Finish peeling in sporadic areas

Q: The old owners refinished our floor but they are peeling, in odd and sporadic areas all over the house. Can the areas be fixed or do I have to redo all the floors?

A: I would definitely recommend a complete re-sand and finish. You are either dealing with a contamination issue between the coats of finish, or improper preparation between coats to ensure adhesion. What you apply on top of this now will only be as sound as the coatings it is sitting on, which by your comments is not stable, but peeling throughout.

Peeling off someone’s hack job coat of polyurethane

Q: We recently bought a small condominium that has an engineered (5 layer) maple hardwood floor. Someone attempted to refinish the original satin finish with a high gloss polyurethane. The shiny top layer is peeling off in sheets all over the floor. My question is, is there any way to “buff” off the shiny coat and get back to the original satin finish WITHOUT having to sand and re-finish the entire floor? The places where the new shiny coat have peeled off reveal a perfectly fine original satin finish which is what we would like to get back. Thanks.

A: I can’t see buffing this off. For example, if you used a car paint finish buffer you would face the risk of flakes of polyurethane getting under the pad and scratching the original finish. Unless you can patiently peel off the gloss coating a situation like this generally requires totally sanding the floor.

Delaminating finish and stain coming up as well

Q: We bought a foreclosure a year ago which had lots of urine stains on the wood. The flooring contractor sanded everything down and patched where needed. The bare floors looked great. We had them use a dark stain and gloss water based poly finish. Again, everything looked great when done. A couple weeks later, we noticed a small round spot where the poly had come off. More spots appeared over the next several months. In most cases, the stain seemed to come up as well. Some spots were tiny, some up to 1 1/2 inches, mostly round but not all. They sanded the floors down and redid everything. 2 Weeks later, I’ve found 2 spots where it is starting again. What could be causing this?

A: This is very strange. Delaminating finish is one issue which can be explained by some type of contaminant on the floor or between coats which prevents adhesion. Stain coming off too is a different animal altogether because the stain does penetrate into the wood surface a little bit. It isn’t just something that sits on top of the wood like a coating, unless he used a tinted polyurethane. Can you tell me what stain he used?

Follow-up Q: Unfortunately not. When my contractor went to have the floors redone, the sub claimed not to have a record of the stain used initially. It was not a tinted poly. It was supposed to be two coats of ebony stain (brand not known), but we found a plain silver can afterwards that had written on it “plus 12 oz. black”. When they redid the floors, the color came out much lighter. My contractor had scheduled a different sub to come in and strip them down again and try to get the color right, but now we have these spots coming up again and don’t know what to do to prevent that. The original contractor argued that some outside contaminant might be being brought in either on our shoes or the dog’s paws. While the ongoing nature of it and the fact that the spots are mainly in traffic areas would tend to support this, the fact the most of the spots were perfectly round doesn’t, plus I don’t know what we could be tracking in that could do this. We don’t have any contact with anything that caustic or acidic. Also, there have not been any problems on the stairs, upstairs, or master bedroom, which are all entirely new wood. Is there anything they could have used on the old floors that would cause this?

A: While I’m not suggesting this caused the problem, I’m not a big fan of applying two coats of stain, especially when using very dark, heavily pigmented stains with more pigment added. If I want to achieve a darker version of the colour I will water pop the floor, which simply means wetting the surface and letting it dry to open the surface and allow better penetration. I tend to think as was mentioned, that a contaminant is being introduced. I was called in to refinish maple floors that somebody made a real mess of. Everything I did looked excellent until I applied the finish which still looked amazing except in areas where the finish was being repelled. The home owner turned his garage into a Harley man cave with plastic tiles on the floor. I walked back and forth constantly over this floor to get to my trailer. I asked if he treated these tiles with anything. Yes, Honda spray. And he had renewed the spray two days before I started work. So, that was the culprit. I was able to polish the floors, wet buffing with Poloplaz Tie Tac which removed the contaminant. Then I screened a recoated. I’m no so sure this will work for you because in this case your finish is peeling off. In my case the finish was repelled and didn’t form a film over the areas of contamination.

