many kids, and pets.
Cost: $2 to $4 per square foot professionally applied.
3. Acid-cured (Swedish) Floor Finish
Also called conversion varnish sealer, this finish leaves an extremely tough coating that will protect your floors for many years to come. It also dries very fast, making it possible to apply two coats in one day.
Moreover, it can only by applied by a pro, and once you refinish your floors with it, you will have to keep going with it in the future.
On the down side, it produces a volatile and toxic odor, high VOCs, which makes it necessary for everyone to leave the home until the project is completely finished.
It takes about 60 days for this finish to cure completely, but its possible to walk on the floor after only 3 days. However, you need to keep your furniture off the floors for at least 2 weeks, and rugs for the full 60 days.
This is an ideal option for a home with high-end or exotic hardwoods, as well as floors with elaborate designs (mosaics).
Cost: $3.75- $5 per sq. ft. for professional application.
4. Wax Floor Finish
Wax is the good old-fashioned way to refinish wood flooring, and has been in wide use before polyurethane finishes were invented.
Yet, this time tested method (both in paste and liquid forms) is still in demand with homeowners who are looking for an eco-friendly, low VOC option, low toxicity, mild odor and low-luster look.
Wax also gives wood a softer look and feel than a synthetic finish, and allows it to breath and age naturally.
On the down side, wax is not as durable as polyurethane, susceptible to staining and needs regular and frequent upkeep (its easy to DIY the application of wax in areas where its needed).
A wax finish a great option for antique flooring in historic homes.
Cost: $10 – $25 per 1 pound (lb), which covers about 400 – 500 sq.ft.
5. Penetrating Oil Sealer Finish
Like wax, penetrating oil sealer has been around for centuries. It contains tung oil, which is a naturally occurring, low VOC oil, with a mild smell and low sheen. This finish has a long drying time (24-48 hours between each coat).
It is easy to apply, making it a great DIY option, as well as do touch ups as necessary. Because this finish penetrates the wood, it enhances the original look of grain patters, as well as the color of the wood itself.
On the downside, this finish needs to reapplied every 2-3 years. Penetrating oil sealer finish is perfect for historic homes with antique hardwoods, as well as DIYers.
Cost: $60 -70 per gallon, which covers about 500 sq. ft.
6. Shellac Finish
Another time proven option, shellac has been around for centuries, but fell out of common use after the invention of synthetic materials. It is produced from a resin, secreted by a lac bug, which lives in Thailand and India.
As a result, shellac is a natural, renewable resource, has no Vocs, and its non-toxic. By, far, this is the most eco-friendly finish on the market. It dries quickly, easy to do spot repairs, and is easy to apply DIY.
On the down side its not very durable, susceptible to staining and scratching (scratches can be repaired by rubbing them out with denatured alcohol).
Its NOT possible to apply any synthetic finishes over shellac, as its not compatible with them (it will need to be completely removed). On the other hand, it is frequently used as the base coat for wax applications.
Shellac is a great option for floors that already have it, or paired with wax, and for homeowners looking for a non-toxic finish option.
Cost: $80 – 90 per gallon, which covers about 300 sq. ft.
How To Get The Best Quality Hardwood Floor Finish For A Reasonable Price
There are a number of things you can do to make your project a success. If done well, this update can make a beat-up 60 year old hardwood, look brand new!
1. Only hire an experienced contractor. Check their references and ask to take a look at the before/after photos of their previous jobs.
When it comes to the cost of hardwood floor refinishing, you are paying primarily for the labor, so its important to make sure its of the highest quality.
A poorly done job is likely to leave ugly stains and air bubbles all over your hardwoood, and you will be basically back to square one!
2. Save money by doing multiple rooms at the same time. Contractors in all trades do an upcharge for small projects, because they have to cover their prep/clean-up time, as well as overhead. Refinishing a floor is no different. You will pay less per sq.ft. if you do multiple rooms vs. just doing one room or a small area.
3. Carefully select your floor stain. There is a wide range of hardwood stain hues that can be used for refinishing.
Ask you contractor to see samples of the stains he uses (pictures of previous jobs) so that you can have a clear sense of what your floor will look like once its finished. Note, you may not need to stain your hardwoods, in case you already like the existing color.
4. Go for a high quality finish. While you may have to spend an extra few hundred dollars on a high-end finish, it will be money well spent. Low-end finishes will not make your floor look its best, but most importantly they will not offer the same protection.
As a result, a few years after your hardwood has been refinished you may find yourself wondering why it is starting to look dull and scratched once again.
On the other hand, a high quality finish should protect your floor for at least 10 years. Do your own research on the type of finishes available and ask your contractor which one they plan on using.
How Long Does It Take To Refinish Hardwood Floors?
During the refinishing process, a contractor will need to go over the floor with a sander and various levels of grit, until it is perfectly smooth. This ensures that all the scratches, stains and dents that have accrued on the hardwood over time will be gone.
Next, he will stain the floor with a hue of your choice, and then will apply several coats of finish. This is what gives the hardwood a layer of protection and a beautiful shine.
Depending on the finish, it can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days for it to fully dry and bond, before a new coat can be applied.
As a result, you can expect the entire project to take 1-2 weeks. You should make sure that the final coat is completely dry before moving back all your furniture and walking around the space.