While we advise homeowners to never ignore buffing and coating as an excellent way to preserve the beauty of their hardwood floors, not everything can be fixed with a buffer and a new coat of polyurethane. It is true that periodically screening and recoating your floors extends the life of your planks by making invasive sanding unnecessary. It also creates a barrier that seals the color and integrity of the wood boards.
However, buffing and coating in no wonder treatment when the damage has already reached the wood. Here are some common problems that, unfortunately, cannot be addressed by a simple screen and recoat job. For most of these, sanding and refinishing, or even replacing the wood planks are more appropriate solutions, whether you decide to go for a localized fix or take over restoring the entire floor. For others, additional steps are necessary, so that the buff-and-coat treatment is successful.
If the planks are warped, discolored or scratched, just applying a new protective coat will not solve the problem. In fact, the new finish coat will emphasize the imperfections hidden before by the dullness of the worn finish layer. Warped planks should be removed and replaced and deep scratches in the wood must be sanded and refinished.
Sometimes it is difficult to decide if buffing and coating is appropriate or if a more involved restoration process is necessary. Don’t do it alone – ask for the advice of an experienced wood floor refinishing contractor who will test the floor, ask about your maintenance routine and decide what solution is appropriate.
Floors Turned Gray
Gray floors are usually a sign of a worn-out sealer that has left the wood exposed to water, oils and dirt. Because this is not only a finish issue anymore, buffing is not enough to fix the problem. The wood must be sanded and re-stained or, in the case of very old and thin wood floors, replacement might be necessary.
Dark pet stains are the result of the uric acid penetrating the sealer and getting to the wood. This often happens when pet accidents are not immediately cleaned. Buffing is not enough to remove the pet stains and the odor. You will most likely have to replace the boards or sand the floor.
If you have ever treated your hardwood floors with wax in the hope of giving them some extra shine or protection, you have just committed yourself to this kind of treatment. It is impossible to buff the wax away and, if you decide to apply a new polyurethane finish, this will not adhere to the floor. Even if you remove the wax with a stripping agent, some residue may still be left and create bonding problems. The only solution is to sand down the planks, then refinish them.
You can continue using wax treatments as a sealer for your hardwood floors, but wax does not protect against water, tends to turn yellow in time and needs constant re-applying. It may also make your floors slippery and end up in gunk. Wax is not the only problem treatment – beware of using oil soaps and silicone cleaners on your wood floors, since they create bonding problems down the road.
Changing the Stain Color
Since buffing only removes part of the finish, it does not have any effect on the color of your hardwood floor. The stain is absorbed into the wood, so in order to change it, it is necessary to sand the uppermost layer of the wood and apply new stain. What you can change, however, is the finish sheen. If the old finish was matte and you are pining for some luster, this is a good time to apply a satin or glossy finish.
Wood Color Changes
In the first year after installation of new wood boards, you are likely to see fairly rapid changes in color due to sun exposure, either a darkening or a discoloration of the wood. Some hardwood species such as mahogany and cherry are more prone to darkening, with more visible results. By contrast, walnut tends to lighten and receives warm, golden tones over time. Maple, oak and birch are more consistent in their looks, with less dramatic changes.
While such color changes are expected and can actually improve the look of your hardwood floors, you have a problem when they don’t happen evenly. For instance, if your floor is partially covered with a rug, you will notice differences in tone between these areas and those exposed to light. If this happens, buffing and coating is not the answer, since the change does not have to do with the finish. Instead, just move the rug or furniture around the room, so that your hardwood floor changes color uniformly.
Aluminum Oxide Coating
Many engineered hardwood boards are covered with an extra durable UV-cured aluminum oxide coating that creates a very tough layer of protection. While this is good news for the wood underneath, when the time comes for sprucing up the finish layer, you have a problem. Aluminum oxide finishes are difficult to buff, so they often create bonding problems. Screening an aluminum oxide-finished floor is a more involved process that takes more time, more work and materials – and more money. Progressively using different screens from fine to more abrasive or chemically etching the floor with a solution that roughens the surface without the need for sanding are a few methods that make the application of a new finish layer possible.