Finish Choices

How does your choice of finish affect your indoor air quality?

What’s a VOC & Where is it found?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that can become a gas at room temperature, some of which have short and long term health risks. One of the most common and dangerous VOCs is formaldehyde, which is used as an adhesive, bonding agent and solvent. Sources of VOCs are primarily industrial processes that emit 58%, motor vehicles that emit 37%, and consumer solvents that emit 5%.

See our “Why Choose Green/Eco Friendly Flooring? –  Health Factors & Indoor Air Quality” section for more about VOCs

VOCs are found in a number of products including:

Paint strippers
Contaminated water
Spray cans
Cleaning products
Copy machine toners
Felt-tip markers/pens
Correction fluid

Carbonless (NCR) copy paper
Building materials
Aerosol sprays
Tobacco smoke
Air fresheners/deodorizers
Dry-cleaned clothing
Nail polish
Fabric softeners

Decreasing Exposure to VOCs

  • The best way to reduce your exposure to VOCs is by reducing products in your home and workplace that contain VOCs. Try to find safer substitutes. When buying paints and stains, look for labels that describe a “low-emitting formula”. It is important to note that many products are labeled for VOC-content (eg. “Formaldehyde-Free” or “0-VOC”). Content is not an appropriate indicator of what emits off of the product. Be sure to always have adequate ventilation.
  • Purchase and use building materials and furnishings that have been certified by the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) or another reputable third-party, independent source to emit low levels of VOCs and have been tested for their indoor environment acceptability.
  • Use detergent-based cleaners that are biodegradable; avoid ones that say “danger,” “caution” or “flammable.” Use non-fragranced cleaners or polishes you rub on rather than spray. Often cloths damped with water work well to control dust.
  • Buy furniture and cabinets made from solid wood, not pressed wood, which is bound together with formaldehyde. If necessary, seal any pressed wood shelving and cabinetry with coatings shown to seal in formaldehyde.
  • Avoid air fresheners and deodorizers aerosolized products and other fragranced products that add additional VOCs to the air.
  • Minimize the use of pesticides indoors. Instead, use procedures to manage cleanliness and avoid them. If necessary, use only pest-control companies licensed by the state; call the EPA to make sure that company has not had any violations. Avoid indoor “smoke bombs” that kill insects while blanketing everything in the home in pesticides.
  • Throw away partially full containers of old or unneeded chemicals safely. Because gases can leak even from closed containers, this single step could help lower concentrations of organic chemicals in your home. Do not simply toss these unwanted products in the garbage can. Find out if your local government or any organization in your community sponsors special days for the collection of toxic household wastes. If such days are available, use them to dispose of the unwanted containers safely. If no such collection days are available, think about organizing one.
  • Purchase in quantities you will use soon. If you use products only occasionally or seasonally, such as paints, paint strippers, and kerosene for space heaters or gasoline for lawn mowers, buy only as much as you will use right away.
  • Store chemicals out of reach of children and pets.
  • Products containing VOCs should be stored in tightly sealed containers in a secure and well-ventilated area.
  • Never store opened pesticide, paint, or other chemicals in containers indoors or in air handling rooms of commercial buildings.
  • Use household products in well-ventilated places.
  • Keep exposure to vapors from products containing methylene chloride to a minimum. These products include paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints. Methylene chloride is known to cause cancer in animals. It is also converted to carbon monoxide in the body and can cause symptoms associated with exposure to carbon monoxide.
  • Air out freshly dry-cleaned clothes before wearing. This is because of perchloroethylene off-gassing from newly dry-cleaned materials. Perchloroethylene is the chemical most widely used in dry cleaning. In laboratory studies, it has been shown to cause cancer in animals. Recent studies indicate that people breathe low levels of this chemical both in homes where dry-cleaned goods are stored and as they wear dry-cleaned clothing. Taking steps to minimize your exposure to this chemical is important. If dry-cleaned items have a strong chemical odor when you pick them up, do not accept them until they have been properly dried. If goods with a chemical odor are returned to you on subsequent visits, try a different dry cleaner.
  • Prevent moisture build-up inside that could result in the growth of VOC-producing molds. Keep humidity levels below 60% and make sure that all water leaks are cleaned up rapidly.
  • Air out newly manufactured homes and buildings or newly renovated or furnished areas with fresh, clean outdoor air for a minimum of one week or until the new odors dissipate.
  • Avoid products with long-lasting odors.

Though you will not be able to get rid of all sources of VOCs, the more you decrease your exposure to VOCs, the less there will be to get inside your body.

How do finish choices differ?

