Someone the other day suggested a post about hardwood flooring. So, here we are. This subject is so broad that one could have entire blog, not post, but blog just devoted to hardwood floors! I hope that you’ll discover some things you didn’t know already which will help you moving forward with your hardwood floors.
There are three basic types of hardwood flooring
Solid hardwood flooring is just what it says. These days, it is most commonly made from oak, usually red but sometimes white oak. There are many different types of wood and cuts of the wood (plain sawn, quarter sawn, rift sawn, etc). Are you asleep yet? ;] I know… so, in the interest of getting into other interesting and useful stuff, here’s a fabulous link which can serve as a reference for everything you ever wanted to know about the technical aspects of hardwood flooring.
Always use a highly experienced master craftsman for hardwood flooring installation and refinishing.
The wood needs to sit in the room for a few days before installation. I think that in humid summer climates, it is better to have the flooring installed in the summer because the wood will be at its “fattest.” (wettest) A good installer will leave a very tiny almost imperceptible space between the floorboards in any case. In the winter, the wood will dry out and shrink. Too much space and there will be big gaps between floorboards. Too tight is a bigger problem. Nothing worse than a hardwood floor that buckles in the humid summer months.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring is sometimes referred to as laminate but it is not laminate in that engineered hardwood floors do have a thick layer of real wood on top. That means that it can be sanded and refinished but how many times depends on how thick that layer is.
It is constructed in layers of plywood underneath the finish floor layer. Therefore, it is wonderful for high moisture areas and the only type of hardwood flooring that can go directly over concrete.
It is also terrific for basements or if your ground floor is built on a slab. It is also the preferred product for radiant heated floors if you should be so lucky to have that.
Below is a white oak wide plank engineered hardwood floor.
Laminate does not actually belong in this group. It is not hardwood flooring. It is pressed cardboard with an image of real wood stamped on it. Fake. And you’re not to use it–ever. Understood? ;] ;] ;]
Okay. okay! Stop your grousing. I know… You have a basement which you spent $80,000 trying to keep dry and you might as well have flushed the money down the toilet. Or, you live in a swamp. (aka: Florida).
It’s laminate or bust.
Alright. I’m sorry. I will soften my stance— a little. :] Laminates have come a long way from the cheap, totally obvious fraud to something that can resemble real hardwood floor pretty damned well. It is fade resistant and scratch resistant, good for moisture and high traffic areas, however, it can never be re-finished. It’s not real wood. There are also some pretty good vinyl fakes out there. I’d far rather you have a good fake than some hideous pinky beige tile.
I’m going to end my discussion here about laminate and engineered wood flooring because there is much to say about real hardwood floors.
Finishing Your Hardwood Flooring
I want to work backwards and discuss the top coat that’s applied to your hardwood flooring. All hardwood flooring requires a protective coating. Everything I am saying is based on my years of experience As with every bit of advice I give here… please do your own research, consult with your trade professionals, TEST and derive your own conclusions.
Wood is not a stable substance. Even when cut it has an afterlife like none other. Breathing, growing, shrinking, fading, etc. I want you to be happy with your outcome so I can’t stress enough how vital it is to go with what feels best for you.
Here are the main types of hardwood flooring finishes.
- Tung Oil
- Water Based Polyurethane
- Oil Based Polyurethane
(note: I have also seen lacquered and varnished floors, but they are rare and have problems like the finish will come up if certain things spill on it. So don’t recommend them)
Did you ever go into an old home and perhaps it has wide planked pine or walnut floors that have a deep, rich, warm gorgeous luster? That finish is most likely wax.
Yes, it is beautiful, but it comes with a price.
- There is a lot of maintenance required. The wax usually needs to be reapplied about once a year. And it is a labor intensive project. There is a good tutorial here about reapplying wax.
- Waxed floors do not like water. To find out if you have a waxed floor. Drop a bit of water in an inconspicuous spot and wait a bit. If the finish turns white-ish— you have a waxed finish. Therefore, it’s not the best for kitchens. To find out what other type of finish you have here is a great link.and this one too.
- Once you’ve used wax it is very difficult and ill-advised to use a traditional polyurethane be it water or oil based. If you don’t get it all up, you’re going to have a big bloody mess on your hands. Or rather, your feet! (unless you walk around on your hands). The reason being… poly doesn’t stick to anything waxy or oily.
I have had clients who have a waxed finish and won’t do anything else. Ever. That is how much they love it. Of course, they have the means to maintain this type of finish.
