Wooden Stair Finishes: Polyurethane Versus Hard Wax Oil

Your beautiful wooden stairs have been installed, and now you have to decide on the type of finish you want for them. Choosing the correct type of protective finish can keep your stairs looking great for longer, but with so many finishing options available, how do you choose one that's up to the job?

Polyurethane and hard wax oil are high-quality finishes that are ideal for stairs. The best choice for your staircases will depend on a few factors, such as the level and type of traffic your stairs will have to withstand and how you want your stairs to look when they're finished. Here's an overview of polyurethane and hard wax oil to help you decide:


Polyurethane is a surface finish, so it sits on top of the wood rather than penetrating it. It's a liquid plastic that's ideal for high-traffic stairs as it's hard-wearing and water-resistant. Wet, muddy shoes can walk up and down stairs finished with polyurethane all day long and a wipe with a damp mop will have them looking like new again. However, if one of the treads gets damaged and you need to sand and refinish it, you'll find the new coat of polyurethane may not look exactly the same as the existing coat on the rest of the stairs, and you may have to refinish the entire staircase if you want the stairs to have a uniform appearance.

Polyurethane comes as a water-based or oil-based finish. The water-based version is clear and preserves the natural look of the wood, but it requires more coats than the oil-based version. Using an oil-based finish will give your stairs a polished appearance and a light amber glow, but oil-based polyurethane will emit volatile organic compounds when it's drying.

Hard Wax Oil

Hard wax oil is a penetrative wood finish that's durable and allows the natural colour of the wood to shine through. It can withstand heavy traffic, but it's not the best option for stairs that get wet often. Moisture can damage the performance of the protective wax, so the stairs must be dried with a soft cloth as soon as they get wet. If a tread gets scratched, it's easy to fix when you have a hard wax oil finish. You simply need to sand the scratch and apply the hard wax oil to the damaged area. There's no need to refinish the entire tread.

When deciding between polyurethane and hard wax oil for your wooden stairs, consider the location of the stairs and how your home is used on a day-to-day basis. Polyurethane may be the best choice if you have pets or children, while hard wax oil will have no problem protecting stairs in a busy adult household. 

About Me

Creating an artistically inspiring home

I work in a creative field and I like to live in a home that is full of items that can inspire me each day. I have been collecting unique items from all over the world for years and I like to have them arrange in interesting ways and regularly redecorate my home to highlight different items that I like. This blog has some tips on how you can use interior decorating techniques to create an inspiring home atmosphere to get your artistic juices flowing. I hope it will be useful for people who want to create unique and artistic spaces in their homes.




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