Choosing the right finish for your home really depends on what matters to you most. Like everything else there are advantages and disadvantages to every kind of finish out there and we are trying to help take the guesswork out of it by listing some common options below.

Holley Floors, LLC is currently primarily only using Premium Swedish (classic) & Premium Water Based finishes as they have been time tested and result proven. We are always seeking new products from reputable companies that are both client & eco-friendly as well as socially responsible and sustainable. We care very much about the earth, overall health and your quality of living and want to reflect that in our business practices.

Environmental impacts and indoor air quality (IAQ)

Whatever floor finish you choose, different products will have different impacts on your home air quality and the planet. Like paints, floor finishes will contain varying levels of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), or if you're a really educated shopper, maybe none at all. While the smell of the finish may be gone in days or weeks, the effects might not be and different people have different levels of sensitivities to the products. It can take years before VOCs in any surface finishes stop polluting your air, which can cause or aggravate a multitude of health problems. 

I always recommend using water based finish with little or no VOCs in a household where someone is pregnant, there are small children, seniors and/or pets. 


Water based vs oil based polyurethane varnish:

Water-based urethanes are usually combinations of urethanes and acrylics with a catalyst mixed prior to application. In general, the higher the percentage of urethane, the more durable and expensive


Oil-modified urethanes are technically oil-based; examples include linseed and tung oil.



Introduced to European markets in 1979 and present in US markets since the early 1980's. There are many varieties of waterborne coatings in the wood flooring market; depending on the product they may contain acrylic, polyurethane or (most likely) a combination of both. One- and two-component versions are available. 


There is an option of gloss, satin or matte

Clearer, less yellowing than other finishes

It dries quicker than oil based

Lower odor than oil based (less noxious)

It isn't flammable or explosive

It usually contains less than half the VOCs of oil based products. (Expect about 200 grams per can)

In the past they were not nearly as durable, but product improvements have made that difference negligible.

Cleanup of applicators involves only soap and water


Requires more applications than oil based

More expensive than oil based

Not as Durable/tough as oil based

New coats may not adhere as well to old coats



OMUs or polys have been around since the 1940's but gained popularity in the 1950s & 60s. It is the most popular finish today but stricter VOC requirements and ever increasing options are making it lose popularity. Essentially, it is polyurethane with an oil base in a solvent as the carrier. The solvent is typically mineral spirits, although some new poly products have water instead.


Most popular

Less expensive

Requires less applications than water based

They can bring out a bit more color from woods, and leave your floor a bit warmer looking in color (especially on walnut and exotic species)

Oil has a reputation for being far more durable than water based, but since that isn't the case anymore, any additional durability hardly seems worth the added health, safety and environmental risks.


Longer drying times

More VOC’s than other finishes (approx. 450 grams per can)

Cleanup requires harsh solvents

Oil based varnish only comes in a glossy finish

FACT: Lead was used as a drying agent in oil-modified poly and stain until its use was banned in coatings due to health concerns in 1978. Because lead helped a coating dry from the bottom up, before its ban, common problems in today's market like finish poly beads and stain bleedback were unheard of. Today, contractors disturbing more than 6 square feet of a coated surface in any pre-1978 home or child-occupied facility must be certified under the EPA's accredited training.




Developed in Sweden in the 1950's, it's the Cadillac (or Volvo) of floor finishes, acid-cured (containing formaldehyde) Swedish finishes are for pro application only. They’re among the toughest of all hardwood flooring finishes, and the most expensive. They’re sometimes called conversion varnish sealers. 

Acid-cured finishes have extremely high VOC content; you’ll have to bunk elsewhere for a few days after finishing to give the odors a chance to clear. The finish takes up to 60 days to fully cure, but you can walk on it after three days. Keep furniture off for two weeks, and rugs off for the full 60 days so the fibers don’t stick.

Especially good for: high-end homes with flooring made from exotic woods and floors with elaborate inlay designs

Swedish Finish is no more toxic than any other solvent-based finish, stain or paint. Swedish Finish is for professional use only because it needs to be handled and applied by a professional. When used properly it should never harm a person or pet. 

According to Glitsa (one of the trusted manufacturers of Swedish Finish), it measured that 95-99% of the solvents in Glitsa Swedish Finish evaporate within 24 hours depending on climate and humidity. This finish is usually done off-gasing within 3 days, and after 7 days, no noticeable off-gasing is detectable. This finish must be handled properly while in its liquid form, but once dry is no longer harmful. 


