Oil vs Lacquer- what is the best finish for my wood floor?
Updated: Jan 26, 2021
‘Without doubt, the question I get asked more than any other by customers in relation to floor sanding is ‘’What is the best finish for my wood floor?’. This blog post outlines the features of the 2 main types of finish, oils and lacquers, and the pros and cons of each, and aims to dispel some common misconceptions.
For those wanting a quick answer, and not interested in the detail, I’ll keep it simple: I recommend using oil for most oak floors, and lacquer for most pine floors. Other hardwoods will be dealt with in a later article. For the reasons behind this, then read on…
First, a quick note. At Ryton Flooring we use Pallmann finishes, which we believe are the best available, and this article refers specifically to their flooring oils and lacquers.
Wood floor finishes- what are they?
There are essentially 2 types of wood floor finish: oils and lacquers. Modern flooring oils are almost exclusively a blend of oils and waxes, and are therefore referred to as ‘hardwax oils’. Floor lacquers (often referred to by non-flooring professionals as varnishes) are, with very few exceptions, water-based products.
Lacquers can be single component (for domestic or low wear applications) or two component (for commercial and higher traffic areas). The latter include a hardener to improve durability and scratch protection.
How do they work?
Flooring oils are a penetrating finish, meaning that they soak into and strengthen the wood fibres rather than sitting on top of the floor. Lacquers, on the other hand, sit on the surface of the floor and seal the wood.
Due to the way they work, flooring oils give a much more natural ‘unfinished’ look, whereas a floor that has been lacquered tends to look more coated.
Pallmann Magic Oil emphasises the natural features of the wood, highlighting the grain pattern and exaggerating colour variation between boards. On oak floors it gives a rich, matt velvety finish and it tends to darken the wood to give a permanent wet look. On pine floors it usually yellows the wood, so I would not normally recommend using it in this case (unless the floor is being stained).
Most lacquers (referred to in our quotes as ‘standard’ lacquers) will yellow and darken both pine and oak floors slightly compared to the unfinished floor, however on oak floors they will darken it a lot less than Magic Oil. They are available in matt, satin and gloss versions, although even the matt versions will give a higher sheen level than oil.
In 2019 and 2020 there has been a trend towards ‘invisible’ lacquers, such as Pallmann X-Pure. These are intended to give an unfinished appearance- ultra-matt, with a white pigment added to minimise colour change. Invisible lacquers are popular with customers looking for a more contemporary or ‘Scandi’ look, although they are more expensive than standard lacquers.
Advantages of oiled floors
- Application & drying time: Pallmann Magic Oil is applied in a single process and is fully cured after 12 hours (meaning the room can be back in full use with full protection after just 12 hours). Lacquers require 3 coats (domestic) or 4 coats (commercial), with drying time between each coat. Full cure (hardness) takes around 7 days.
- Suitable for high wear areas: 2 component oils such as Pallmann Magic Oil have excellent chemical and wear resistance, and are widely used in commercial applications such as pubs, restaurants and retail outlets.
- Maintenance: Oils benefit from re-oiling every 1-2 years depending on use, however this is a relatively cheap and straightforward process. In the long-run, an oiled floor is more cost-effective as it won’t need re-sanding as often- re-oiling builds up the protection and refreshes the appearance (see our maintenance page).
- Repairs: oiled floors can be spot repaired relatively easily, and worn areas can be ‘patched in’ without the need for a full sanding process. Lacquered floors are not easily repairable, and usually require a full re-sand if badly scratched or damaged.
- Coloured oils: Pallmann offer an extensive range of colours which can be added to their flooring oil. This means the staining and finishing can be done in a single application, saving time and money. The intensity of the colour can be adjusted as required.
- Environmentally friendly: Pallmann Magic Oil has zero VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
Disadvantages of oiled floors
- Require application of a maintenance product to maintain the finish between re-oiling. This is typically needed approximately every 2 months in houses, and every 1-4 weeks in commercial applications. However, this can be carried out by the customer using a micro-fibre mop
- Prone to water/spot marks if water is left sitting on the floor for long periods
- Gaps between floorboards need to be filled before application. Not always cost effective for pine floors.
- Require re-oiling every 1-2 years to maintain optimum protection and appearance
- Yellow appearance on unstained pine floors
- Not recommended for very soft pine floors (usually pine floorboards that have been made in the last 30-40 years)
- Not suitable for sports halls due to slip resistance (see below)
Pallmann Magic Oil is suitable for domestic and commercial use, including school and village halls, pubs, restaurants and retail outlets. Pallmann lacquers (2 component type) comply with EN 14904 slip resistance for sports halls.’
Written by Ben Ward, owner of Ryton Flooring.
Pallmann Magic Oil review: https://napervillehardwood.com/blog/revisited-pallmann-magic-oil/
Cleaning and maintenance of Pallmann oiled floors:
Cleaning and maintenance of Pallmann lacquered floors:
Ryton Flooring wood floor maintenance services: INCLUDE LINK TO RELEVANT PAGE