Prefinished Hardwood Flooring vs Unfinished: Which Should You Choose?

When it comes to hardwood floors, they can be broken down into two main categories: prefinished and unfinished. Both flooring types have their own advantages and drawbacks, so it’s important you understand the differences between prefinished hardwood vs. unfinished, before selecting which one to use in your home. Below we will dive into the differences of finished vs. unfinished hardwood floors so that you can select the best option for your lifestyle! 

What is a Prefinished Hardwood Flooring?

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Hardwood flooring is a beautiful and durable surface that can easily be installed in your home. The last decade has seen an increase in the popularity of pre-finished hardwood floors. This is primarily due to how quickly and conveniently they can be installed while also delivering great style and lasting durability.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of prefinished hardwood flooring.

Pros of Prefinished Hardwood Flooring

Quick Turnaround

Prefinished hardwood floors are the opposite of unfinished floors. While unfinished flooring needs to be sanded, sealed and finished after installation, prefinished floors come ready to be installed, without any extra work needed. Most jobs take 1-2 days, but sometimes they require more time depending on the type and size of flooring installed. If your project requires finishing up in an area that isn’t finished yet (such as adding color), then will take 4 – 5 days to complete.

Cleaner Process

Prefinished hardwood floors are a lot cleaner and simpler to install. You don’t have to worry about the dust that comes from sanding, or any sealant spills on your floor. With prefinished floors, the finish is applied in a controlled factory environment, so you don’t have to worry about airborne dust or debris being coated into your floors. This will ensure that your prefinished floors have an almost perfect appearance.

Doesn’t Smell

There are fumes and odors that come from the stain and finish products being used during the process of finishing a flooring. Oil-based polyurethane has harsh chemicals with a strong odor that can stay in your house for days, sometimes weeks if not dealt with properly. That is why we recommend using less drastic solutions like low VOCs or environmentally friendly cleaners instead! You don’t need to worry about this problem with prefinished flooring since the prefinished flooring process is completed in the factory.

More Durable

Because the hardwoods are sanded, sealed and finished in a factory setting, they tend to be more durable than unfinished floors. Not only are prefinished hardwoods 7 to 10 times more scratch resistant than unfinished ones, but they also last longer. Unlike with unfinished hardwood floors, heavy-duty finishes like aluminum-oxide and UV-cured urethanes can be added to prefinished hardwood floors to increase their lifespan.

Cons of Prefinished Hardwood Flooring

Limited Widths and Lengths

Prefinished hardwood floors have been the go-to for many homebuyers, but there is one downside that can keep you from enjoying your new flooring. The main problem with prefinished hardwoods is their limitations on widths and lengths, not to mention colors or grain patterns!

Hard to Refinish in the Future

The durability of the finish on prefinished flooring makes it difficult to remove these surface layers should you want a more durable or smoother look.

Can Look Plasticky

For many prefinished hardwood floors, their stunning shine can make them seem like they’re built on top of an underlying plastic or laminate material. This higher reflection quality also makes any scratches much easier to see.

Less Variety

The wide variety of wood species and planks makes for options galore. However, some may only be available in unfinished hardwood floors.

Beveled Edges

Some people feel that the gap and the beveled edge is too much. Beveled edges are also harder to maintain color across the edges and can easily collect dust.

What is an Unfinished Hardwood Flooring?

With unfinished hardwood flooring, the natural beauty of your hardwood is on full display. The wood grains are visible, and you can see just how thick each board really is because there’s no polish to take away from these beautiful details!

The installation process is time-consuming but can be done without any dust. You can customize many aspects to fit your home’s aesthetic such as:

  • Finish – water based polyurethane, oil-based polyurethane, or natural oil wood finish
  • Sheen – high gloss, semi-gloss, and matted
  • Stain colors – brown wood, dark wood, light wood
  • Patterns – chevron, herringbone, borders, inlays

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of unfinished hardwood flooring.

Pros of Unfinished Hardwood Flooring

Like the name suggests, unfinished hardwood floors are installed without any finish on them. When the flooring arrives, it will be in its raw state to give you the flexibility of customization. Oftentimes this flooring option is referred to as “site-finished floors” as they’re literally finished on site. Unfinished floors can only be purchased by flooring contractors because they need to be sanded, sealed and finished once installed in your home. 

