You’re no fool – you know that in order to protect your newly installed engineered flooring you’re going to need some sort of sealant, stain or varnish. But which should you choose? What’s the best protection for your floors? Here are the main types of wood protection, what types of floors they work best on, and how to use each.
Wood sealant is a great choice if you’re concerned about uneven grain or stain patterns. Most often used on soft woods, wood sealant will penetrate your floors and harden, helping slow stain absorbency and giving your floors a more even color distribution. Sealants help protect wood from the elements and are most often used in decking projects, but they can be used on floors in high-traffic or extremely open rooms. Softwoods such as spruce, white pine and Douglas fir (sometimes referred to as SPF lumber) take very well to sealants and are common flooring and decking choices in the US.
Used for centuries as a wood finish, shellac is a natural resin produced by tree-dwelling insects. Shellac isn’t as commonly used as it once was, but it can still be found at hardwood supply stores and is a great choice for DIY-ers because it doesn’t produce a lot of fumes. Shellac is very compatible with most other finishes, and when used as a primer can help protect wood from stain blotching or resin bleeding. It also acts as a sealant. It isn’t the most durable wood protectant, so if you only use shellac plan on doing touch-ups as scratches happen.
Varnishes offer great protection to wood floors, but are a little trickier to apply than stains and sealants. Made up of a combination of resins and oils, varnishes must be applied in a completely dust- and dirt-free area as the wet varnish surface is very susceptible to damage. Polyurethane varnishes offer the best protection, making them perfect for indoor use.
The downside to varnishes is that they add a plastic appearance to the floors, which some people find unappealing. Varnishes also tend to yellow and crack with age, so they require a bit more maintenance in the long run. They can be applied to any type of wood, however, and many people find the versatility and protection worth the plastic appearance and down-the-road maintenance.
Very popular in hardwood flooring projects, stains accent and emphasize wood grain while offering moderate protection. Stains are the most versatile wood protectant, coming in a variety of transparencies and colors, and are generally either oil-, latex- or water-based. Stains are great on woods with striking or exotic wood grain patterns, such as Acacia, Cumaru, and Tigerwood. The downside? Stains don’t offer great protection, so be prepared to reapply more often than you would a varnish or shellac.