How To Finish Your Wood Floor with Tung Oil

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How To Finish Your Wood Floor with Tung Oil

Tung Oil has been around for centuries, although not originally as a floor finish. The Chinese philosopher, Confucius, mentioned it around 400 B.C. The Chinese used it to waterproof their wooden ships. 

The oil comes from a large round green nut from the tung oil tree. Manufacturers extract the oil and then heat it to 500°F (260°C) in an oxygen-free environment. Heating increases the viscosity and helps to create a harder film (polymerization) once the oil cures. Typically, commercial tung oil has a 1:1 ratio of solvent. After applying it, the solvent evaporates in about 20 minutes, but the oil needs 15 to 30 days to cure completely, depending on humidity and temperature. 

Tung oil for wood floors makes them highly water-resistant. It adds a light golden, satin finish to the wood that doesn’t darken with age.

If you aren’t familiar with tung oil, read on to discover why wood floor enthusiasts turn to this environmentally-friendly floor finish and how to use it.

What is Tung Oil Finish?

Pure Tung Oil is the toughest and longest-lasting all-natural finish you can find. 100% pure tung oil is a natural product. It penetrates the wood’s pores and then slowly dries to a hard, non-oily finish, almost like polyurethane. Pure tung oil uses no hydrocarbon solvents. It’s ideal for food contact surfaces like cutting boards and wooden bowls, emitting no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).

Pure tung oil is too thick and heavy to penetrate deeply. Typically, tung oil for wood floors will have a solvent to help it penetrate deeper into the wood. 

The advantage of finishing floors with tung oil is that it hides scratches and dents better. It penetrates the wood, becoming a part of it, while finishes that lay on the surface, like polyurethane, tend to show scratches more easily. 

The Difference Between Pure Tung Oil, Tung Oil, and Polymerized Tung Oil

There is a difference between pure and regular tung oil. Pure Tung Oil has no solvents. Products that say “Tung Oil” are typically polymerized and thinned with a 1:1 ratio with solvents like mineral spirits or paint thinners. 

Polymerized tung oil has been heat-treated to encourage polymerization, creating denser molecules and a harder finish. The process increases the density of the oil so that manufacturers must thin it with solvents. Almost all commercial tung oils are polymerized.

If you are going to finish the floor, don’t use pure tung oil. It is too heavy, won’t penetrate as well, and will take too long to cure properly. Thin it with a solvent such as citrus oil or mineral spirits. 

What Does Tung Oil Finish Look Like?

pure tung oil finish for wood

Tung oil is a light honey-blond color. It creates a matte or satin finish which highlights the wood’s natural grain. Always test a sample to see if it’s the look you want before sealing the entire floor. Tung oil for wood does not create a glossy finish. It penetrates deeply into the wood, filling the open cells. It makes a smooth thin sheen on the wood’s surface without a heavy build-up, as you see with polyurethane coatings.

Tung oil looks great. Here are seven tips and questions on how to apply it.

7 FAQs On How to Apply Tung Oil Finish

Use tung oil for wood and various surfaces, including brick, concrete, and stone. You can even use it to protect decorative pieces made of cast iron. Wipe it on and allow it to dry at room temperature. It’s good waterproofing that is resistant to alcohol or oil. 

For wood floors, use tung oil only on unfinished wood that will allow the oil to penetrate. Apply it with a cloth, foam roller, or brush as you would for stain. Allow it to penetrate the wood for one hour, then wipe off the excess with a cloth. Plan on at least two or more coats with a drying time of 1 hour between coats. Buff each layer with a soft abrasive pad before applying the next coat to achieve a smoother finish.

Pro Tip: If you start with pure tung oil, thin your first coat with a solvent such as turpentine or mineral spirits. For a “greener” solvent, use citrus oil. Watch this video, “How to Apply Pure Tung Oil to Wood (the right way),” for more details.

 

 

If you are curious whether tung oil is suitable for your floor, here are some popular questions people have about it. 

1. How Do You Darken Tung Oil Finish?

Mixing a dye into tung oil is tricky, especially if you plan to cover a large room. You need to measure the dye precisely, or else you might end up with different shades across the floor. 

A liquid or solvent-based dye doesn’t mix well with petroleum products. You’ll need to thin it with Acetone and then add that mixture to the tung oil in carefully controlled amounts. To see a demonstration, watch “Tinting Tung or True Oil with Wood Dyes.”

 

 

Another option if you want to color tung oil is to use oil-soluble aniline dye crystals. You’ll first need to dissolve them in odorless mineral spirits or a citrus solvent before mixing with the tung oil.

Staining the wood with a water-based stain before applying tung oil is your safest bet because you have more control over the floor’s color. Do not use an oil-based stain. It will prevent the tung oil from penetrating the wood and make an oily mess. You can also buy tung oil pre-mixed with stain to save you the trouble. 

tung oil finish on oak wood floors

2. How Long Does Tung Oil Finish Last?

Tung oil doesn’t evaporate and is exceptionally durable. Guitar makers use it on guitar necks where there is a tremendous amount of wear. A guitar maker claimed that he applied tung oil to one guitar, which lasted over 15 years.

