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Floor Protection and Finishes

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 16 Apr 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Polyurethane Hardwood Flooring

For many types of flooring, in order to obtain the best performance and reduce damage from wear and tear, it is essential to protect the floor surface with a particular kind of finish or sealant.

Hardwood

When most people think and talk about floor finishes, they are referring to Hardwood Floors as these types of floors must be properly finished to ensure beauty and longevity. In general, finishes for hardwood floors can be divided into 2 categories: the majority have surface finishes which is usually a clear coat of polyurethane and has a glossy appearance. These form a protective layer on top of the wood and act as a barrier against harm from abrasion and staining.

Some wood floors, however, have a penetrating seal applied – these are acrylics, oils and waxes and usually have a satin or matt finish. In this case, the wood grain can still be felt with your bare fingers (i.e. there is no glossy film on top) as the sealants penetrate into the wood, protecting it from within.

Test the Floor Finish

It is important to keep checking the condition of your floor finish – for example, is it just dirt or has some of the finish worn off? Is the finish dull, gouged or chipped? A quick test is to pour a tablespoon of water onto the floor and see if it soaks in and leaves a darkened spot. A properly sealed floor will leave the water beading on top. If the finish is worn and water is soaking through, it is vital to act quickly as the wood can become irreversibly damaged. Otherwise, you may need to Repair or Replace the wood beneath before re-applying a new coat.

There is some controversy over whether it is safe to damp-mop wood floors, especially if they have been finished with an oil or wax seal. In general, it is felt that as long as the finish is still in good condition, there is no danger of moisture seepage as long as excessive water is not used and mopping is done correctly. Always use a neutral pH wood cleaner or products recommended by the manufacturer.

Another controversial suggestion is the use of floor polish or wax to restore the beauty of your hardwood floor quickly and effectively, without resorting to an entire refinishing process. Wax is easily cleaned, buffed, stripped and re-applied and it will absorb all wear and tear, so that the finish underneath remains relatively untouched. However, it is controversial as it can limit refinishing options for the floors in the future as if it is not properly stripped, it will cause adhesion problems when you come to re-coat the floor surface. Thus, it is generally only suggested if the current finish is in very poor condition, you cannot afford a proper refinish and/or you are not planning to refinish the floor in the near future.

Cement

With the increasing use of cement in interiors, focus is turning towards the use of floor finishes to combine beauty and versatility with the durability and economy of Concrete. In fact, concrete can be treated with stains to create an amazing range of patterns and designs, as well as having surface textures and grouting to imitate tiling and pavers or even mimicking natural surfaces such as marble and wood planks! Unlike many other flooring materials, concrete floor colour finishes usually last the lifetime of the cement and are extremely durable and easy to maintain.

One method of cement finish is chemical staining which reacts chemically with the concrete’s lime content to bond permanently to the surface. It can also be used to etch colour into the surface. While the results can be a bit unpredictable due to things like weathering, exposure to other chemicals and lime leaching, the imperfections can actually add character to the slab. Thus, this is one of the most creative methods of colouring concrete.

Because concrete is porous in its natural state, it needs to be sealed and protected with a waterproof layer to avoid staining. This is usually the final step in the finishing process, after all the colours and design patterns have been impregnated. Different applications range from buffing waxes used for interior floors to industrial-level sealers for exterior settings that have to cope with high traffic. If the cement floor is subject to heavy wear and tear, the sealers and waxes may need to be periodically re-applied.

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