Hardwood Flooring Prefinished vs Unfinished: Comprehensive Showdown

When it comes to choosing hardwood flooring for your home, one of the critical decisions you’ll face is whether to go for prefinished or unfinished planks. Both options have their pros and cons, and understanding these differences is crucial in making the right choice for your needs.

Prefinished hardwood flooring comes with a factory-applied finish, which means faster installation and no need for on-site sanding and finishing. Unfinished hardwood allows for a more customized look, as you can select the stain color and finish type, but it involves a more time-consuming and messier installation process.

Prefinished Hardwood Flooring

Prefinished hardwood flooring refers to a type of wooden flooring that has been coated with a protective layer by the manufacturer before it reaches the consumer. This process ensures a uniform and durable finish, making it an increasingly popular choice among homeowners. In this section, we will discuss the pros and cons of prefinished hardwood flooring.


  • Easy Installation: Prefinished floors are easier to install since the protective layer has already been applied. This eliminates the need for sanding, staining, and sealing on-site, which saves time and labor costs.
  • Consistent Finish: Since the protective coating is factory-applied, prefinished hardwood floors have consistent color, gloss, and texture throughout. This can be especially beneficial for larger spaces or multi-room installations.
  • Less Downtime: Once installed, prefinished floors are ready for use immediately. There is no waiting time for the finish to dry or cure, allowing homeowners to move furniture back sooner.
  • Durability: Prefinished hardwood floors often have a more durable finish compared to site-finished floors, as manufacturers utilize advanced technology to apply multiple layers of protective coating.


  • Price: Prefinished hardwood flooring can be more expensive upfront than unfinished flooring, as the cost of applying the finish is included in the initial price.
  • Limited Customization: The finish options for prefinished flooring are often limited compared to unfinished hardwood, which allows homeowners to customize the stain, color, and gloss level.
  • Harder to Refinish: Prefinished floors can be more challenging to refinish in the future, as the durable factory finish may require specialized equipment and expertise for sanding and removal.
  • Availability: There might be limited availability in specific wood species, plank widths, or long plank lengths compared to unfinished hardwood flooring.

Unfinished Hardwood Flooring

Unfinished hardwood flooring is a popular choice for homeowners who want a more customizable option for their flooring. It allows for a wide range of stain colors and finishing techniques, giving you the opportunity to create a truly unique and personalized look.


The primary advantage of unfinished hardwood flooring is the level of customization available. Since the flooring is installed raw, without any pre-finish, it allows for:

  • Greater control over the stain color and finish
  • Better color uniformity across the floor
  • Ability to match other existing wood surfaces
  • On-site finishing that ensures a smooth, flat surface

Additionally, unfinished hardwood flooring typically has a longer lifespan than prefinished options. This is because it can be sanded and refinished multiple times, allowing for a fresh new look and extending its longevity.


Despite its benefits, unfinished hardwood flooring also comes with a few drawbacks:

  • Longer installation time due to sanding and finishing on-site
  • Higher risk of airborne dust and chemical fumes during the finishing process
  • Increased chance of inconsistencies due to varying site conditions
  • Potentially higher overall costs when factoring in labor for finishing

In summary, unfinished hardwood flooring offers a greater level of customization at the cost of additional time and potential expenses. Weighing the pros and cons against your specific needs and preferences will help you make an informed decision.

Comparison of Installation Process

When comparing prefinished and unfinished hardwood flooring, the installation process plays a crucial role in making a decision. Let’s look at the key differences between the two in terms of installation.

Prefinished Hardwood Flooring:

  • Factory-finished, reducing on-site installation time
  • No sanding or finishing required, thus less mess and reduced VOCs
  • Can be used immediately after installation

Unfinished Hardwood Flooring:

  • Requires on-site sanding, staining, and finishing
  • Generates dust and fumes due to sanding and finishing process
  • Needs time to cure after finishing, delaying usage

When discussing the installation process, it’s important to consider the labor involved as well. Below is a table comparing the average installation time and costs for both prefinished and unfinished hardwood flooring.

TypeAverage Installation TimeAverage Installation Cost (per sq. ft.)
Prefinished Hardwood1-2 days$6-$12
Unfinished Hardwood3-5 days$6-$14

Note that these figures are approximate values and may vary depending on factors such as location, flooring type, and labor rates. Always consult with a professional to get accurate estimates for your specific project.