Follow-up Q: So that was something that was being tracked in during the refinishing process before the poly was applied?

They are talking about something being tracked on an ongoing basis after everything was finished. That’s part of the issue – that the de-lamination has gone on over a period of months. What type of situation could cause that?

A: When the finish is delaminating and pulling away from what is beneath it, clearly contaminants on the surface are irrelevant. The problem is what is beneath the finish. Someone or something could have walked a contaminant across the freshly sanded floor or over the stained floor before any finish was applied.

Another possibility I thought of as the previous email was leaving is the slight possibility, if the workers who did the job wore knee pads that had something on them. But you say two different crews did the work with the same results so this possibility is stretching the limits of probability. I generally try to look for the simplest, most obvious explanation first: something finding it’s way onto the floor before the finish was applied. That contaminant could be the heavily pigmented stain itself, especially if they used a water borne finish and the stain was not 100% dry. The solvents from the stain would not allow adhesion.

Repairing factory finished floor defects

Q: I live in an apartment with prefinished hardwood floors recently installed throughout. The floors are solid maple with a factory applied satin finish. On two of the boards in one room, but nowhere near each other, I have some pretty bad flaking off. It’s of the entire finish, all of the way down to bare wood in a couple of small strips, going with the grain. I know for a fact that no damage has been done to these boards and one of them has always been covered with an area rug. It is pretty obvious to me that this is a factory defect in preparation and most likely this was one bad boards that has been cut and placed in the same room as one of the damaged pieces is quite short. I would like to repair the damage myself prior to moving out because my landlord is crazy and I know he will blame me for this. The chipped areas are small enough that they could be filled but I am having a hard time finding a way too match the texture of the sprayed on satin finish. I am also not sure what type of finish would be best for filling in these chips. Thank you for your advice!

A: Nothing you could do would match the existing look from the factory. So, without some spare boards from the box so you could remove the damaged boards I don’t know what to suggest. It sounds to me you are correct that it is a defect from the factory.

Flaking polyurethane finish

Q: We recently refinished the 1700 sq ft of red oak wood floors in our home. It had been a prefinished floor when initially installed, so it was a bear to sand down, but we got it done. We sanded them well, vacuumed and wiped them before applying stain. We stained with oil based stain then put on 4 coats of oil based varathane polyurethane. Now, just weeks later the floors are flaking in small areas and in between boards. How can we fix this? Thanks!

A: Question: given that this was factory finished, did you sand it down until the bevels disappeared? Or, if they were large bevels, did you hand scrape the existing finish off each one? If not, that could account for the flaking finish. Adhesion issues generally fall into two categories: contamination issues and insufficient inter-coat abrasion. In other words, if the previous finish application is not thoroughly abraded with a fine abrasive you may fail to gain good adhesion. You are likely going to have to start the entire process over because you likely can’t know at what stage the adhesion issue begins: between the 2nd and third coats? Maybe between every coat? If you attempted to screen most of the finish off it would be near impossible not to disturb the stain. 4 coats sounds like a bit of over kill also. By piling on too many coats at once, you impede the time for the previous coats to cure. If I used a stain containing urethane resin such as Dura Seal quick coat, I would stain and apply 2 coats of poly. Other stains I would apply 3 coats.

Follow-up Q: Yes, we sanded down beyond the bevelled edge, so the floor was completely even. We sanded with 20 grit, 40, 60, 80, then 100. We followed the directions on the varathane can, which stated we needed 3 coats at minimum, but more was preferred. The thought of starting over makes me sick, but if that’s what needs to be done, so be it. Is there a better finish we should be using? We have many scratches already (though we knew some would be inevitable, as we have a large Labrador). Thoughts on tongue oil? Thank you for your advice.