Expect to re-apply a thin coat for wood floors once every two years to maintain the finish. It’s not as tricky as using polyurethane, and you only need to let it cure for a day before you can use the room again. 

3. How Many Coats of Tung Oil Should I Use?

How many coats depend on the type of wood and how much it absorbs. You want to wait at least 45 minutes to an hour between coats to see if the wood will absorb more. You can lay down three coats in one day if you want to. Before you quit for the day, wipe up the excess with cotton t-shirt material because it’s lint-free. When you come back in the morning, you’ll need to wipe it again.

For some pro tips, check out this video, “How to Use Half & Half Tung Oil on a Wood Floor.” 

 

 

Regarding the amount of tung oil the man used in the video above, DIYer Matt Yates shared his experience about applying tung oil to his floor.

“I did a 2,000 sq foot condo and used way too much on the first section. I had a gooey mess that still wasn’t dry eight months later.

What worked for me was to wipe a very thin coat on with a rag, and that’s it! No more! Do not do the usual manly thing and apply coat after coat, as I did. I had to re-sand the gummy portion after eight months and re-apply a thin coat. One gallon of the Tung oil and one gallon of the citrus solvent, for a total of two gallons, would have been more than enough for the 2,000 sq feet, probably with a lot left over. A thin coat dries after a day, although you can walk on it almost immediately. The amount he is applying in the video is way more than you need. Use just a little bit on a rag to wipe it on, trust me!”

4. How to Clean a Tung Oil Finish?

There is no shortage of cleaning options when it comes to cleaning. The safest cleaner is to mix one cup of white vinegar with a gallon of water. The solution should remove most dirt and build-up on the floor without harming the finish. 

If you have some stubborn grime, you can replace the vinegar with ammonia. If there are shoe marks, spray some WD-40 onto a rag and wipe them off. 

It’s a 3-step procedure to clean a wood floor with a tung oil finish:

  1. Vacuum or dry mop with a microfiber dust mop.
  2. Mix your preferred cleaning solution, whether it is vinegar and water or a commercial product.
  3. Dip a floor mop pad into the solution and wring it out thoroughly. Now damp mop your way across the room.

You can walk on the floor as soon as it’s dry.

A word of caution. NEVER use a soap-based cleaner like Murphy’s Oil Soap. The soap will strip the tung oil and leave a dull smear.

5. How Do You Polish Tung Oil Finish?

You don’t polish a tung oil finish. You recoat it. For a small area, use rubber gloves and a clean rag to apply a new coat over the floor. Use a rectangular floor dust mop with a new pad dampened with the oil for larger areas. 

After applying the coat, let it absorb for an hour, then wipe off excess. Allow at least 24 hours to dry. You can walk on newly oiled floors with bare feet or socks. Avoid walking on the freshly coated floor with shoes for a month. They will leave permanent marks on your beautiful floor.

6. How Can You Remove Tung Oil Finish from Wood?

There are two ways to remove tung oil from wood floors, either solvents or sanding. If you want to strip the floor with solvents, try a test spot in an inconspicuous area. Apply turpentine or paint thinner and let it dissolve the oil. You should see it bubble up slightly. Once it’s soft and doesn’t damage the wood, remove it with a paint scraper or steel wool.

The other option is to sand the floor down to bare wood as you would with any other floor finish. You can review our article “How to Use A Wood Floor Sander Machine” for tips. 

7. How Long Does Tung Oil Finish Take to Cure?

Pure, unadulterated tung oil is thick. It doesn’t penetrate well, which is why most commercial brands use a 50% solvent mix. It penetrates deeper and dries faster. Humidity, airflow, and temperature affect the curing time.

A tung oil finish using solvents can dry in a day or two, but it needs between 15 to 30 days for a complete cure. However, you only need to wait a day between coats before you can walk on it. Again, don’t walk on it wearing shoes. Tung oil can dissolve some shoe’s sole material leaving permanent marks.

Safety Tips and Reminders

Tung oil generates heat as it dries. If you use rags applying or cleaning it, don’t pile them up indoors. There is a risk of tung oil rags spontaneously combusting if not appropriately handled. Hand-wash any rags in a bucket of soapy water and spread them out or hang them outside for at least 24 hours to dry. 

Some Pros and Cons for Tung Oiled Floors

Whether you want to use tung oil on your wood floors is up to your taste and level of perfection. 

Pros

  • Natural and non-toxic (when diluted with citrus oil)
  • Matte finish
  • Easy to do touch-ups and spot repair scratches
  • It doesn’t show dings and scratches like a shiny surface finish

Cons

  • You need to add a fresh coat every year or two 
  • It does not provide a high gloss finish
  • You can’t use bleach or harsh sanitizing cleaners

tung oil on oak

Tung oil on oak makes a hard golden satin finish. It also enhances any type of wood, from yellow pine to mahogany. 

Suppose you want a new hardwood floor with a durable finish that doesn’t require re-applying every year or two? Consider a pre-finished solid oak floor from Easiklip. It’s a snap to install, and you can walk on it immediately because the finish has been pre-cured.

 

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