Solid Wood Flooring Finish & Stain Choices

A wide range of finishes and stains are available for solid wood flooring, giving you unlimited possibilities for customizing your floors.

Lasting beauty requires minimal care with today’s wood floor finishes. The right finish protects wood flooring from wear, dirt and moisture while giving the wood an attractive color and sheen. Technology has provided a wide selection of wood flooring finishes, each with its own distinct benefits and appearances.


Surface finishes are very popular today because they are durable, water-resistant and require minimal maintenance. Surface finishes are blends of synthetic resins. These finishes most often referred to as urethane or polyurethane remain on the surface of the wood and form a protective coating. They are generally available in high-gloss, semi-gloss and satin. Any one of the surface finishes are appropriate for the kitchen.

Surfacing finishes shield floors by forming a protective layer that looks like clear plastic on top of the wood. Predominantly polyurethane, surface finishes are found on all engineered floors and are today’s most popular choice.

There are basically four types of surface finishes; Oil Modified Urethane, Water-based urethane, Moisture Cure Urethane and Swedish Finish or Acid Cure Urethane.  We do not use the Moisture Cure Urethane or Swedish Finish/Acid Cure Urethane because these finishes are extremely difficult to apply and have an remarkably strong odor.

Oil Modified Urethane

Oil modified urethane is generally the most common surface finish and is easy to apply. It is a solvent-base polyurethane that dries in about eight hours. This type of finish ambers with age. Oil modified urethane is available in satin, semi-gloss and gloss.

This blend of synthetic resins, plasticizers, and other film-forming ingredients produces an extremely durable surface that is moisture-resistant. It is the best choice for a kitchen or wherever there is exposure to water splashing and spills.

Water-based Urethane

Water-based urethane is a waterborne urethane that dries by water evaporation. These finishes are clear and non-yellowing. They have a milder odor than oil-modified finishes have and they dry in about two to three hours. Water-based urethanes are generally more expensive. Water-based urethane is available in satin and gloss.


There are many stain colors to choose from and custom colors of stain are available.  Different types of wood flooring except stain differently, therefore it’s a good idea to ask about your specific type of flooring and how it will accept stain.

Engineered Wood Flooring Finish Choices

An engineered wood floor is one in which the finish is applied at the factory.


Several finish options are available in engineered products.  Please ask us for samples.

Laminated Flooring Finish Choices

A laminated floor is one in which the finish is applied at the factory.


Several finish options are available in laminated products.  Please ask us for samples.

Factory Applied vs. Site Applied Finish

Floor finishes can be applied prior to installation by the manufacturer of the flooring or on site by the floor installer. Each process has advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages Factory-Applied Finishes (some solid & engineered & all laminated):
- Applied in a controlled environment with no airborne dust or other impurities
- Subcoats containing special additives like aluminum oxide can be added, greatly increasing the wear-resistance of the finish
- Extra coats can be easily added by rollers. Nine coats of finish is not uncommon for a factory finish, while two to three coats is typical for a site-applied finish
- Factory finishes tend to be much more durable than the best available site-applied finishes — about twice as durable is a good rule of thumb
- Less installation time and labor means much lower overall installed cost. Factories apply finishes for much less than contractors. 
- Improved indoor air quality. Factory finishes are cured by ultraviolet rays in the factory and are completely inert by the time they are packaged. There is no off-gassing of solvents, VOCs, or other harmful chemicals

Disadvantages of Factory-Applied Finishes:
- The seams between the planks are not sealed, potentially allowing spilled liquids to leak down and damage the wood. Also, the seams may require top coating to seal seams in areas where frequent spills are expected (restaurants, bathrooms, etc.).
- The end-user cannot change the wood’s color with stains without sanding off the factory finish

Advantages of Site-Applied Finishes (solid & engineered):
- Creates a smooth, sealed surface over the entire floor
- Allows for color customization with stains, bleaches and/or dyes
- Allows you to select the gloss level of the finish
- Allows for use of spot-repairable oil finishes

Disadvantages of Site-Applied Finishes:
- The wood must be sanded prior to coating, resulting in dust, longer installation times and substantially higher labor costs
- The end user must wait for finish to dry completely, meaning they are forced out of their home for longer periods of time
- Site applied finishes contain solvents and other drying agents that off-gas harmful chemicals into the air for days, weeks or even months after installation (depending on the type of finish)
- Even “natural” plant-based oil finishes off-gas harmful chemicals. Some “natural” oils have higher VOC contents than urethane finishes
- Contractors often make errors that result in finish bubbles, applicator marks, sanding marks, dust in the finish, and poor adhesion. Expensive and highly inconvenient mistakes are common. 
- The long-term durability is much lower than with factory applied finishes