Semi-Gloss Vs. Satin Polyurethane: What's The Difference?

There are several important decisions that you need to make when choosing new hardwood flooring. Not only do you need to pick the flooring itself, including the type of wood and color that you prefer, but you also need to select a finish. 

With so many options available, such as matte, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss, there are quite a few different finishes to pick from. While it’s easy to tell the difference between matte and gloss, two of them, satin and semi-gloss, are easy to mistake for one another. What are the main differences between them? Are they truly unalike? As it turns out, they have a few things in common, as well as a number of differences.

What Is Polyurethane?

No matter the finish, polyurethane is a type of synthetic resin. It dries either completely clear or with a slightly yellow tint (depending on whether you choose water-based polyurethane or oil-based polyurethane), and it provides a protective finish on your hardwood floor. Polyurethane is designed to go on as a liquid and turn into a flexible form of resin as it dries on your floor.

As it turns out, every type of polyurethane starts with a high gloss finish. Before the product is finished and put into cans to be sold, the manufacturers add a paste made of zinc oxide that changes the finish, making it matte, satin, or semi-gloss.

The zinc oxide can separate from the polyurethane during the shipping process. That means that before you apply it to your floor, you need to stir the contents well, mixing everything in order to get the finish you chose.

Semi-Gloss Polyurethane

The main difference between semi-gloss polyurethane and satin polyurethane is the amount of shine or sheen left behind once the product dries. 

Semi-gloss is a bit shiny, not as shiny as full gloss, but it does have a slightly glossy appearance. It reflects the light and is just as durable as satin polyurethane. There are no differences as far as wear and tear are concerned, just a note that semi-gloss will require a bit more cleaning and polishing to keep the finish shiny.

The Characteristics of Semi-Gloss

Since semi-gloss polyurethane has a sheen to it, the floor has a nice look, and any light will reflect off of it. The only bad thing about this is that you need to ensure that the floor is clean and polished. Otherwise, the surface will dull, and everything from footprints to dust will show up prominently, thanks to the sheen.

Plus, semi-gloss finishes are more likely to allow every little imperfection to show, from dents and dings in the wood to scratches and scuffs in the finish. You’ll find yourself refinishing the floors much sooner than usual since all of these things will appear not to be hidden due to the floor’s sheen.

Some people just appreciate a somewhat shiny wood floor. Semi-gloss is a good choice if that’s the case, as it does look impressive and shout “look at my wood floors” to every guest that walks through your home. Even polishing a matte floor won’t provide the same look. There’s a time and a place for wood floors with a semi-gloss finish.

Satin Polyurethane

As far as sheen is concerned, satin polyurethane is one step below semi-gloss and one above matte finishes. These floors have a very slight sheen to them, and although they don’t reflect as much light as semi-gloss finishes, they aren’t as dull and seemingly un-shiny as a matte floor. 

Since there’s more zinc oxide in the mix than in semi-gloss polyurethane, you do have to mix that can of satin polyurethane a little more before applying it, which highlights another of the differences between the two. Although the differences are slight, satin and semi-gloss finishes are not the same.

What Does Satin Polyurethane Look Like?

Satin polyurethane has a slightly matte finish that will hide more dirt, debris, and dust than semi-gloss. Whether made by humans, dogs, or cats, footprints will be fairly hidden on the surface. Plus, a satin finish is excellent at hiding the damage that occurs every day, including dents, small dings, and scuffs that would visibly form on the surface of a shinier floor.

Satin polyurethane, although it can be cleaned in the same manner as semi-gloss, is lower maintenance, making it good for people who have busy lives and have wood floors in high traffic areas of their homes. There’s a reason why satin is one of the most popular wood floor finishes out there.

Choosing Between Semi-Gloss Polyurethane and Satin Polyurethane

Although both semi-gloss and satin polyurethane have their pros and cons, when it comes to choosing between the two, many just pick the one they like best. Some people prefer a shiny floor (although not as shinier as full gloss), and others prefer a slightly matte look. There are a few other things to consider as well, such as:

How Much Cleaning Do You Do?

Homeowners with busy lives likely don’t want to have to mop footprints off of their semi-gloss floors every day. They prefer something that doesn’t show as much dirt, allowing them to go a little bit longer in between cleanings, like a satin finish. 

With that said, if you don’t mind mopping your floors every day and polishing them at least once a week, then a semi-gloss finish fits the bill nicely.

What About Foot Traffic?

If you have wood floors in a very high traffic area of your home, like the foyer, living room, or mudroom, then a satin finish may work best, as it won’t show those footprints and wiped-up puddles from the rain or snow. 

However, if those floors are in a seldom-used area of your home and you aren’t worried about the glossy finish getting dirty quickly, then a semi-gloss finish might be your best bet. It all comes down to how often the space is used, as well as how it’s used.

Don’t Forget About How Much Damage Will Show Through

Since semi-gloss finishes show more damage than satin ones, this is another factor to consider. Do you want to have to refinish your floors every few years? While most hardwood floors can go up to ten years or more before they need to be refinished, if that damage shows quite a bit, as it does with semi-gloss finishes, then you’ll find that you want to have them redone more often. On the other hand, a satin finish will keep that damage hidden for a bit longer.

Which One Will Work Best for Your Flooring?

When you find yourself choosing between semi-gloss and satin finishes for your home, you’ll want to keep all of this in mind. One will make your flooring from Hardwood Bargains look shiny, while the other will require less maintenance. It all comes down to what you prefer, as no matter what, your hardwood flooring will look gorgeous and be worth showing off.


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