Oils and waxes have been used to protect natural materials from the effects of the environment—light, water, cats, etc.—in buildings and building materials for as long as such things have existed.

One only has to look at an old pub or church floor in Europe to realize that naturally occurring materials such as seed oils and waxes can effectively protect a wood floor for hundreds of years. This isn’t to say that these old floors don’t look old—they do and they should. The bottom line is, they are real, they are beautifully authentic and they still exist today.

As modern folk, we tend to forget it has only been in the last hundred years that oils and waxes have been replaced with synthetic materials such as plastics and other human-crafted products. Now, don’t get me wrong, modern UV-cured polyurethanes with aluminum oxide wearlayers are nothing short of a modern-day miracle. Not only do these coatings resist wear-through like nobody’s business, they can be VOC-free and, depending on your lifestyle, are relatively easy to maintain.

Like most things in life, there’s a time and a place for everything. If you wear socks in your house and live in a moderate climate, polyurethane coated floors are fantastic. Sweep your floor, spray down a little cleaner and you’re good to go for many years.

If, however, you live in a more extreme climate or if, heaven forbid, you have dirt-bearing creatures in your life—such as critters or kids—there may be some advantages to you in considering a factory finished hardwax-oil coated floor.


Why Hardwax-Oil?

Factory finished hardwax-oil coatings are a trend in the hardwood flooring category that we’ve seen steadily re-emerge in the North American market over the last five years. Why? Well, there are at least two reasons: An evolution in the technology behind modern hardwax-oils, which allow them to be effectively applied in a manufacturing environment, rather than requiring a site finished application, and an increased interest among consumers in the open-grain look, matte finish and natural feel of this beautiful finish.

It used to be that in order to have a hardwax-oil finish on your floor you had to sand your flooring on-site and then coat it with an oxidative (air-curing) hard-wax oil. This is no longer so.

Now, similar to standard factory-finished polyurethane coated flooring products, many premier hardwood brands are introducing pre-finished hardwax-oil options—such as Teragren’s Visions and Vantage II collections that come with a factory finished hardwax-oil—pre-oiled, fully dry-cured using UV technology—and are ready to install without any further applications of oil.

As such, today’s hardwax-oil finishes offer increased durability and performance. The hardwax-oil finish works by molecularly bonding to the top fibers of the flooring plank, thereby sealing the surface and leaving a matte finish that offers a strong protective coating, and highlighting the natural fiber of the floor with an open-grain look. Once bonded, this finish will not crack, flake, peel or blister, and is resistant to spills.


Ease of Maintenance

With standard cleaning and maintenance, a hardwax-oil prefinished floor will never need to be sanded and refinished. Once installed, this flooring can be maintained and even repaired by adhering to a simple maintenance regimen, such as the following care guidelines for Teragren’s prefinished Visions and Vantage II collections, which are stated as follows:

• For regular surface care: Lightly damp-mop with Rubio Monocoat Soap, diluted with water.

• For nicks or scratches: Apply a small amount of Rubio Pure Oil (clear or tinted) using a tissue or cloth. Allow the oil to react for three minutes or so and then wipe off. You’re good to go.

• Every one to three rears: Use Rubio Refresh Spray to broadly revitalize your flooring’s surface. Spray on a light mist, wipe off any residue after three minutes or so, and then go to bed. Your floor will be ready to walk on four to six hours after treatment.

• Every four to six years (if needed at all): Use Rubio Maintenance Oil to repair, protect and restore your floor. Wipe on the oil and then wipe off any residue after three minutes or so. Your floor will be ready to walk on six to eight hours after treatment.

It should be noted, color-matched touch-up oil is available from most manufacturers to remedy minor scratches and other spot repairs, and the floor can generally be walked on again two hours after the repair is made. Teragren, for example, allows homeowners and businesses to register their new floor with the company and they will then receive a free maintenance kit with color-matched touch-up oil, as well as a coupon for 35% off their first order of Rubio cleaning and maintenance products.

The installation of a hardwax-oil coated floor effectively puts the control of the maintenance program squarely back in the hands of the consumer. While the repair of a polyurethane coated flooring product generally requires spot maintenance using a product such as the Zenith Almond Stick or, in the case of a more seriously damaged floor, plank replacement or the deployment of a sandless recoating system, hardwax-oil coated flooring enables both spot repair for minor scratches, and a larger overall refresh by applying a light application of a maintenance oil, both of which consumers can do themselves.

This option is especially attractive to commercial settings, when wear patterns from foot traffic can be easily refurbished as part of an ongoing maintenance program with minimal disruption to the business.


Installation Options

In dry climates having relative humidity levels less than 35% and/or temperatures exceeding 85 degrees, natural materials such as hardwood flooring may experience surface checking and fiber “fraying.” Prefinished hardwax-oil floors may be able to mitigate some of these issues, whereas the nature of prefinished polyurethane floors often means that this normal material response to a dry climate results in a failed installation.

Teragren’s in-house product performance and testing lab has determined the company’s prefinished hardwax-oil floors often alleviate these common challenges. The hardwax-oil finish allows air and moisture to pass through the surface of the plank, enabling the floor to “breathe” and naturally expand and contract with normal, seasonal changes in relative humidity. Even if surface-checking does occur, the visual and textural nature of the checking can be mitigated through an enhanced maintenance program, using standard maintenance products. While it is not possible to reverse these natural changes to the raw material, it is possible to mitigate their visual and physical characteristics, resulting in a beautiful natural fiber floor that meets the consumer’s expectation for livability and desired appearance.


The Right Fit

As always, a successful sale and installation of a hardwax-oil prefinished hardwood floor depends largely on consumer expectations. Therefore, as these products gain popularity and momentum in the North American market, the trick is to understand what lifestyles and business environments will be most successful living and working with these products.

Due to the ease of maintenance and reparability, commercial jobs are an obvious fit and there are many case studies available online attesting to the success of such installations. For residential jobs, if a consumer likes the open-grain aesthetic, and is willing to follow the simple prescribed maintenance regime, a hardwax-oil floor could be just the thing they’ve been seeking. 


Tom Goodham has worked in hardwood flooring manufacturing for over 10 years and currently serves as the vice president of manufacturing and operations for Teragren. In support of Teragren’s goals, he is relentless in his drive to manufacture beautiful products emphasizing design and performance while ensuring the stewardship of our planet’s human and natural resources. He can be reached by calling (800) 929-6333 or via email at tom@teragren.com.