Natural oil-finished hardwoods are making a huge comeback in the flooring industry. For centuries, the oil finish has been used to protect and beautify wood floors, traditionally done on-site after installation, but now increasingly applied during the manufacturing process, and the results are in--while natural oil floors may require a little more maintenance than their urethane counterparts, the finish provides some amazing benefits.
Even though the urethane finish is typically enhanced with ceramic and aluminum oxide particles that make it a very durable coating on the wood, any scratches, gouges or dents sustained--and the planks will sustain damage--are very hard to repair or camouflage. Ultimately, urethane floors may need to be sanded down and refinished or completely replaced once enough wear and tear is evident. Oiled hardwoods however can last indefinitely if properly maintained, as the oil penetrates into the wood instead of coating it, imparting a gentle lustre and a softer, more natural finish. Damage disappears with a light spot-sanding and oiling.
Because most of us are used to sweeping or vacuuming our hardwoods then doing a damp mop with general wood cleaners and DONE, oil maintenance might seem a little daunting at first. It's basically a three step process every 1-3 years, and natural soaping as needed. Upon installation, manufacturers recommend oiling immediately, which involves cleaning the floor, then oiling, then soaping--this is the 3 step process that only occurs every 1-3 years as needed. To clean or soap, diluted cleaner or soap is applied to the floor with a damp cloth or mop that is rinsed in a bucket of clean water between each pass, and voila. The floor should appear dry within 2 minutes. The oiling process is a little more involved--after the floor has been cleaned, oil is sprayed on the surface and worked in with a cotton pad, then buffed with a cotton cloth, leaving no excess moisture on the surface that could become tacky. The floor should cure for 24 hours, then a soaping is recommended to complete the process. The important points to remember are to ensure oils and soaps are the correct colour for your hardwood (they do come in different colours to enhance and protect different stains) and to dispose of used cotton cloths properly. Mopping pads can be rinsed and reused indefinitely. Oiling and soaping can also occur on high traffic areas only rather than tackling the entire floor.
Moral of the story? Urethane finishes are tried, tested, true, and familiar to most, with less maintenance but a shorter lifespan. Oils are historically proven to enhance and lengthen the life of wood, but there's no gain without a little tiny bit of pain. Options are good, so pick what works best with your lifestyle and hopefully now you won't fear the oil if it happens to be a viable option for you.