The aim of a wooden floor sealant is to protect the wood from general wear and tear by providing a waterproof finish that will not stain, peel, flake or scratch easily.
Protection is achieved by applying a liquid sealant which hardens into a hardwearing film coating. Most products on the market are of decent quality and their durability is more closely related to the way the floor is maintained rather than the performance of the individual product.
The two main options are hardwax oils and varnishes, both are water repellent, do not require a regular reapplication and are very durable.
Older type of treatments exist in the form of oils and waxes. These are suited for the ongoing maintenance of floors and are not expected to be water repellent. Because of that, floors finished in bees wax or other oils, will deteriote very fast as they will mark extremely quickly. Even a minimal amount of dust would result in visible prints and liquids will create stains.
The choice of sealant should not be a complicated affair, at least once the differences between the products are understood.
Both hardwax oils and varnishes are very tough sealants, offering excellent protection with little or no maintenance. The choice between them should generally be down to personal preference, although certain wood species may be better suited for either hardwax oil or varnish - for example, wood characteristics like resin content or hardness of timber may weigh on the decision.
Hardwax oils are based on natural oils and waxes and are well suited for hardwoods as they enhance the natural colours of the wood, while providing tough and durable protection to the surface. They can be spot repaired as they have excellent blending qualities, avoiding the need to sand the entire floor in some cases.
Hardwax Oil is usually applied with a brush and in two coats. The first coat saturates the wood and soaks in, while the second coat creates a protective sheen on the surface.
Varnishes are suitable for softer woods or high traffic areas as they create a thick layer of protection on the surface which is very durable and easy to clean. They are water based polyurethanes which can be spot repaired and re-coated as needed.
Varnishes are usually applied with a roller. A base coat, or primer, is normally followed by two coats of varnish with a possible light de-nibbing between them, depending on the wood specie.