Waterbased flooring finish is a great product. It has so many qualities going for it – low VOC, durable finishes, easy application and many more. One of the common questions A-Max receives is about sheen levels and which one is right for their house and hardwood. This article is a mix of both facts and opinions. We have a lot of experience with these products and have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t with sheen levels in our customers homes.
There are 4 sheen levels commonly used in the market today – matte, satin, semi-gloss and gloss. Matte is a very low gloss, think of your walls at home or eggshell. Satin is a bit higher and would probably be tree leaf sheen. Semi-gloss is if you looked at a piece of plastic and it reflects a lot of light and color. The gloss level would be like a perfectly polished car.
In-depth About Each Gloss Level
- Matte – Great for hiding scratches and applying on every wood. Has little to no reflection in the wood and the wood has a natural look. After years of wear this sheen will show the least amount of wear.
- Satin – Hides scratches very well and still is great for applying on any wood species. The gloss is a bit higher than matte and has a nice reflection to it. Shows lower amount of wear.
- Semi-Gloss – Shows hair and scratches more easily. The application is good for open grain woods specifically oak. With semi-gloss applicator marks/streaking are more visible with semi-gloss and a tight grain wood. Shows more wear
- Gloss – Shows everything under the moon. This finish will show every hair, every smudge and every scratch. This finish is doable on oaks and other open grain woods in homes. However, tight grain woods are to be avoided. This finish looks nice on a basketball court until you get close to it- you will see streaking and lines everywhere. Shows a lot of wear.
Wear and Gloss Level
Wear is something you should think about with each gloss level. By wear we mean that the traffic patterns your house will have. The front door will get 90% of traffic and wear while a back room might get 10% of the wear. Wear over time will dull your finish. The higher gloss you have the more this wear will become apparent. The ideal sheens for not being able to see this sort of wear pattern is a satin or matte finish.
Scratching and Gloss Level:
Scratching will happen in every house. This is our #1 question asked “does this coating scratch?”. I hate to say it but every coating will scratch. No coating is bullet proof, a coating is only as hard as the wood under the finish. You can however hide scratching by going with a lower sheen. The reason this is possible is that a matting agent will reflect light less than a higher sheen. By having less light reflect within the scratch wit will not stick out to your eye as much. The best coating for scratching is a matte or a satin sheen level.
Cleaning and Gloss Level
In my house I have 3 different sheen levels. I did this to test each sheen and all the information is first hand account of years or wear on my floor with each sheen. My wife does the cleaning and has reported back on which one she likes and which one she hates. High gloss has been impossible for her to keep clean, the smudging of dirt from the dogs and the scratches from the dogs are super apparent. The coating always look dirty. Our Semi-gloss in the dining room looks nice, but has the same issues with cleaning just not as bad. Our satin floor which is in our kids playroom is much easier to clean, the scratches are unnoticeable and the smudging from the dogs is not there.
Closed Grain Woods and Higher Level Sheen’s
The tight grain woods such as a maple have a much more difficult time with a higher sheen level. Since the canvas is so flat and there is no dispersion of light in any way the application of a waterbased product will show lines, streaking or application marks (normal viewing of distance of 5 feet or so). By going with a lower sheen you do not have this issue due to the dispersion of light before it is reflected to your eyes. Oaks and other open grain woods are able to look flawless with a higher sheen due to the wood already dispersing the light with the height variations inherently in the wood.
The lower the gloss you go the better the finish will clean and wear. Any smudge or scratch will have a dull look to it, by already providing your canvas (floor) with a lower sheen you will be ultimately hiding the future scratches and smudges. While all sheen’s are possible, A-Max Hardwood prefers not to use higher sheen’s for homeowners on maple & birch or any other closed grain wood. The reason for shying away from higher sheen’s on tight grain hardwood is that closed grain woods reflect light too evenly and will show a semi-gloss or gloss level application line.