A: For a polyurethane finish I’ve never used one better than Poloplaz Primero. It’s tough and easy to work with. Waterlox is a nice tung oil finish, though somewhat expensive. While not offering the hardness of a polyurethane it is very easy to refresh it.

Perimeter of hardwood floors peeling

Q: I refinished my hardwood floors a couple of months ago. In a few areas, mostly close to the walls, there is some peeling and flaking which suggests to me that I failed to sufficiently sand those areas. Even though the areas are small, a noticeable ridge is left where the poly flaked away. Is there any way to smooth out the ridge without damaging the finish?

A: You could try buffing the affected boards thoroughly with fine sand paper and applying a thin coat. If you have a noticeable ridge it causes me to wonder how heavy a coat of finish did you apply? Many finishes have a spread rate of 500 sq. feet per gallon. Thin, even coats are always much better than heavy. If this peeling continues you may have to have the floors taken down to clean wood again which means starting over.

Cheap factory floor chipping and peeling

Q: We just purchased a house. The previous owners installed a solid plank, factory-finished hardwood floor a little over a year ago. They now believe that the purchased wood was “seconds”/non-standard quality, although they didn’t realize it at the time. The finish began to chip and peel during installation and there was no warranty. There is a large amount of finish peeling/flaking in between the grooves and on the wood surface.

Will completely sanding down to bare wood and applying a new finish fix this problem?

A: It’s probably #2 or #3 common. Everything is allowed: cracks, splits, large knots etc. I bet it is largely short boards. I hope this floor is not micro bevel because those will have to be dealt with and sanded off if it is a micro bevel.

It will be a lot of work but it will be a big improvement if it is properly sanded and stained, finished. In spite of it’s low quality this floor should still last many decades if properly finished.

Loose floor peeling

Q: We recently had our floors screened and recoated throughout the house. They were recoated with high-gloss, oil base polyurethane (2 coats). At many of the board seams in the kitchen, the polyurethane is peeling up and bubbling. Less so in the LR, DR and foyer, but still peeling in some places. The bedrooms are fine. Some of the boards in the kitchen seem to move, especially where the peeling occurs. The company said they will come back and redo the floors, but the floor peeling will probably happen again. We had our floors done 12 years ago with water-based polyurethane and never had this problem. Is there a better procedure to be followed when they are redone. The company doesn’t seem to know why the floor is peeling. Thank you for any light you can shed on this problem.

A: To me the big clue is that the boards move. So, what is the floor installed on? Apparently it isn’t doing a great job of keeping the boards tight to the floor. My guess is When they buffed the floor they missed spots along the edges because the floor was flexing down when they ran their heavy polisher over the floor. Was there any cupping or crowning of the floor? Peeling on recoats usually means either contaminants or missed spots in the buffing procedure.

Follow-up: Thank you for the information. The sub floor in the kitchen is the old fashioned 1″ x 6″ sub floor as is the entire house. Eleven years ago we removed tile flooring in the kitchen and replaced it with wood. We contracted for rock maple flooring that matched the rest of the house. However, we found out after the job (from a neighbor looking at our floor) that it was actually birch. Our entire house was then stained dark and coated with a water-based polyurethane. It lasted fairly well for 11 years. We then decided on a high-gloss oil-based polyurethane for the new recoat this past October (2013). We now have the problem I originally wrote to you about. Also, there is no cupping or crowning.

Poly Flaking Off and White Between Boards

Q: We have an 18 yr old white oak floor that was recently refinished. There were some errors in the staining in a few areas and these were redone. Now some of the poly is flaking off in the cracks and also on the boards themselves. This are also noticeable cracks, where it is turning white between boards. What is the best fix for this? What is the cause? They were done by a reputable company.

A: I would need to know what finishes they used. White oak is one of my favorite woods but it can have issues at time due to high tannin content. Finish turning white isn’t one of them.

