Insanely Easy Way to Protect and Finish Hardwood Floors

can of Vermont Natural Coatings matte wood floor finish

How to Finish Hardwood Floors Step-by-Step

Finishing hardwood floors was the step that had me the most apprehensive in this refinishing wood floors journey. But you know what? It turned out to be the easiest part of the entire process! It was more about patience than labor, and surprisingly, the farthest thing from frustrating. I haven’t taken the final pics for this post, but I’m too excited not to share!

Here are steps I took, and the amazing matte floor finish I used so that you, too, can finish your floors and finally relish in the results of your hard work.

Here is what you’ll need:

Just a friendly reminder: This tutorial and any opinions or recommendations are genuinely mine, but this is not a substitute for consulting a professional. I also use affiliate links to earn a commission.

Everything You Need to Refinish Hardwood Floors DIY

When starting, I had no idea how involved this entire process would be. I learned so much and put together several posts to help you save money, avoid mistakes, and get lasting results you are proud of.

  1. How to sand wooden floors
  2. Unexpected ways to make sanding wood floors more enjoyable
  3. DIY refinishing hardwood floors MISTAKES and how to avoid them
  4. Money saving tips when refinishing wood floors yourself
  5. How to stain wood floors (coming soon!)

Finishing Hardwood Flooring

unfinished hardwood floors

I was so incredibly worried about screwing this step up because, in my experience, working with poly has never been a great or easy experience. And I know I’m not alone. Just look at any of the forums. One of the most frequently asked questions is about how to get a smooth finish, the best sealer, and so on. I hate it so much and find it so frustrating to work with that I avoid working with it at all costs. But that approach won’t fly with this project. I have to protect these floors!

Then I discovered Vermont Natural Coatings. And to my total surprise, finishing these wood floors was a pleasant experience: There were no lingering odors, just a beautiful matte finish that far surpassed my expectations. VNC’s PolyWhey® Floor Finish is in a league of its own, and I don’t know how I’ve gone this long without knowing about this product!

Applying the floor finish was a dream—it glided on effortlessly and dried smooth, and I now can stop worrying about the smallest thing damaging my floors.

hardwood floors with matte floor finish not yet dried

Oil vs Water Based Floor Finish

I used a water-based finish that, wait for it, comes in a matte finish! The one, I guess you can say, downfall to a water-base vs oil base is it does cost a little bit more, but it will not yellow over time. So, really, I’m saving a ton of time and money by paying up for the good stuff. I do not want yellow floors, and I’m guessing you don’t either. Long gone are those days when that was in style!

First Test the Floor Finish

Trialing the finish on a patch of the floor before applying it to the entire surface is not new information. However, I did this, but I guess you could say I did it wrong which led to an unfortunate situation.

testing floor finish in a patch

The right way to test is in a patch that covers multiple different boards (as shown in the above image, which I did in the living room.) But see, I tested the finish, on one floorboard, which happened to be a board that the sealer alone (no stain) looked amazing! So, I then proceeded to seal the entire dining room. And when I finished (see below for a visual) I had an Oh sh*t moment…

These floors were doing their oaky thing and looked yellow. I instantly jumped to the Google and tried to figure out my next move. Ultimately, I ended up keeping the dining room as is, and proceeded to apply the remaining coats (I’ll get to this process, keep reading!) and called it a day.

wet floor finish on hardwood floors

But for the rest of the house, I decided I had to stain. Ugh, the thought of another step in this refinishing floor journey (not to mention an unexpected cost) was slightly discouraging because all I want at this point is to be done so I can move on to another project. But, I’ve come too far to compromise on the final results, and having floors that are anything but exactly as I imagined, would essentially make this entire process a waste of my time. 

Now, finding the right colored stain is a whole separate topic because again, staining red oak floors comes with its own challenges. The look I’m going for is a medium brown. Something to warm the space, but not overpower it. I’ll share how I came to the final color of Provincial as well as how to stain hardwoods in another post (coming soon!!)

*Update: Welp, after all that, I’m disappointed in how the stain in the living room turned out and ended up renting the sander AGAIN. Which, led to also sanding and staining the dining room. Third time is a charm, and you can see how amazing these finally turned out here (coming soon!).

Finishing Wood Floors Step by Step

The time has come that I can finish these wood floors!! That is, after waiting at least 72 hours for the stain to settle. That was painful. I’m learning there is a lot more waiting than working in these final few steps of refinishing wood floors. Regardless, I busied myself with other jobs while I patiently waited for the floors to be ready for finishing. I suggest you do the same! 