Another fabulous product that is not as well-known is called Waterlox made from Tung Oil. You can find out much more from the link. It has been around for about 100 years. It is a natural substance but quite noxious when applied. You need to wear a mask and have excellent ventilation. After several days, it dries to a rich, beautiful, durable sheen. It is easy to reapply and the floors are easy to maintain. Unlike wax, you can use a damp mop to clean the floors. (more about cleaning later). There are also waxes that you can put on top of it. It’s all in the link. Anyone have any experience with this stuff? I’ve read several reports from people who love it!
Like wax, Waterlox requires reapplications every year or so. However, if you get tired of that, after it’s good and cured, you can have it screened and apply traditional poly. I read this in a few places, however, do check with your flooring professional.
I hate it. I don’t care what your flooring guys says, I have never seen one that doesn’t look like plastic or holds up very well. Never. Do all of my clients use it anyway? Yes, 95% of them do. I don’t press it. It’s their contractor and their house. There are some very compelling reasons to use water-based polyurethane.
- far less odor
- very quick drying time
I have read that the trick in having it hold up well is FOUR COATS. Yes, four coats of water-based poly. However, with only two – three hours drying time, in between coats, unless it’s a really big floor, could actually happen in one or two days!
Well… I bet that you were going to say that I love it! I DID love it. That is until the EPA BS came into effect. They changed the formulations. Can you still get the old formulation? Yes, but only in pint-sized quantities. For the Bronxville kitchen, they had to get 24 pints to do the job!
Why oil? Oh my. I had it in my home in Goldens Bridge. It was absolutely gorgeous. It dries to a rich, warm, tawny luster that only gets better with time! It does deepen in color as well a little. It held up beautifully! 17 years later, it was still in excellent condition. This was despite two wild and crazy boys, a 200 lb husband, Peaches (our dearly departed kitty) and me, but I walk around on my tip toes. ;]
Well, Laurel, are you going to tell us what you used for G sake!
Oh, yes… sorry. It was this stuff.
Fabulous Fabulon! But again, you have to get the old formulation which in New York only comes in quarts. grrrr…
Are there any drawbacks to oil-based poly? Yes. It does have an amber tinge, but that is a good thing for brown stained floors. It’s not a good thing if you wish to have a white floor. In that case, you must use a clear water-based poly. I have read that oil-based poly yellows over time. I did not notice any yellowing in 17 years of our Fabulon floor finish. It did fade a good amount by the south-facing bay window, so do get your windows UV protected if they aren’t already.
Can you put water-based polyurethane over oil-based and vice versa?
That’s a very good question. Here’s my answer. If you put down oil and decide after one coat that you can’t stand the fumes. Ideally, you’re supposed to wait 30 days for the oil to be thoroughly cured. However, I found a forum where a master floor-guy says that he does this all the time, maybe waiting just a few days and no problems. You can read that here. It’s quite interesting. I do think however, that it is easier to apply oil over water, but as long as it is very dry, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Can you put a waxed finish over polyurethane?
I had a client who told me that this is what she had done. Her floors looked alright. But here’s the deal. Once you put wax on the floor— of any kind, it is a waxed floor and will forevermore require more waxing and will give you potential problems down the road. I don’t advise it. Either do poly OR wax. If you decide or someone else decides years down that they want to change the color of the floor, you could have problems. I recommend first removing all the wax with mineral spirits and then of course, the floor will need to be sanded, then stained. If you want to be sure of a great result, I would go back to wax. I am not saying that you can’t use traditional poly, but I have had clients who’ve had problems with the poly adhering. Polyurethane will not stick to wax or oil.
And worse yet?
Stuff like Mop ‘n Glo. Should be called Mop & Glop. It contains silicone. Silicone is your floor’s worst nightmare. STAY AWAY!
Same goes for Murphy’s oil soap.
[tweet_box design=”default”]Yes! Murphy’s Oil Soap. Evil Stuff. NEVER use it on your hardwood flooring![/tweet_box]
It is made from a vegetable oil and detergent. It will penetrate into tiny pores, hair-line cracks and seep deeply into the wood underneath the poly coating. You will never get it all out. Over time, it will derail your finish into a softy gloppy mess as it breaks it down.
I don’t care what their commercials say. The stuff seems innocuous enough. It’s not. It’s death to your beautiful hardwood floors.
Please note. When you are cleaning your hardwood flooring that has a poly coating, you are cleaning the poly, NOT the wood! Would you use Murphy’s Oil Soap on your windows? Case closed.
