Third coat flaking due to contaminant (soap) used between coats

Q: We had our hardwood floors refinished over the summer and they are starting to flake. The floors are scratching easily and you can peel away the poly with your finger nail.

My contractor used 3 coats of Masterline premium poly. He isn’t being cooperative so I wanted to see if this is from too many coats of poly? Would this be under warranty with the contractor or Masterline?

A: The two likely causes of this are either insufficient or improper preparation of the previous coat of finish to accept another coat and gain adhesion or a contaminant got on the floor after one of the coats. The latter seems less likely because contamination issues generally present themselves immediately. These finishes must be buffed or a braided thoroughly between coats or the finish won’t adhere to the previous finish coat. In this case, the responsibility would fall to the contractor. If he feels the finish was defective he should be on the phone to the manufacturer, but I doubt that is the case.

Follow-up: Sorry to bother you again but I had a few additional questions. My contractor is trying to put the blame on us for contaminating the floors. There were approx. 3 weeks in between coats so he thinks we were at fault. What are some ways the floors could have been contaminated because we only used soap and water and a target brand floor cleaner during the window? Shouldn’t the contractor have prepped the floor for the 3rd coat and communicated this could potentially happen?

A: This certainly adds a new dimension to the issue. Soap would be a definite contaminant and possibly the product from Target. As a contractor myself, I always try to be helpful and sometimes that means backing off before applying the last coat. Sometimes this had led to issues because something happens to my work, caused by someone else. There could have been better communication in this process. I would have said before going away that nothing should be applied to the floor. No store mops. No cleaners. Vacuum only. I’ve had a couple of jobs where the finish was being repelled right before my eyes. Clearly a contamination issue. I was able to rescue these jobs by using a strong cleaner from Poloplaz called Tie Coat. I’m not so sure this will work on your floor if the finish is peeling.

Follow-up: One last question. I promise. My contractor did an abrasion test last night and determined it’s only the third coat so he’s agreed to fix the problem. However, I wanted to get your opinion on the process. He’s saying he doesn’t need to sand and start over. Does this sound correct?

A: He will have to screen it with an abrasive screen and polisher, say 150-180 grit. This will only work if the coat he is screening is sound and not flaking off everywhere. He will also need to use a cleaner to remove contaminants such as the one I mentioned from Poloplaz.

Related Q: Three months ago I had some wood floors buffed and re-coated with oil based poly. The poly is now flaking up in three different rooms at three different levels of severity. One room is really bad, and the other two have just a few flakes. My contractor claims that wax must have been used on the floor at some point in time. I said we never used wax on the floor. What other possibilities are there for this to occur?

A: That’s unfortunate. At least two floor finish manufacturers also offer strong cleaners designed to remove potential contaminants before attempting a re-coat. What I have found is that when many of these contaminants are present you will know immediately there is a problem because the finish will be repelled. It looks like oil and water with the finish being pushed away. Another reason for lack of adhesion is insufficient buffing or scratching of the existing coating. I consider factory finished floors to be a lost cause, or at least to risky to attempt just a buff and re-coat because the finish is by design abrasion resistant. I also understand some of those finishes cannot accept a polyurethane finish because of certain elements or substances in the finish. If the floor was waxed, you would see flaking everywhere and then there is a question of why the problem was not noticeable immediately. Another product that is not good to use is S******. Checking the data sheet at their web site, it says their product contains wax or paraffin. Again, you would see the finish being repelled immediately.

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