A Varnished vs. an Oiled Floor: What are the differences?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a varnished versus an oiled floor? In both cases, the goal of the finishes is to protect the underlying wood from wear and tear. However, varnish protects the wood’s surface, whereas oil deeply penetrates the wood itself. To help you decide which one is right for you, we have examined the advantages and disadvantages of both. 


Varnish has many properties due to its various components which: 

  • prevent wood from deteriorating through the years;
  • help wood retain its authentic colour and avoid yellowing (when the varnish contains an anti-yellowing agent); 
  • facilitate cleaning and thus prevent the spread of germs and/or mold; 
  • add a protective layer to better resist abrasion caused by rocks, winter salt or sharp objects. 

There are three types of varnish: semi-gloss, satin and matte. Each one has its own characteristics and results in a different look. 

What’s more, despite popular belief, varnish is ecological. It is true, varnish used to have a strong odour and people had to leave their houses for a few days after getting their floors done. However, today’s varnishes are often water-based and made with vegetable-based products, thus their odour is much less pronounced.

 The downside of a varnished floor is that when it is worn out, the entire floor has to be sanded, buffed and then re-varnished.


Oiled floors are greener, since the oils used are from natural sources and therefore are more ecological than varnishes, despite the fact that varnishes are less harmful than in the past. As well, oiled floors are easy to repair. You only have to sand the damaged area, add the chosen coloured oil, then a layer of protective oil. Oiled floors reduce the appearance of scratches and signs of wear due to their matte finish. What’s more, they are more efficient when it comes to temperature variations (in slightly more humid conditions), since the pores in the wood are not blocked, as they are in varnished floors. For example, think of varnishes that dry and crack due to dryness. 

Oiled floors are not shiny; they look very similar to floors with a matte varnish.The oils used bring out the rustic side of the wood flooring for a more natural look. 

Maintaining oiled floors is often viewed as the downside, since it can appear more complicated due to the accessible wood grain. It is important to know that oiled floors need to be refreshed with a maintenance coat about every three years. So, it is not really that much more complicated to maintain them than varnished floors.

 In short, both have their own advantages and disadvantages and are both good products. Deciding on which is better depends on your needs and preferences.