Here’s a simple recipe you can make at home to clean POLYED hardwood floors
Take a gallon of warm water. One capful of vinegar and maybe one drop (yes, one drop) of dishwashing liquid or something like Fabuloso. You can also throw in a capful of rubbing alcohol. And that is all. You do not need to go out and get some expensive floor cleaner. BTW, you CAN damp mop polyurethaned floors. Not soaking, but damp is fine. More importantly than mopping is keeping the floors vacuumed. Swiffers are really good too. Keeping the floor dust free will elongate their life and help prevent scratches.
NOTE: This is only for polyurethaned and tung oil finished floors. Waxed floors should not be damp mopped, unless it is dried–immediately! And then, the wax may need to be reapplied. Also look into Restore-A-Finish for waxed hardwood flooring.
“Oh my, Laurel. Now, I’m worried. How do I know if the previous people used any of that Murphy Oil stuff? The house was totally empty when we bought it!”
Well, if you are still on speaking terms with them, I would ask or if not, perhaps your realtor can get this information for you. Better yet. Ask before you buy the house.
Consult with your flooring expert. However, I have read that a mixture of trisodium phosphate and water followed by a clear rinse should get rid of a lot of the MOS residue. But please, please… know that you still might have problems. What kind of problems?
Here. These kinds of problems. I should know. This is right outside my bathroom. Fortunately it is only really in this one spot.
See those bubble-y things. Nice, huh? Those are called “fish eyes” And the brown spot is where the finish is up altogether. This is what happens when a floor is finished and there is something waxy or oily underneath. I cannot stress enough to be very careful when refinishing floors that are not virgin wood if you are not absolutely certain what has been used on them! One day, I’ll take care of it. The floors are nearly 100 years old and they certainly do have a lot of character!
This reminds me. If your issues don’t affect the stain, you can frequently have your floors screened which is like taking the top layer of poly off. Then have only a coat or two of poly reapplied.
Hardwood Flooring Stains
No matter what your topcoat finish is… all hardwood floors can be stained. You certainly don’t have to, but staining the natural wood a deeper color will bring out the richness of the color. There is another method for changing the color of the floors and that is bleaching and staining them a lighter color. That will be addressed in the next post because the process is so different.
The most important point about stains is that they be allowed to completely dry before any top coating is applied. If it’s summer and humid, that will be at least 72 hours. It might be less and if your flooring guy is fine with less time then so be it.
What color stain is good?
A lot of this is a matter of preference, style of decorating you are going for and the home itself. With an older home that is traditional in style, I generally prefer a darker floor. It is richer and more authentic. Around here, we usually use Minwax stains. I’ve never had a problem with them. I’m not a fan of their polyurethane however.
I’ve looked at just about every wood-toned color they make and here are my favorites:
English Chestnut. Hands down, my fave. It is the perfect color IMO. Rich and deep, with a hint of red but not RED, if you know what I mean.
Red Mahagony. Also very nice but better over white oak than red oak as it can go too red with red oak
This is the red mahogany stain in the dining room we did a couple years ago now!
Golden Oak. This is what we used in our townhouse. I chose this color because I was going for a more country look and our place was flooded with light. It the perfect color for that home. (see below). It looked a little darker and redder than it does on my monitor.
50/50 Special Walnut and Jacobean. My old boss had this color in her home and it was a deep, rich non-red brown, but also not yellow.
Nothing worse than yellow undertones in a brown wood floor. Except for ashy or pink undertones. I’m not a fan of anything gray or ashen for hardwood floors unless you’re going for a very specific look like Bobby McAlpine, for instance and not just buckling into a trend.
Any others? Nope. not really.
What if I have two or more kinds of wood in the house?
I see that all the time. Most of the time it’s really best to just use the same color throughout the house, but of course, I would always test.
To test floor stains, the best way is right on the unfinished floor, itself. The color is going to change completely when it’s dry. And that’s going to begin in a few minutes. Generally, I recommend waiting a day or two and then the guy can come over and lay some poly over it to bring out the true color.
Will your floor look exactly like the sample?
Probably not. Expect it to be lighter or darker than the sample. It’s not an exact science and the wood may or may not absorb the stain in the same way on every floorboard.
Please feel free to pin the graphic below onto your pinterest boards for reference.
Phew! That was long and there’s more. The rest will be the fun stuff. But we needed to get all that out-of-the-way. And I’m sure I’ve left out some important points too. Or, maybe you disagree with me on some of this. That’s okay. You can get three wood flooring contractors in a room and all three will have a different idea about how things should be done. It’s not an exact science; except for Murphy’s Oil Soap.
Hope you’re having a great weekend!