Hardwood Finish #1: Wax
Hardwood Finish #2: Polyurethane
There are two types of polyurethane to choose from: water based and oil based. Water based poly is more expensive but dries much more quickly and is easy to apply. Water based poly is also low odor and low VOC, while oil based poly has a strong smell and high VOC but also is far more durable. Water-based poly also has an excellent reputation for being far more eco-friendly than oil based and also dries clear, where oil-based poly dries with a slight amber tint. If you want a high-gloss, durable, long-lasting finish, then either oil or water-based poly is probably your best option.
Hardwood Finish #3: Acid-Cured (Swedish)
Often considered the Lamborghini of floor finishes, acid cured finishes are a professional-only floor polish. While they are supposed to be one of the hardiest floor finishes, they are also the most expensive, running between $3.75 to $5 per square foot. While they tend to dry quickly (in around 2 hours), they can take up to 60 days to fully cure. After about three days it is safe to walk on but can take up to two weeks to cure enough to lay furniture on and up to 60 days to put rugs back down so carpet fibers don’t become stuck in the finish.
Hardwood Finish #4: Moisture-Cured Urethane
Moisture-cured urethane is considered one of the hardest finishes available, but also has one of the highest VOC’s. Because it dries so fast, it’s difficult to apply, so it’s not recommended for DIY’ers. Also, because of the high VOC’s – which means fumes can last for weeks – respirators and proper ventilation are must-haves during application; you will also need to plan on vacating your home for at least two weeks following application.