Finishing and Maintaining Wood Floors
Part 6 –Protecting and Repairing the Finish

Protecting the Finish

For the final touch of beauty and to protect the finish, apply one or more coats of good wax recommended for use on floors.  Use either a liquid buffing wax/cleaner or paste wax.  Use only brands that are designated for hardwood floors and if a liquid, be sure it has a solvent base, not a water base.   Apply the wax after the finish coat is thoroughly dry and polish it with a machine buffer.  The wax will give a lustrous sheen to the floor and form a protective film that prevents dirt from penetrating the finish.  Some manufacturers of urethane finishes do not recommend waxing, especially for commercial jobs, because wax tends to make floors slippery. 

Repairing the Finish

Wood floors finished with penetrating seals are not too difficult to repair should they show early signs of wear in traffic channels or become stained or water damaged in localized areas.  Floors finished with polyurethane or varnish can also be repaired, but lap marks or a splotchy appearance is more difficult to avoid.  Floors finished lacquer or shellac are nearly impossible to repair.

Finishes are best renewed when they begin to show signs of wear in traffic channels but before the bare wood is exposed.  In this case, the floor must be cleaned of all dirt and debris, and all floor wax must be removed as it may interfere with the drying and adhesion of any new finish.  Most of the wax can be stripped with rags kept moistened with mineral spirits or other paint thinners.  The rest of the wax should be washed off with soap and warm water, doing the work as rapidly as possible so that the water will have little time to contact the wood.  After the surface has thoroughly dried, a new finish may be applied. 

If a penetrating seal is being restored, apply it to the worn areas as already described.  Be careful to wipe up any excess, particularly in those areas where the old finish is still in good condition.  If a surface finish such as polyurethane or varnish is being used, it may be a good idea to apply one coat of finish to the worn areas first.  End all brush strokes at joints between boards.  After the first coat is thoroughly dry, apply a second coat over the entire floor.

If only a small stained or water damaged area is being repaired, try to remove the discoloration first.  Use steel wool or a fine grade of sandpaper to smooth out the affected area and an inch or two of the surrounding floor.  Remove all dust.  Then brush on one or more thin coats of finish, featuring it into the old finish to prevent lap marks.  Allow plenty of time for drying between coats.  Wax the repaired area if appropriate.

Note:  This information was reproduced in part from D.L. Cassens and W.C. Feist.  North Central Regional Extension Publication #136. 

About the Author:

Todd Shupe is the President of and is a well recognized expert on wood-based housing and wood science.  Shupe worked as a  professor and lab director at LSU for over 20 years. He is active in several ministries including his Christian blog Todd is the Secretary of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men, Database Coordinator for Gulf South Men, and volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, Iron Sharpens Iron, Open Air Ministries, HOPE Ministries food pantry. Todd is currently preparing to be a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men.