High End Professional Results

Excellent durability & elasticity

Transparency & Excellent grain clarity, depth and color (comparable to an oil-modified poly)

Fast Drying

New coats adhere extremely well

Smaller molecules immerse into the wood better protecting wood cells

Easy repairs due to the product's coating to wet back into itself

Classic & rich looking floors

Available in Matte, Semi-Matte & Gloss


Must be applied by a professional to a perfectly sanded floor

High VOCs & presence of formaldehyde

The application of the finish can leave a residual odor in the air for days if not weeks and premises must remain free of people and animals (including fish) for approx. 24-48 hours after each application to ensure safety from fumes.

Extremely Flammable. All heat & pilot lights must be turned off after application & while drying

Cleanup of applicator requires lacquer thinner



Pre-finished hardwood floors are growing ever popular especially in condos with strict HOA rules and basement remodels where traditional hardwoods are not an option because of a concrete subfloor. It is called pre-finished because the chemical finish is applied at the factory in a commercial setting, not in your home after the install process.


Flexibility- You get all of the advantages of the factory applied surface seal, with the look, beauty, and feel of traditional hardwood floors. At the same time you also always have the option of sanding down past the factory applied sealing coat, in order to once more reveal the natural wood to the surface. It can then be treated with any of the basic on site finishing techniques.

Time- It is much quicker to install a prefinished hardwood material than it is going through the process of sanding, possibly staining and finishing the material on site. Pre-finished floors are ready to go as soon as they are installed and do not require further coating.

Durability- In the factory they are able to use very powerful chemical sealers, which are so powerful they are not available for on-site installers to use. Typical formulas consists of aluminum oxide crystals embedded in a UV cured urethane coat. While on-site applied finishes warranty for 3-5 years, factory applied treatments will often have warranties of 5-25 years or more.

Maintenance- Because the surface seal is stronger and more durable when it is applied at the factory, maintenance is easier. They tend to be slightly more impervious to stains, moisture, and other discolorations than floors that are finished traditionally on-site. A stronger seal also means that you will not have to go through the time, mess, and expense of getting the floors refinished a few years later.


Toxicity- Since such harsh chemicals are used there is always a risk of exposure if the surface coat is compromised. This is usually not an issue with established, quality companies but sourcing is a huge factor. Cheaper and unknown sources can contain higher levels of toxins or inferior quality products so it is especially important to know where your pre-finished hardwoods are coming from if you are choosing this route.

Height- With a site finished floor you install the material and then sand it flat. This allows you to remove any height irregularities which may exist due to an uneven subfloor "customizing" the floor to your exact house specifications. With pre-finished materials, there is no sanding process, so the actual surface of the installation will reflect any below surface irregularities that may be present. Not good or floors that are NOT perfectly level (unforgiving on flaws). Floors can be leveled prior to installation, but this adds to the cost and can unearth additional concerns. Height is an important factor if one of the reasons for choosing pre-finish is cost and easy installation.

Seams- Because the material is factory finished, a sealing agent is not applied to the lines between the planks. This can lead to dirt and grime getting caught in these seams and water penetration, which can cause rot or mold to grow beneath the surface of the floor.

Beveling- Often factory pre-finished planks will have beveled (slightly rounded) edges. This gives the wood plank a more finished, uniform and slightly manufactured look. This can be great for the style of some modern interiors, but it may not match up with similar species of wood that have been previously installed on site (and have full, squared edges). Depending on the situation, pre-finished boars may not be cohesive with traditional looking or existing floors.

Refinishing- While pre-finished floors do not need to be refinished for a very long time, eventually the surface seal will start to fade, scratch, and discolor slightly. The problem with this is that the thick and pervasive nature of the pre-finished coat requires you to sand down much further into the material in order to reach the natural hardwood again. This cuts down on the depth of the floor, and limits how many times you can then refinish it going forward before it gets too thin and new material will need to be installed.

Repairs- With site finished floors, when a piece of wood becomes damaged, you can often repair it by sanding smooth the imperfection. However, the thick seal layer of a pre-finished floor means that when a section of flooring becomes damaged, the only way to repair it is to either sand the finish off of the entire floor, or remove and replace the broken section. Make sure to keep replacement boards if possible! Many people want to buy a discounted material on sale or overstock and do not realize that this can ultimately cost them more money or more hassle if you need to purchase more later and it is not available.