Recoating Prefinished Wood Floors

Recoating Prefinished Wood Floors Doesn’t Have to Be a Gamble

When this prefinished floor was recoated, the finish formed a nice, even film, and abrasion marks on the bottom of the peeling indicated plenty of abrasion, but this was one of those floors that simply could not be recoated. No pre-test for adhesion had been done before coating. (Photo courtesy of Bona US)

For wood flooring contractors, doing a recoat on a factory-finished floor can feel like playing the slots—when you arrive at the job site, you never know whether you’re walking into a straightforward job with an nice profit or stumbling into a complicated mess. Can the floor be recoated at all? Can the floor be abraded easily? What is the finish on it? Is it contaminated with maintenance products? Will new finish adhere to the textured surface or bevels? Can the floor be recoated at all? What does the customer expect? With the right education, products, techniques and experience, recoating these floors should feel less like a risky gamble and more like a solid bet. Here are 10 key factors to know about when recoating prefinished floors:

1) You might be dealing with upset customers.
Many customers are sold on the beauty and durability of prefinished wood floors without being informed about the details of the warranties and the simple maintenance necessary to ensure performance and satisfy expectations. Perhaps they thought their floor would look brand-new for 30 years and have since been informed that their warranty doesn’t cover general wear and tear. The good news is that you often can help make their floors look much better. The bad news is that sometimes you just can’t. Sometimes, the wear layer on such floors is so thin that they can’t be resanded, and the finish is worn so badly that a recoat won’t give them the appearance they want, so a new floor is the only option. This is also the case with some new floors that simply can’t be recoated. (For more on that, see #6).

2) Try to figure out what the product is.
Before you do anything, try to find out as much as possible about the floor, and ask if the customer has any leftover flooring. If you can find out the manufacturer of the flooring and its age, that will give you valuable clues as to what the finish is and how difficult it may be to recoat, or if recoating is even possible (in the case of wax or most natural oils, for example, the floor usually must be either recoated with the same product or resanded). While you are asking questions, ask what maintenance products and tools have been used on the floor (but don’t take that as fact—oftentimes they may tell you what they think you want to hear). Ask to see the maintenance area or closet.

3) You don’t always have to abrade.

For decades, the industry standard for recoating wood floors involved screening with a buffer and recoating. These days, there are several options available to recoat the floor using a chemical recoating system or a chemical/abrasion combination recoating system. For some floors that are difficult to abrade, such as distressed floors, beveled floors or older cupped floors, one of these newer systems may be the best or, in some cases, the only option.

4) Doing a test area minimizes the gamble.

Doing a recoat without trying a test area first is a reckless gamble. The recoat may go well … or you may discover that the finish won’t flow out. Or, the finish may flow out, but eventually you realize that the finish wasn’t actually stuck very well to the floor—gravity is the only thing holding it down.

There are many possible pitfalls that can lead to these scenarios. One of the most common is contamination from a buildup of maintenance products, including overspray from maintenance products used on wood furniture, stone counters, appliances, etc. Some maintenance products, such as oil soaps, are usually relatively easy to remove from the floor with a strong wood floor cleaner from a finish manufacturer. Others—a notorious one is Orange Glo—say they are recommended for wood floors but leave an acrylic or oily residue that sticks and smears on wood floors, actually attracting even more dirt. One recommendation from Orange Glo is to remove such residue using a mixture of ammonia and water. Also, at least one of the chemical/abrasino recoating system manufacturers available in the industry guarantees successful removal of all contaminating residues on the floor.

If you aren’t going to use a chemical recoating system, another important step in fact-finding is figuring out how hard the finish is to abrade. An older floor with a standard urethane finish may abrade just as easily as a typical site-finished floor, but many newer floors have finishes—contrary to popular belief, regardless of whether they have aluminum oxide or ceramic in them—that are extremely difficult to abrade. Abrading them will require more effort and many more abrasives, so that must be factored into the bid. Last, some floors can be abraded but still won’t take a new coat of finish, as they are simply incompatible with recoating (see #6).