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Peeling Floor Finish

Q: "What should we do about our peeling hardwood floor finish?"

hardwood floors
Photo by Casey Dunn

One of the favorite features of our townhouse is the hardwood flooring, but its finish has problems. In some areas there's dirt embedded in it, and in other areas it's peeling off in pieces the size of dollar bills. What's wrong, and what should I do about it?

—Bill Wheaton, Oscoda, Mich.


Pat Hunt replies: When dirt or anything else is embedded in the finish, it means either the floor wasn't cleaned properly before finishing or other contractors were raising dust nearby before the finish dried. The peeling suggests there's a contaminant on the original flooring surface. I'd bet it was wax, which ­interferes big-time with any subsequent finish. A proper sanding would have removed the wax, so what probably happened was that the new finish was simply rolled over the old one, wax and all. If that's the case in the rest of your house, it may be only a matter of time before other areas peel.

You won't solve either problem just by removing the finish coat. Someone will have to come in to sand off all the existing finishes. Once your floors are down to bare wood, you can refinish them with any product you want. If I were doing this job, I'd recommend applying three coats of oil-based polyurethane: two coats of gloss topped with a coat of satin.
Flooring contractor Pat Hunt has finished the floors in many This Old House TV projects.


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