Cost Evaluation

When comparing prefinished and unfinished hardwood flooring, it’s essential to consider both initial and long-term costs. Each type of flooring has its benefits and drawbacks in terms of pricing and overall value. The following sub-sections will discuss these cost factors in more detail.

Initial Costs

The initial costs of hardwood flooring primarily involve the purchase price of materials and installation expenses. Let’s examine how these costs differ between prefinished and unfinished options.

Flooring TypeMaterial CostInstallation Cost
PrefinishedHigher material costLower installation cost
UnfinishedLower material costHigher installation cost

Prefinished flooring typically has a higher material cost due to the added finishing at the factory. However, installation costs are often lower, as there’s no need for sanding, staining, or applying finish on-site.

On the other hand, unfinished hardwood flooring is usually less expensive in terms of materials, since it doesn’t come with a factory-applied finish. However, installation costs can be higher because it requires more labor to complete the sanding, staining, and finishing processes during installation.

Long-Term Costs

Long-term costs involve the maintenance, repair, and potential refinishing expenses of hardwood flooring as it ages. It’s essential to weigh these factors when choosing between prefinished and unfinished hardwood floors.

  • Prefinished: Due to the factory-applied finish, prefinished hardwood flooring can be more resistant to scratches, stains, and wear, which may result in lower maintenance costs over time. The downside is that refinishing prefinished floors can be more complex and may require professional services, increasing long-term costs.
  • Unfinished: As unfinished floors are sanded, stained, and finished on-site, the finish may be less resistant to scratches and stains compared to prefinished options. This can lead to higher maintenance costs over time. However, unfinished hardwood floors are generally easier to refinish, potentially saving on long-term refinishing expenses.

Aesthetic Differences

When it comes to the appearance of hardwood flooring, the choice between prefinished and unfinished options can impact the final result. Prefinished hardwood floors come with a factory-applied finish, ensuring a consistent and even appearance. On the other hand, unfinished hardwood floors require onsite sanding and finishing, which can result in a more customized and unique look.

Prefinished floors offer various options in terms of color and texture, but may sometimes be limited by the manufacturer’s offerings. This can lead to fewer design choices compared to unfinished floors. Unfinished floors, however, provide the opportunity for a more personalized touch, with the ability to customize stain colors and finishes according to individual preferences.

Another aesthetic consideration is the presence of beveled edges. Prefinished hardwood planks often come with slightly beveled edges to accommodate minor subfloor imperfections. This can create a slightly different appearance compared to the seamless look of unfinished floors, which are sanded and finished onsite.

The following table compares some aspects of prefinished and unfinished flooring aesthetics:

AspectPrefinished HardwoodUnfinished Hardwood
Color OptionsLimited by manufacturer offeringsCustomizable with a wide range of stains
Texture OptionsStandard factory finishPotential for customization with onsite finishing
Beveled EdgesOften presentNot present

Ultimately, determining the best aesthetic choice for a hardwood floor depends on personal tastes and the desired level of customization.

Environmental Impact

Prefinished and unfinished hardwood flooring both have environmental impacts to consider when making a choice. We will examine factors such as resource consumption, waste generation, and indoor air quality.

Resource Consumption:

  • Prefinished: The factory finishing process consumes additional energy and resources compared to unfinished flooring.
  • Unfinished: Requires less energy and resources during the production phase since the finishing is done on site.

Waste Generation:

  • Prefinished: Less waste is generated on site due to fewer required materials and the absence of sanding and finishing processes. However, more waste is potentially produced during the factory production process.
  • Unfinished: Installation of unfinished flooring generates more waste at the job site, as there are additional materials and processes needed for finishing the floors.

Indoor Air Quality:

  • Prefinished: The off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is lower in prefinished flooring, as the finishing process takes place in factories under controlled conditions. This can lead to better indoor air quality.
  • Unfinished: On-site finishing can release higher levels of VOCs during the installation process. However, choosing low-VOC finishes and proper ventilation can help mitigate these concerns.

Final Verdict

Prefinished and unfinished hardwood floors both have their advantages and disadvantages. Prefinished flooring offers a faster installation, consistent finish, and easier maintenance, making it suitable for DIYers and those who prefer a ready-to-use approach.

On the other hand, unfinished flooring provides customization options, a seamless appearance, and the ability to refinish multiple times, appealing to homeowners who seek a personalized touch and long-lasting investment.

Ultimately, the choice between prefinished and unfinished hardwood floors will depend on individual preferences, budget, and project requirements.

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