Follow-up Q: They used oil based stain and oil based poly. Would high humidity and not enough drying time be a cause? They are returning next week to redo everything (with a much more experienced team) and we want to make sure it turns out right. I thought they chose the oil based products because they last longer and would not show white between the boards if the boards separated a little with changes in humidity and the time of year. Would you recommend covering the air conditioning return ducts? Or just leaving the AC off? We live in Tx. Thanks for your assistance.

A: I’m not really sure what is going on here. Oil based finishes do stretch a bit when the boards shrink. I’ve seen this sort of thing in Toronto where floor companies use lacquer as a fast dry base coat. I’ve not seen it happen when several coat only of solvent or oil based poly are applied to the floor. I believe the floor is going to have to be done again from scratch. the guys need to take moisture readings of the floor to make sure it is dry within limits of about 7-9%. Is there a crawl space under the floor?

I think I would keep the house temperature to around 70F or so while the work is being done. When they are ready to start applying finish coats I would shut it off until the finish has set. 3-5 hours. There are so many factors that can influence this job, without being there I am having a bit of a problem knowing what exactly is going on. This is why, after 40 years, every job still makes me tense.

Possible causes of flaking finish

Q: We bought a house and the first thing we did was have the four bedroom’s hardwood floors sanded and refinished. The quality of work was sub par to begin with, but four months afterwards I have noticed in multiple locations a lot of flaking finish and peeling finish, mainly in between floorboards. I have contacted the guy who did it with little response, but I want to know a little about what could be causing this?

Should I be frustrated with his job or is there a climate issue in my house? The living room he did not do, because it was already done, and there is no flaking so this leads me to believe he used a product that was defective or he just did not do a good job. What are my options to fix my floors? I do have pictures I would like to include them if possible.

A: Flaking finish can have more than one cause. It can be as a result of insufficient abrading between coats of finish. Contaminants can also cause bond failure but in that case, especially if using a solvent (oil based) finish, you will see ‘crawling’ or repelling of the finish almost immediately. If a water borne finish was used and there is a contaminant such as wax between the boards the finish may bridge gaps, but eventually break, and you will get some peeling confined to just the board edges. If there has been a lot of board shrinkage since the job was done this could account for the finish, which has bridged the board edges to stretch to it’s limit and then crack. If this is a result of contaminants interfering with proper adhesion it might still be possible to rescue the job. The floor will have to be thoroughly cleaned with a product such as Poloplaz Tie Tac or Basic Coating Tie Coat and then screen and coat again. If the problem is from serious shrinkage and/or movement between boards causing the finish to stretch and break then the issue really goes all the way back to when the floor was first installed… Inadequate nailing, poor sub floor.

Similar Q: There are 11 spots on my engineered wood, on the edges, that appear to be flaking/peeling off. What causes this?

A: Peeling finish more often than not is caused by inadequate preparation of a previous coat of finish to ensure a mechanical bond of the various coats applied. I would be contacting the store where you bought it first and the manufacturer also.

Follow-up Q: What about moisture?

A: If there is enough moisture to cause finish to peel off the wood there should be other signs also like cupping of the boards.

Similar Q: What would cause flaking and scratching all over? Could only one coat of poly be on the floors?

A: It really sounds like all flaking and scratching is because of lack of adhesion. If it was one coat of finish on a properly prepared surface these things would not be happening. Applying another coat on top of this will not fix the problem. The top coat is only as good as what it sits on. If the one coat is failing another coat will also fail.

Finish appears to be lifting off Brazilian cherry hardwood floors

Q: I have Brazilian cherry hardwood floors, natural finish, 3 coats oil base poly (high gloss). The floor was installed late summer with AC on in house and the material sat in house for 7 days. I still expected the floor to shrink over the winter and it appears to have done so within acceptable tolerance. I have no significant gaps. My problem is that between about 50% of the boards 2 1/4″ the finish appears to be lifting but is not loose (tried to gently scrape it with a utility knife). The coloration reminds me of loose poly. Is this something that will go away over time? Does it need refinished? Is the poly too thick?

