Gloss vs satin finish: durability, ease of cleaning plus more

By Mego Kimani •  Updated: 04/14/23 •  4 min read

The choice of sheen in finishes has been a hot topic lately, with many wondering whether it serves a functional purpose or is simply a matter of personal preference. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the two most popular sheen levels – gloss and satin finish – to determine which one reigns supreme.

What is Sheen

Firstly, it’s important to understand what sheen is and how it affects the appearance of a finish. Sheen refers to the amount of shine or luster that a surface has when light reflects off of it. Generally speaking, the higher the sheen level, the more reflective and shiny the surface appears.

Understanding Wood Finishing
satin vs gloss side by side

Gloss vs Satin

So, is Gloss vs Satin purely a matter of personal preference, or does it serve a practical purpose? The answer is both. While some people may simply prefer the look of one sheen level over another, there are also practical considerations to take into account.

At the end of the day, it’s all about finding the right balance between form and function – as the saying goes, “form follows function.”

Nerd stuff about Sheen

All finishes are initially formulated in full gloss, but talc and other soft minerals are added to reduce the optical reflection and lessen the diffraction angle. The result is a flatter sheen that appears less reflective. However, the lower the gloss level, the softer and less durable the finish becomes. Yep!
While high gloss finishes may show more surface wear, they can still be the most durable in the long run when done correctly.

Two years ago, during my internship at Panesar, we typically used a 30° gloss finish for interior furniture and architectural wood, which cured into a 25° gloss finish. However, under company policy we refused to do anything less than 15° gloss, except when matching existing finishes.

Gloss A perfect suit for a Kitchen and bathroom vanity

When it comes to high-traffic areas like kitchen cabinets, gloss is the undisputed champion. Why? Because it offers both ease of cleaning and durability. Gloss finishes are extremely easy to clean and maintain, as a simple dry soapy rag can remove most stains and smudges.

But, satin finishes can be more complicated to clean and may require special cleaning products or techniques to remove stubborn stains.

Gloss a durability superhero

As we mentioned earlier, gloss finishes are not only technically more durable due to their lower soft mineral content, but they’re also easy to clean. You could say that gloss finishes are like the superheroes of the finishing world – able to handle high numbers of cleanings without breaking a sweat.

In contrast, satin finishes are more like delicate flowers that require special attention and care to keep them looking their best.

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Sheen for wooden Stairs

Satin: Low traffic or otherwise aesthetic

On the other hand, satin finishes are generally considered to be more versatile and forgiving than gloss finishes. They don’t show surface imperfections as easily, and their lower sheen level gives them a more subtle, understated appearance. Satin finishes are low-traffic areas or otherwise ornamental pieces where a more muted look is desired.

Satin: Low traffic or otherwise aesthetic

Satin as in natural look?

Polyurethane finishes are a bit like sanding- you either love it or you hate i. Some folks can’t stand the way they look like a layer of plastic wrapped around the wood, especially when it comes to the glossy finish. Bob Flener, on the other hand, is more of a straight shooter – he’ll tell you that poly is just plastic, but it does offer better protection than oils.

If you’re not a fan of the plastic-y look, then satin might be more your speed. It’s a more stable option that still provides plenty of protection

Gloss vs Satin: key takeaways

Mego Kimani

Hi there, my name is Mego Kimani, and I am the owner of Woodmeter, a website dedicated to wood finishing. At Woodmeter, we offer a comprehensive resource for woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts, providing information on everything from achieving the perfect finish to product recommendations and technique guides. Our goal is to empower our community with the knowledge they need to create beautiful, long-lasting finishes on their projects, no matter their skill level or experience.