Prefinished vs. Unfinished Hardwood Floors

Prefinished or unfinished hardwood? Learn about the differences between them, so you can choose the type that's right for your home.

What is a finish?

The finish is a protective top coat that seals a hardwood floor against damage from everyday wear-and-tear, moisture, and stains. Prefinished floors have the finish applied during manufacturing. Unfinished floors have the finish applied on-site - at the customer's home.

Prefinished hardwood floors are also called "factory finished". Unfinished floors are also called "site-finished".

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Prefinished Floors

Hardwood flooring with a factory-applied finish is not only faster and easier to install, but it performs better over time. To produce the highest quality hardwood flooring, stains and finish coatings are applied and dried in a factory-controlled environment. High-performance aluminum oxide urethane coatings are subjected to as many as seven passes of ultraviolet light to cure the urethane to the wood and preserve its color, thus creating an extremely durable finish. By comparison, site-finished floors typically receive only 2-3 coats of polyurethane and then are allowed to cure by air drying.

Performance Plus Hardwood Hickory - ESP5231

Armstrong Floors Are Prefinished

All Armstrong hardwood flooring comes prefinished for a hassle-free installation and is warranted for up to 35 years for residential use. For a high durability hardwood product, consider Armstrong’s Performance Plus hardwood floors. These floors are made with a patented acrylic-infusion process that makes them 2.5x harder than untreated hardwood floors of the same species. Plus they have superior scratch and stain resistance.

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Unfinished Floors

Unfinished hardwood flooring ships from the factory in its natural state. Sanding, staining, and finishing are all done on site after the boards are installed. End and edge treatments are typically limited to "square".

American Scrape Hardwood Hickory - EAS501

Advantages of Prefinished Floors

  • Less time to install: flooring arrives already sanded and finished
  • No drying or curing time required – floors are ready to walk on immediately after installation
  • No strong odors or dust from sanding during installation
  • No need to relocate family during finishing
  • Prefinished floors come with a manufacturer’s warranty against board defects
  • Can be sanded and refinished multiple times

Advantages of Unfinished Floors

  • Easier to match existing hardwood flooring or other interior decor
  • Custom color staining
  • Easier for installer to do customized elements, like inlays
  • Some plank widths and exotic wood species are available only as unfinished hardwood flooring
  • Can be sanded and refinished multiple times
  • Less expensive than prefinished boards, but there are additional expenses associated with finishing on site

Which Should You Choose?

Whether you choose prefinished or unfinished flooring depends on your preference and your particular project. If you're building a new home, for example, you may prefer to have your hardwood floors installed on site. For existing homes, prefinished floors install faster and easier - and there's no inconvenience to your family or dust and fumes to deal with.

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