At one time penetrating oil systems were one of the most common wood floor finish options. When polyurethane (both oil-based and water-based versions) came onto the market, penetrating oil took a backseat. Nowadays, penetrating oil finish like those offered by WOCA, Rubio, and Bona are becoming more fashionable once again.
But what’s the difference? Why do some people prefer penetrating oil versus a traditional polyurethane finish?
Penetrating oil is more durable
The key difference between penetrating oil and polyurethane is how the finish interacts with the hardwood floor.
Polyurethane finish systems are applied on top of a wood floor. This creates a “wear layer” that people, pets, and furniture stand on top of. On the other hand, penetrating oil actually incorporates itself into the wood. Certain penetrating oils also contain hardening agents. This creates a finish system that soaks into the wood and hardens.
This fundamental difference between the two makes penetrating oil more durable than a polyurethane finish.
A penetrating oil finish almost never needs a re-coat
After polyurethane finish systems are applied they will experience wear and tear and inevitably need a recoating, or even a full refinishing. With a penetrating oil system, however, there is usually never a refinish. Instead, floors are simply cleaned and re-oiled. However, the penetrating oil may need more frequent maintenance and care depending on the location of the application.
Hardwood floors are meant to be walked on. No matter what system is in use, it will eventually need to be repaired in some capacity. With polyurethane finishes, the process of recoating or refinishing can be time consuming and expensive, because the entire floor is likely re-coated if a repair is required.
Click here to browse our selection of penetrating oils, including European hardening oil, tung oil, and wax.
With penetrating oils, most hardwood floor repairs simply require an application of a cleaning solution and simply re-oil the problem area.
Penetrating oil lends the wood a more natural appearance than polyurethane
Aesthetically, many people find that penetrating oils offer the most natural look for hardwood floors. This is because the oil becomes part of the wood itself. Penetrating oils also avoid the “plasticky” look of polyurethane finishes. The oils also are one of the best options for low-sheen finish systems.
Polyurethane finishes can come in options like satin or matte, but ultimately they will still have that “plasticky” sheen quality to them. Products like WOCA’s penetrating oil really allow the warm, insulating effect of wood to come through. The wood floor finished in this style system also feels warmer under foot.
Penetrating oil is forgiving
Many hardwood floor professionals are fond of the easy application for penetrating oil systems. With polyurethane there is concern about lap lines, feathering, and streaking in an application that can result in a poor looking finish.
Penetrating oil is much more forgiving than a polyurethane finish. Many penetrating oil systems simply require the oil to be applied with either a lambswool brush or roller and buffed into the wood. However, keep in mind that penetrating oils do take a bit of a longer time to cure.