Part 2 of this article, including video of testing floor finishes in a closet > Testing Hardwood Floor Finishes (Part 2).
A few weeks back Jeff B (I wrote this little spiel on DIY Home Inspections for him) contacted me. He was asking for advice on his wood floors and more specifically, testing hardwood floor finishes.
After closing, Jeff peeled back and removed the home’s well worn carpets. This seems to be a ritual for many new old house owners, and the payout is often ripe with a well protected cache of hardwood — plank-type flooring.
But this wasn’t the nature of Jeff B’s question – not How do I go about refinishing floors? Rather, he approached me with a clear alternate plan. He said — “I don’t have the budget to refinish the floors right now – in a year or two maybe . . . . Do you have any recommendations for ways that I might spruce them up in the short term?”
And I understood — Quotes from professionals for refinishing can range anywhere from $2 up to and over $4 a square foot (depending on the circumstances). Decide to tackle this task yourself and you are looking not only at the cost of the floor machine rental, but supplies easily up and over a few hundred dollars.
Picking a Floor Refinishing Product Starts with Identifying the Existing Finish
So . . . I rolled my eyes up into my head, you know — figuratively and to check my files. Then, my response came something like this — I told him, “Well, it really depends on the type of finish already on the floors.” You could be dealing with polyurethane, a similar type of coating, or wax. Do you know how long that carpet was down? (I knew the house was built in the ’50s.) There are a number of cleaners and/or refinishers designed specifically for each type. These can be found in either the paint and/or the cleaning aisles at the home centers.
I continued – “To really get it right though, you need to figure out what is already down and what kind of condition it is in . . . . Oh, and whatever you try – pick an inconspicuous location to start, like in a closet.”
Commonly Accepted Best Practices for Testing Hardwood Floor Finishes
A few days later, Jeff hit me back; he had gathered some info from a couple places on the internet. He said, “Well, I tried the ‘Water Test‘, and water doesn’t seem to discolor the floor.”
Repeating what he found, he said, I learned that rubbing alcohol (actually denatured) can be used to test for shellac, acetone for varnish, and lacquer thinner for lacquer. Mineral spirits can be used to clean “unsounded” floors, and I also learned that polyurethane only really became popular in the last fifteen (editor’s hmmm) years. Solvents can be used to test for the type of finish.
I too found it easily in a couple of places. I Google-searched and later cross referenced in a flooring book I have at home, I said go for it – . . . But remember . . .
Test Floor Finishes in an Inconspicous Location – Like a Closet
A few days later, Jeff told me he found a Mop N Glo product, safe for all types of wood floor finishes. In the mean time, I too remembered (with the help of a Twitter friend) Murphy’s Oil Soap.
Yet a few more days later, Jeff returned with raves on that Mop N Glo product, and he thanked me for my help. I again rolled the eyes back and checked the file, but “I didn’t really dooooo anything,” I said. He then assured me that I did.
Setting Up to Test my Own Hardwood Floor Finish
I am glad things worked out for Jeff. But this whole exchange left me with a little bit of a longing. As a gatherer of info, I was left to wonder what those solvents listed above might have done in tests on a wood floor.
But . . . you know, as luck would have it – I happen now to working in my closet. Hmmm . . . I thought, and thanks to recent events (hrmm hrmmm – kids and pets) I have given myself a little license to investigate for fixes on my own, not-ready-to-refinished old house flooring.
More Moxie (Related Links):
One of Jeff’s primary resources. Looks like a lot of good info here: http://www.woodfloordoctor.com/_how_tos/articles/cleanpt2.shtml. This is an absolutely fantastic resource.
On having floors refinished, don’t forget to budget $20 or so dollars per room for no skid/no scuff pads, more if you are utilizing area rugs — a pad under these is also a good idea.