The first thing I did was clean the floors by sweeping and wiping them down with a damp rag. Then came mixing the sealer which I did as the floors dried out. Now, the first time I opened the can I was worried I had ruined my finish because of these large chunks (see below). It was the dead of winter when this stuff got delivered, and I worried that maybe it had been left on the porch too long, even though it was like minutes. 

matte floor finish unstirred

Don’t panic! This is the good stuff, that with a good stirring, will dissolve. So, taking my stir stick, I plunged it all the way to the bottom and gently (to not overflow the can) I scraped this good stuff off the bottom. I then stirred until it dissolved. I was skeptical, but after a few minutes of stirring it all went away. This is important! Mix all that good finish stuff together.


Applying this wood floor finish was by far the easiest part of the entire refinishing floors process. Which came as a really nice surprise after how much time and energy has unexpectedly gone into this project. Get ready for this to go insanely easy, and fast!

To start, I applied finish to any edges that my roller could not reach. I used a brush to get around areas like the fireplace hearth to get a clean, straight line. And since my trim was not up yet I didn’t worry too much about the rest of the edges because I was able to get close enough with the roller. 

Starting in the furthest corner, I rolled my way out of the room. I placed my pan filled with finish on an old small throw rug and positioned it just behind me so I could easily reapply without risking drips on the floor. The area rug captured any overflow and was easy to push with my foot as I moved out of the room. I reapplied the finish often to ensure each swipe had a consistent amount of sealer. 

  • Slightly overlap each row
  • DO keep your eyes out for any clumps and quickly remove these (I just used my finger) and roll that area again
  • As tempting as it may be, and maybe like you do with painting, DO NOT go back over areas after. This is a guaranteed way to make an ugly mess out of your finish!
  • Trust the process – the finish looks shiny, and slightly textured (see pic below) and possibly cloudy. These will magically disappear as it dries!! And over several days, the matte finish really shows itself and, wow! Be prepared to fall in love.

Apply a 2nd and 3rd Coat

Because of my parenting schedule, there was a week between when I applied the first and second coats. Waiting this long is unnecessary, but it allowed me to experience how much lighter the floors became over this extended period. It was really quite fascinating! So, if that first coat of sealer made your heart sink because it looks a little darker than you imagined, don’t freak!  

Before applying the second coat of sealer, I went back and lightly sanded the entire floor with 220. I then wiped the floor down with a damp rag to remove that dust. This part was not fun because, at this point, I was so done with sanding, but I could feel as I went that I was removing a slightly raised grain, and things were smoother after doing so, so I’d say don’t skip this step!

I followed the same process as above to apply the second coat. I let that dry, and then, before 24 hours passed, I gave it a third and final coat. I did these last two coats in less than 24 hours to avoid having to sand again. The recommendation is to sand between the second and third coat only if it’s been longer than 24 hours, so I made sure I did not need to sand!

Thoughts On a Matte Floor Finish

I did not want any sheen, and after doing my research, I landed on VNC because I was so intrigued by their product (it includes a byproduct of cheese, I mean, that caught my attention!) and impressed by the photos of others using this product. 

I specifically went with this because of the matte finish, but the benefits that came with it put this product on my ultimate go-to list. Now and then, I stumble upon a great product that I wonder how I’ve gone this long without knowing about—this is one of them!  (Like this paint stripper that nearly blew my mind!)

The final finish using this sealer was truly matte, but not in a dull, sad way. This matte finish makes the wood look finished but without any unwanted gloss. 

I can also say that the durability is there, too. Since my house is still a construction zone, this sealer was immediately put to the test, and I’m thrilled. It is so nice to finally not be worried about the floors. Water, dirty boots, lots of foot traffic, and these floors look the best they ever have!

FAQ’s About Finishing Wood Floors

Q: What’s the difference between floor finish and floor sealer?

Sealers protect the wood by getting into the pores, and a finish sits on top of the floors as a protective surface layer.

Q: Can I apply a water-based finish over an oil-based stain?

I waited at least 72 hours before doing so.

Q: What is the best way to apply a wood floor finish?

I went back and forth over the best method for applying the finish and decided to use a roller. Wow, this was easy. Almost too easy, ha! I kept waiting for something to go wrong (and it never did, which rarely happens). 

Q: How long do I have to wait before I can apply a second coat?

Only 2 hours! Yes, so that means you can get this entire project done in one day!!

Q: How long before I can walk on finished floors?

Wait at least 2 hours before walking on the floors.

Q: How long before I can use the wood floors?

Light use after 3 days but wait a full week for this to cure before returning to normal use.

Wood Floor Finishing Supplies List

Finishing was my biggest concern among all the steps involved in this refinishing wood floors project. But honestly, it turned out to be the easiest part of the entire process! It involved more waiting than actual work and resulted in zero frustration.

The best part? No funky lingering odors (aka better indoor air quality!), and truly matte finish. Applying this wood floor finish was a breeze—it went on smoothly, dried quickly, and my floors are holding up perfectly. I couldn’t be happier, not only with the end result but also with how painless this entire process was!

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