The best advice you can follow as a hardwood floor owner is to regularly buff and coat your floors. If you want to avoid costly sanding and refinishing jobs or replacement projects that drain your finances, giving your floors the periodic buff-and-coat treatment is the best way to preserve their beauty and extend their life.
So what exactly is buffing and coating and why is it so important? Here is a short attempt to explain why you should make this technique a mandatory part of your wood floor maintenance routine.
What Is Buffing and Coating?
Every hardwood floor is covered with a polyurethane coat that prevents the damage to get to the wood planks. This top coat is the one that takes the abuse, so that the wood underneath remains undamaged and preserves its good looks. However, this protective layer wears away and loses its shape in time. It is removed little by little by everyday friction and contact until it gets too thin to be able to do its job properly and protect the wood as it should. Replenishing this layer before it reaches this stage is essential for the longevity and beauty of your hardwood floors.
Removing part of this old layer and adding new coats of polyurethane that create a shield against daily abuse is what is called “buffing and coating.” The process is also known as “screening and recoating” – a name that comes from the screens used to remove the old polyurethane top coat. A buff-and-coat project is a fairly simple process, provided that the right tools are used and that those who do it have enough experience and knowledge to avoid damaging the floor.
When Should You Buff and Coat Your Hardwood Floors?
Since the thinning of the polyurethane coat is slow and not necessarily visible, it is important to do a recoat before signs of wear and tear are evident. Just because your hardwood floors look all right does not mean they are. The finish coat may show no signs of abuse, yet it may have become too thin. As a result, it is possible that, when you finally see some damage, this has already traveled to the wood.
When the wood is damaged, a simple recoat will not fix it, nor cover the imperfection. In this case, a costly sanding and refinishing project is necessary, a process that is costly, time-consuming and very disruptive. Regularly buffing and coating your floors before the damage is visible will spare you of such efforts and costs.
While it might not make much sense to you to pay for “fixing” what looks like a perfect looking floor, remember this detail. The polyurethane wears away as subtly as it does its job, so that you may only notice when it is not there anymore. By then, it is too late to just replenish it.
So how often should you plan a buffing and coating treatment? For high-traffic areas such as kitchens and hallways, a yearly screen-and-recoat job will prevent serious damage to the level of wood. For other areas, however, buffing and coating your floors every 3 to 5 years is enough. Even better, if you have rooms that are used only occasionally, such as a guest room, you may be fine with a buff-and-coat job every 10 years.
How Do You Know the Damage Did Not Get to the Wood?
If you are new to wood floors or if your eye is not used to differentiate between superficial and deep damage, it is hard to know if a buffing and coating job is enough. Short of asking for the opinion of a hardwood floor professional, you could try a simple test. Place a few drops of water on the floor. If the droplets bead up, your coat is likely to be OK. If they seep through the wood, the polyurethane is gone and there is sanding in your future. Remember, however, that this test does not tell you much if your floors are covered in wax.
Here is a piece of bad news. Sometimes, even if the damage has not gotten to the woods, has traveled deep into the finish coat. Since buffing removes only part of this finish coat (so that it stays at a safe distance from the wood), it is possible that these deep imperfections cannot be removed just by buffing. In fact, shining up your floor with a new coat of polyurethane may highlight these deep scratches and worn spots.
In this case, even if the sealer did well its job to protect the wood, it is entirely compromised, so that it needs a complete removal. This means getting down to the wood – which will in turn require sanding. This is another reason to plan your buffing and coating treatments regularly and not postpone them. It is also a good reason to ask for the opinion of a professional wood floor refinishing contractor, so that you make the right decision even when you want to take the DIY route.
How Much Does Buffing and Coating Cost?
Finally, some good news. Since buffing and coating is a less complicated process than staining and refinishing, it is also much cheaper. In fact, a buff-and-coat job may save you up to 50% of the cost of refinishing hardwood floors. Considering that postponing this important maintenance routine may lead to badly damaged planks that may even need replacement, buffing and coating is your cheapest path to beautiful hardwood floors.