There are 4 levels of hardwood floor finish sheens: Matte, Satin, Semi-gloss, High Gloss
The sheen measures how shiny or glossy your floor’s finish is. Different people have different preferences. The luster level is determined by how much light is reflected off the floor from a 60 degree angle (consistent with how the floors are viewed while someone is standing on them).
The glossier you go, the more light reflects off the floors. This in turn, shows more dirt/dust as well as imperfections in the floor.
It’s important to realize that different hardwood species will produce different sheen levels. Natural wood color or patina, as well as differences caused by open vs closed pore woods will produce subtle variances in the sheen level. The sheen level chosen is more of an aesthetic choice and does not impact the durability of the finish.
Note: At the end of this article, I share the brands of polyurethane we typically use, so I hope this comes in handy. Please note that this article may contain affiliate links.
Satin finish has some sheen, but doesn’t look too glossy. It give the room both a classic and contemporary feel. Most decorators recommend this sheen level, and my higher end customers tend to strongly prefer satin finish. Importantly, satin shows the scratches, imperfections and the dirt less. So, it’s easier to clean and maintain, and, it tends to look newer longer. Also, when you go glossier, it tends to show foot prints more, if you walk around with bare feet and/or if you have dogs or cats in the house.
The trend over the last few years has been towards lower gloss finishes as they are more practical, especially for households with kids and pets. They help hide the normal wear and tear from walking, chair movements, toys and high heels. In addition, satin finish shows footprints less due to the lower luster.
Matte finish has 25% luster
A matte finish has very little sheen and many feel that the floors look dull with this type of finish. Others strongly prefer this flat finish as it gives them a clean look.
Satin has around 40% luster
Satin sheen level is preferred on all shades of hardwood from dark to light and everything in between.
Semi gloss has around 55% luster
For those that prefer shinier finishes, this is a good option. It’s shinier but not as impractical as a glossy finish.
Glossy has about 70% luster
You typically see glossy used on gym floors and bowling alleys, and some of the exotic hardwood use this finish as well. A glossy finish tends to show every spec of dust, every dent and lots of footprints. Think of black shiny absolute black granite counter tops and how those show everything. These types of floors tend to need to be cleaned more often and often require more frequent sanding.
The good news is that you can usually do a screen and re-coat to change the sheen level of your floor. This is easiest to do if you have a solid hardwood floor that was finished on site (rather than prefinished in a factory). It’s the top level of poly that will give the wood it’s shine and luster. So, if you want to go from semi gloss to satin, or vice versa, this is usually a fairly easy process. You can read more about a screen and re-coat here.