Matching Flooring

Because the flooring is installed, sanded and then finished, it will have a seamless appearance. The floor boards will be sanded together, creating an even surface for adding the seal and finish. Another option of this truly custom experience is to stain the wood to match the aesthetic of your home. There are dozens of stain colors available on the market, and they can be further mixed to create additional color options. Of course, some flooring types will take the stain better than others, so make sure you check with your flooring contractor before choosing your color. 

Uniformed Staining

With prefinished floors, the edges might get darker or lighter depending on where they meet. Unfinished floors don’t have a bevel and can be placed seamlessly, allowing you to stain them evenly.

Seamless Look

If you’re looking to add additional designs to your floor like borders, inlays or medallions, they will be much easier to incorporate with unfinished floors than with prefinished hardwood floors. Because you’re sanding after the flooring installation, the added designs will be sanded down to be flush with the rest of the flooring. Unfinished floors ensure that you have a seamless look, even with the addition of borders of inlays. 

Best When Your House Is Under Construction

Contractors who work on floors often prefer to wait until their job is done before applying flooring finishes. This way, any tools or dirt can’t damage the finish you deserve!

Wide Range of Finishes Available

There are many types of flooring available these days, but nothing can compare to the personalization that you get with finishing bare planks. The best way to customize your flooring is by sanding down pre-made planks and revealing the grain underneath. This allows for a more unique finish, which you can’t get with just any old wood!

Finishes Available

  • Oil-based polyurethane can have an offensive odor and is typically more expensive. It has a finish that will amber over time, thus requiring multiple coats to be applied and the floor needing 3-5 days before you can walk on it.
  • Water-based polyurethane has a reputation for being less toxic and more environmentally friendly than its oil counterpart. It costs more than oil-based finishes but dries faster and can be walked on much sooner.
  • Oil finishes are perfect for those who want their wood floors to last as long and look great. These oils don’t emit any VOCs, meaning no more chemical smells! This is the most expensive option, but it also lasts for an extremely long time and only needs one coat to be applied – making repairs much easier than other types of finishes.

Easy to Touch Up

If you have unfinished floors and want to touch up some damage, it’s easier than refinishing prefinished planks. You can use the same stain for a smaller area that will more likely match with the rest of the flooring.

Easier to Clean

Homeowners love the ease of an easy clean-up process, and unfinished floors can provide this. Beveled edges are difficult to maintain because they collect dirt, dust, or grime, which make them hard for a quick tidy-up job at home.

Sometimes Costs Less

When you go with unfinished hardwood, it can be less expensive because of the labor involved in finishing them. For prefinished wood planks that have been cut to size and sanded down for durability reasons, there is no additional cost associated other than those incurred when purchasing new material – so if your budget can accommodate this extra expense, then don’t hesitate!

Cons of Unfinished Hardwood Flooring


The most significant drawback associated with unfinished hardwood flooring is the time it takes to install. However, this process can be sped up by sanding and finishing manually or using stain as an intermediate step between finishes

Wasted Boards

When installing unfinished wood flooring, it is important to plan for the inevitable. You may have some boards that are not level or straight enough- which means you’ll need to throw them away, adding more time to your installation process.


That’s right, your home will be uninhabitable for days if you choose a high-VOC finish. These toxic fumes are not only uncomfortable but also unhealthy.

Minor Imperfections

Unfinished floors are not as pristine looking when compared to their prefinished counterparts. This is because the finish isn’t applied in a controlled environment, so there will always appear some level of dust or pollen on them after application; however, this mostly goes away after walking across your new flooring for an extended period time.

Is Prefinished Hardwood Flooring Best For Your Home?

When all is said and done, most homeowners will find that prefinished solid hardwood floors have advantages over unfinished ones. Prefinished flooring comes in many species and is much easier to install. If your home needs some extra luxury – especially in those high-value rooms like the bedroom or living room–then these products can really help liven things up without too much hassle.

Now that you understand the differences between prefinished hardwood flooring vs. unfinished, do you know what the right choice is for your home? Give us a call today with any questions and to install hardwood floors that will perfectly complement your home! 

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