Why we don't recommend Oiled floors for commercial projects
June 6, 2019
We all know there is something special about the look of an oiled wood floor - the surface looks beautiful and raw, just like nature intended. However, there are several factors about oiled wood floors that mean we can very rarely endorse them for commercial projects. These are the things you need to know that other flooring suppliers aren't prepared to tell you!
An oil finish cures slowly and hardens as it dries, providing a certain level of scratch resistance. Over time (especially in high traffic areas) the oil wears down and needs to be reapplied. Reapplying the oil helps to smooth over any wear and tear and build up the level of scratch resistance again. The level of care required here is usually perfectly attainable for residential projects, with the homeowners noticing when the floor looks like it needs another coat and being prepared to carry out the work. However, more often than not with commercial projects the floors receive incorrect or insufficient maintenance which leads to the oil finish wearing off, leaving the timber virtually raw. With nothing to protect it from scratches and nothing to stop spills from entering the wood pores, the floor becomes badly scratched and discolored. Often within a few years the floor will need to be re-sanded and refinished to return it to its former glory.
In contrast to this, lacquer finished flooring is considered the most hard-wearing finish on the market and provides a high level of scratch resistance. It does not require any special care and maintenance at all - just vacuum and mop it regularly to keep it looking good. You will get many years of use out of a lacquer floor. When the floor finally ends up looking tired and worn, the best course of action is normally to re-sand and re-finish it.
Natural oiled wood floors look beautiful and raw because in a sense, they are. An oil finish does not provide a barrier over the surface but rather leaves the pores open and absorbs into them, much like how a moisturizer works on human skin. The danger of this particularly in a commercial environment is that any liquid from food or drink spills - especially on a poorly-maintained oiled floor - can easily be absorbed into the pores of the wood. Spills need to be cleaned up immediately which is not typically achieved in a busy commercial environment, particularly in the hospitality industry. Once a liquid (think red wine, beetroot juice etc) gets into the pores of the wood it can next to impossible to remove.
In contrast to this, lacquer finished flooring provides a protective coating over the timber which does not allow liquids to enter the pore structure. This means that food and drink spills are less of a concern as they will not be absorbed into the timber. Of course spills should still be wiped up in a timely manner to prevent them from getting between the joints of timber, as with all timber flooring.
Many flooring companies try to push oiled flooring for commercial projects due to the fact that oiled floors can be spot-repaired - meaning that small scratches etc can be repaired without re-sanding the whole floor. Yes this is correct, however for the most part from our observation oiled floors in commercial environments in NZ are likely to be neglected and end up dried out, badly damaged and needing to be sanded and refinished a few years later.
In contrast to this a lacquered floor cannot be spot-repaired - however because it is much more hard-wearing than an oiled floor, scratches don't happen as easily and aren't usually as serious. If a board does become significantly damaged it can usually be cut out and replaced.
The bottom line
We don't want floors to end up dried out and damaged just as much as you don't! This is why for the most part we will recommend lacquer finished floors for commercial projects, as this is what we know works from experience.
If you're still wanting to use an oiled floor for a commercial project it is absolutely imperative that the floor is maintained correctly or it will sustain damage over time! We can recommend maintenance programs if required, don't hesitate to get in touch with us if you need any further information.