By Brooke McDonald, guest contributor
Wood floors (like people) look best with regular TLC. Aside from daily cleaning, sensitive wood floors require occasional in-depth maintenance that goes beyond a sweep or vacuum. Think of tired professionals and run-down moms. What do you do to revive their dull pallor? You send them to the spa to experience the health benefits of a massage, exfoliating body wrap, or facial. Then, voila – spa-goers come home revived!
To maintain a healthy glow, a hardwood floor has its own menu of spa treatments that must be followed regularly. For starters, after they’ve been in use for some years, wood floors needs to be sanded and finished afterwards by a protective sealer that will give them a natural sheen. Other wood floors may require patching in spots that undergo intense damage. Some wood floor owners also choose to have their wood floors stained to change their color.
But a “screen and recoat” might just be the ultimate spa experience for a floor, resulting in the best-looking floor you’ve ever seen. It’s an essential, routine step in-between standings that will guarantee a longer-lasting floor.
You may have also heard it referred to as a “buff and recoat,” because a “screen” is basically a light buffing to prepare the floor for a fresh coat of polyurethane — the recoat. Contrasted with sanding, which is more expensive, time-consuming, and intensive, a screening simply removes a top layer of life’s little mishaps — dents, scratches, basic wear and tear.
Every hardwood flooring business may give you a different quote on when to screen and recoat, but it really just depends on the condition of your floors. The rule of thumb is to be alert for noticeable wear and catch the damage before you start to see bare wood surface.
Polyurethane can’t protect a floor forever — it will eventually wear off. Typically this can start to really be evident anywhere from 3-5 years after the floors were sanded. Watch highly trafficked areas for the first signs of scratching or wear to the floor, like entryways, kitchens, or doorways.
Most people have a hard time justifying this process of beautifying a floor that still looks pretty good. But trust me — you don’t want to skip it. Think about the consequences of skipping sunscreen in the blazing hot sun. Without that protective layer, a few bad sunburns can do terrible harm to your skin.
Even minimal hardwood damage left unchecked could create damage that will only require greater and greater repairs over time.
First, rent a buffer
To prepare for a screen and recoat, you’ll want to rent a buffer machine from a store that specializes in hardwood floors, and get a pad and screen from them to use with the machine. A buffer contains a mesh with abrasive particles cushioned underneath a soft floor pad, which protects the floor from too much wood being removed, and ideally prepares it for the protective layer.
Other materials you’ll need
- A 120-grit screen for the edge of the room (to be used by hand)
- A T-bar (for applying finish)
- Rags or towels
- Floor finish/polyurethane
- Solvent to match your finish
- A mop
Before you begin
Make sure there are no loose boards or nails sticking up to get in the way of your screening process. Clear the floor area. Vacuum the floor and mop it with a vinegar/water mixture (one cup vinegar to one gallon of water). Let the floor dry completely.
Test the floor!
Test the floor first, especially if you are a relatively new owner of these floors and don’t have total knowledge of their cleaning history. Why? Certain grease-based or acrylic cleaning products that have been used on the floor could prevent polyurethane from bonding to the floor. Even worse, the recoat could end up peeling and looking really bad. If you do find evidence of one of these products on your floor, you can chemically strip the floor before proceeding.
How to test the floor for cleaning products
Grease-based: Clean a small out-of-the-way spot, and place several drops of paint thinner on the floor. Wait several minutes and wipe it up with a light-colored towel. If there is yellow or brown residue on the towel, you have a contaminant on your hands! You’ll want to use steel wool and paint thinner to scrub the entire floor to get every bit of residue off before you proceed.
Acrylic: Mix ammonia and water in a 1-1 ratio. In a similarly low-trafficked area as above (the same spot is fine!), drip a bit onto the floor and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Does the floor turn white? If so, you’ll want to scrub everything with a 1:4 ammonia-water solution.
Screen by hand around the perimeter of the room. If you’ve never screened before, it’s basically just sanding. The floor should become duller (you’re only removing the top layer, remember). Use the buffing machine for the majority of the room. When you’re done, vacuum up the dust.
Ensure that your floor is free of any particles before you recoat through a process known as “tacking.” Dampen a microfiber towel with water for a waterborne finish, or paint thinner for a solvent-based finish. Finally, apply the finish according to the instructions on the label. Let it dry for at least 24 hours until you walk on it or replace furniture.
And there you have it — a floor that is protected, newly buffed, and freshly shined, refreshed and ready for another three years of living.
About the Author: Brooke McDonald helps Minnesota businesses with their writing and marketing. As a blogger for Pete’s Hardwood Floors in St. Paul, she especially enjoys empowering readers with helpful do-it-yourself information about home improvement projects.