A: When coating any wood, if each dried application is not abraded properly there is a risk of de-lamination / delamination of the next coat of finish. I don’t know if that is what is happening in your case. Some exotic woods can also create issues because of ‘extractives’ in the wood which react with the solvent in polyurethane. This floor will likely have to be refinished. I include an article from Poloplaz on how to deal with some of these exotic woods.

Ripple and poly peeling

Q: We put in American Cherry hard wood floors. The floor people sanded and did two coats of oil poly. We felt it wasn’t enough and wanted another coat. They weren’t available, so we hired another person. They have put on two coats on top of the other two. There is one line of ripple like one long “S” and the poly seems to come up/peel off if scuffed. Do we have to start over by sanding all the way down?

A: I agree with you that 2 coats is not enough. On a natural, not stained floor I would typically apply a coat of Poloplaz Fast Dry sealer, which is polyurethane based but offers exceptional penetration into the floor followed by 2 coats of Primero, which is a high solids, tough wearing polyurethane top coat.

I don’t know if the second company used a water borne finish on top or solvent based, but if there are adhesion issues you will likely have to start over I’m afraid. Most likely causes would be inadequate buffing between coats to create a sufficient mechanical bond, or some type of contaminant got onto one of the previous coats of finish. This could be from any number of products used around the home from oily soaps to furniture polish, etc.

Follow-up Q: Thank you for your fast response. What you said makes sense, I think we were just hoping that there was a way to fix this quickly. Just to clarify, do we have to sand down to the bare wood and what would be the best products for the American Cherry?

A: Well, you have to get past the first layer that is peeling. That is where the issue began. For all practical purposes, and to put an end to the failure, sand to bare wood.

I have become partial to Poloplaz products over the past years. Their Primero is the best oil based polyurethane I’ve used in over 35 years. That along with their Fast Dry Sanding Sealer provide an excellent, tough finish that looks great and is easy to apply.

Hardwood floor finish is peeling off

Q: We have wood floors that were installed 5 or 6 years ago. I had them recently re-coated and the hardwood floor finish is peeling off. The flooring company advised that cleaning products such as Murphy’s Oil Soap (which I used on my floors) will penetrate the finished wood in scratches and deep grooves and cause the re-coating product not to adhere. I was advised that I should never use Murphy’s on my wood floors. I am trying to verify if this is correct, in your experience.

A: I wouldn’t recommend oil soaps or any other product that can leave a residue on the finish surface. Such residue, if not removed, can cause adhesion issues. Flooring and floor finish manufacturers in particular make acceptable cleaners for polyurethane finishes which evaporate almost immediately and do a good job of cleaning the floors.

Hardwood finish peeling after 6 months

Q: Approximately 6 months ago I had some hardwood flooring installed. I now see some hardwood finish peeling. What should I do?

A: You could contact the company who did the work. I suspect the floors will have to be sanded over and finished properly.

Similar Q: My wood floor finish seems to be peeling. I have tested the moisture content in the floor and sub floor and the range is 2.9 to 7.6 %. What could be causing the floor to peel? It is a M****** maple hardwood floor purchased in April of 2004.

A: Moisture content is fine. Neither the sub floor or pre finished floor are wet. It sounds like a defective product to me. You should definitely call the company it was purchased from and perhaps also the manufacturer. These products are warrantied against finish wear through and peeling is far beyond normal. It wouldn’t be the first time an event like this has happened with a product.

Wood and polyurethane peeling off wood floor

Q: We had a new prefinished oak floor installed. On several of the more knotty or highly grained boards the finish and actual wood are flaking and peeling up. Is it normal to see wood and polyurethane peeling off wood floor?

I’m being told from the manufacturer rep that it is the “nature of wood floors” and the only solution is to replace the affected boards, at my own expense, of course. I’ve lived with oak floors before (some much older than this one) and have NEVER seen anything like this.

