What Sheen Should I Use??

Usually, a lot of thought goes into the selection of a hardwood floor for a living space, with special attention typically paid to the colour, the feel and even the texture of the flooring. Yet somehow the sheen level of hardwood flooring is left as an after thought in the selection process. The overall impact hardwood flooring will create in a space depends on a number of variables, of which colour is the most obvious, but the level of shine on the floors do make a big impact as well. Therefore, not considering the sheen level can lead to a difference between the vision for the renovations and the actual final outcome. Many homeowners do not truly understand what sheen is or the effect it will have on the overall look and the daily use of the hardwood floors. So we are going to make it simple and break it all down.

What sheen actually does is reflect light. Like a mirror it will bounce more or less light off of its surface depending on the intensity of the sheen level selected. Typically, hardwood flooring sheens come in three levels; Semi-Gloss, Satin, and Matte. We’ll go through each one individually momentarily. A good rule to keep in mind is that the sheen level will either allow for reflection from or absorption of light rays hitting the floor surface. In general a Semi Gloss finish will reflect more light back to the eye, making the floor look shinier and more glass-like. Where as a low gloss or a matte finish will absorb more light, which will make the floors look duller and less smooth. These different effects also play a role in the way the color looks, making it appear either lighter or darker.

The easiest way to think of flooring sheen levels, is the same was we think about paint; they come in many of the same categories with varying percentages representing the gloss strength, and behave in much of the same way, (although keeping in mind that with wood there is texture from the grain) The percentages designated to each sheen are defined most typically into, matte, satin and semi gloss. Let`s take a look at each sheen level`s qualities, pros and cons. The gloss level could come into play in a number of factors; durability, maintenance, or the mood of a room.

Lauzon Red Oak Designer Cigarillo

Lauzon Red Oak Designer Cigarillo

Semi Gloss

At the top of the sheen scale is Semi Gloss, which is usually between 45-55% shine. There are higher gloss levels (Gloss) which is even more reflective, but Gloss has become less and less popular. It is generally believed that a higher gloss is equal to higher durability, this is not necessarily true. In fact, higher sheen levels wear a lot worse, specially in high traffic areas.  The constant use of a floor in a high traffic area could mean that your finish will wear out faster in some areas than in others, and this is especially problematic when you have a high shine floor, since the difference in the gloss levels are easily perceptible between a worn down and more intact portion of the flooring not exposed to as much use.   In addition, the higher the gloss, the easier it will be to notice dirt and debris, or even scratches or dents, especially on a darker colored stain. Therefore, if Semi Gloss appeals to you, you may want to have a regulated cleaning schedule to ensure your floors are spotless! A Semi Gloss finish on a floor tends to air on the ultra modern side of design, and works well in clean, sleek styled spaces or places where there may be water near by, like kitchens or formal dining areas. For this reason, Semi Gloss does not work well with wire brushed or hand scrapped hardwood surface, which is meant to show off the exposed grain, not cover it.


Lauzon Ambiance Yellow Birch Natural Red


Satin seems to be the most popular sheen, at approximately 35-40% as it is a happy medium between having a sheen, which is more in line with a classic or formal setting, and the ease of care that a matte floor will offer. The surface is easy to clean. This finish tends to give the look of hardwood a “new” look longer then any other finish since it does not reflect the light directly but rather disperses it evenly. Therefore, it does not show every scratch and imperfection the way that Semi Gloss does.  This sheen level has an overall neutral effect on the space in which it is put. It won’t reflect too much light, making it easy to stand in the background of any interior decor that will be in the space. A satin finish is most often used with classic colours,  and a smooth texture. The only stipulation with a satin finish is that it cannot be used on a wire brushed floor, but is sometimes used with a hand-scrapped finish, specially on maple flooring.


Lauzon Ambiance Collection Authentik Series Red Oak


A Matte finish is typically in the vicinity of 10-25% gloss. Perfect for children’s rooms or high traffic areas, a matte finished floor will be better able to hide scruffs, scratches dirt and debris. This quality makes maintenance for matte floors very low. A matte finish has become very popular and works
well in spaces that are more casual, or country themed in style. 7” wide barn styled planks with a matte finish is a perfect example of an application that works seamlessly with this type of hardwood floor finish. A matte finish is also a very good way of achieving the casual sophistication of Scandinavian styled flooring, a very popular look in Europe, which is being replicated here in North America on a wide scale. This finish is almost always used when a floor is wire-brushed or hand scrapped. It reflects minimal amount of light and therefore will have no shine even after being cleaned. It is also the most “modern” of the finishes and is best suited for high traffic residential or commercial spaces. Subsequently if you want a floor that will stay new looking longer, is easy to clean, and also easy to maintain, then consider a matte finish for your floors.



All the photos for this post were sourced and inspired here are from a Canadian Flooring manufacturer called Lauzon, which we have in store. Check back soon for our next post, in it I will go over the different types of finishes available on the market; polyurethanes, versus new “green” alternatives on the, as well as oil finishes, their benefits, and draw backs and how to maintain them once they’ve been laid down.


Peace, love and hardwood


-The M Squared Team