What is Polyurethane?
If you were to take a quick glance around your home right now, you would probably find several items that contain polyurethane. This is because polyurethane is one of the most common forms of synthetic resin currently offered on the market. Urethane, versus other forms of wood finishes (shellac, varnish, etc.) has proven time and time again to be one of the most durable options, with maximum heat resistance for aesthetics that passes the test of time.
Polyurethane finish, a liquid plastic generally found used in flooring, is available in either an oil-based form or a water-based form.
Water- Based vs. Oil- Based
The most notable difference from an aesthetic standpoint between the two is color. Water-based polyurethane is clear and will remain clear overtime, while oil- based polyurethane generally has a yellow tint to it that intensifies the color of the wood overtime. Another consideration when determining which base is best suited to your needs, is what you need the finished surface for. Because of its reaction with wood grain, water-based urethane requires more coats than oil-based and is also more prone to being negatively affected by heat or chemicals. In high traffic areas of your home, places where increased heat will be used, and color is of no consideration (or that amber hue is even desired), the more durable options of oil-based polyurethane (which requires less coats for a desirable finish) is a great option. Both bases are recommendable choices, and any professional can help you choose the best base for your home with just a few basic preference questions.
Choosing your Finish
Once you have determined which base to use, the next step is deciding which finish to use. Finishes will look different because of the way the light reflects off them. This can create a more or less polished look depending on preferences and will require more or less upkeep.
The different types of polyurethane finishes ranked in sheen level starting from lowest to highest are as follows:
*Note as you advance along the shine level ranks, the more noticeable imperfections and typical wear will be on your flooring.
Matte Polyurethane– The lowest sheen finish available. This finish has no light reflection creating a flat appearance. This finish makes for easy camouflaging of scuffs, smudges, and other flaws.
Satin Polyurethane– A medium to low sheen finish, currently ranking as the most popular finishing choice among consumers because of its versatility and ease of maintenance. If you have recently been inside of a home with polyurethane flooring, there is a good chance it had a satin finish.
Semi-Gloss Polyurethane– A sheen level ranking higher than satin finish that requires more maintenance than previous choices. This finish is clear and shiny (usually a little too much so for the average customer) and works best on flooring where foot traffic is minimal.
High Gloss Polyurethane– The highest sheen finish available. This finish is least commonly used in homes and results in high visibility imperfections.