What is the difference between Wax and Urethane floor finishes?

There is not one difference, there are several.  To simplify the answer, take a look at these bullet points about the two floor finishes:

Wax

  • Wax is a soft medium, allowing dirt a spills to absorb into the surface and even penetrate deep into the finish.  Some spills can penetrate deep enough to stain the actual floor surface.  If that spill is blood or any other bodily secretion, the floor could be permanently contaminated with potentially dangerous pathogens.
  • In ideal environments, one coat of wax can dry within 45 minutes after application.  Typically, 3-6 coats are applied after stripping wax.  Sometimes 2-4 coats can be applied as top coats in order to attain the desired gloss.
  • Wax requires extensive maintenance in order to guarantee high-gloss and long-lasting durability.  Weekly or even daily buffing can be necessary to keep wax looking clean and glossy.  Monthly top coating is often necessary to keep the wear-layer effective.  Quarterly burnishing is required to remove surface contaminants and maintain an even and consistent gloss.  Yearly stripping is required to remove penetrating contaminants and give the floors a fresh new look.
  • Wax can be quickly scrubbed and top coated to hide unsightly damage or dulling.  This does not remove soaked in stains or other contamination.


Urethane

  • Urethane is a hard, yet flexible medium.  It is non-porous, which does not allow chemical spills to absorb.  Most spills stay on the surface and are easily removed with a wet cloth.  Sub-surfaces generally are protected from liquid spill contamination.
  • Urethane formulations have been refined to dry within 4-6 hours after application.  Typically 1 coat of urethane is applied after stripping wax.  Reapplications of urethane typically occur once every 1-2 years after the initial application.  In some cases, 1 coat of urethane has lasted more than 6 years with good gloss and excellent durability.
  • Typical maintenance on urethane floor finishes requires daily sweeping and mopping with “clean” water.  Don’t use dirty water to mop a floor.
  • With proper maintenance, urethane floor finishes will hold their gloss throughout the 1-2 year wear-cycle.

Des Moines, Iowa (view larger map)