A: The only solution may be to replace the affected boards, but in NO way is this to be considered NORMAL. If a finish is peeling off a pre finished, or even site finished floor, this can never be considered normal. There is a defect in either the flooring (not dry before applying the finish) or the finish and application technique.
You should not have to pay a dime!

Flaking pre-finished hardwood flooring?

Q: We have Bruce pre-finished hardwood flooring throughout our home. Can it be sanded, re-stained and finished without the poly so there is no more flaking? The flooring is 10 years old and I have become so frustrated that I have cleaned it with water, trying to make it look better.

A: Why would a pre finished floor have flaking finish? Did somebody try to apply another coat to this floor? It can be sanded, stained and finished, and if done properly, won’t flake.

Polyurethane peeling off

Q: I have 2000 square feet of hardwood floors, and in some areas I have the poly / polyurethane peeling off. So far I have made one huge mistake: I cleaned all the floors with ammonia, and that took the water, dirt, and wax off of them. Then I used an oil based product called Dura Seal on two rooms. It made a huge difference. I then added a water based poly to one room and it dried great, but you could scratch off the poly. I do not know what to do about that. I do not want to sand my entire house. Can you put a stain over old oil based polyurethane and then use an oil based poly? Any suggestions?

A: You cannot apply either oil or waterborne finishes over top of a floor that has wax on it. If you intend to stain, the entire coating, whatever it may be has to be removed to bare wood first.

You would actually save money and your floors by hiring a professional.

Finish peeling right off

Q: My hardwood floors were just cleaned and then three coats of finish/poly were added. The cleaning did not include any abrasion. I noticed prior to the cleaning that there were areas where the top most part of the oak wood has lifted, almost like it is peeling off. It looks like the poly layers, as well as some of the wood, are dry and about to peel off. How do I fix this?

A: Are you telling me the floors were “cleaned” but not buffed? That would explain the peeling. I would think you are now at the point of needing a full sanding and finishing. No finish, oil borne or water borne, will adhere if not buffed (or more crudely stated, “scratched”) before coating.

Follow-up Q: Yes, they were cleaned with a solution by B********** and then a poly coat with B********** Wood Finish. Supposedly, the cleaning solution pulls up some of the previous poly coats, but I fear that they might have gone about this all wrong. The problem is that I have these beautiful oak floors (circa 1922) that are so thin that they almost look like a veneer floor. Many contractors have told us that they thought the floor started out thin and top nailed. So the cleaning company was afraid to buff as they did not want to thin it any more. But, I was under the impression that the screening process would only scratch the poly coats, and not the wood. This company indicated that buffing could do damage to my floors. Though they look good, I will have to maintain these floors for years to come and I don’t know how to handle without damaging.

A: Buffing with a polisher and fine abrasive would, as you indicate, only scratch/scuff the coating. It would remove no wood at all. However, if they did not buff (This is how a mechanical bond is created to ensure adhesion. The fresh coat of finish adheres to the scratches.) and did not use one of the new products, which are supposed to chemically prep the previous coating to gain adhesion, then the finish will peel, and you will now face a more serious issue. This entire coating will have to be removed. Since your floors are too thin to tolerate a sanding with a professional machine, it will either have to be chemically stripped or the finish buffed off with a polisher and rough screen.

Follow-up comment: Thanks Craig! Wish I had found your site before I had this work done.

A few bare spots in old finish

Q: We own a 116 year old Victorian home and our large dining room area has an original pine wood floor. Since we have lived here for only two years, we have never refinished this floor. The problem is that lately, in quite a few spots, the finish has peeled and cracked, leaving bare spots that are actually deeper than the rest of the wood. Can we repair just these spots and then finish the whole floor? What are the steps taken to fix this?

A: For some areas I have used a polyurethane adhesive in a squeeze bottle. There is also a robust wood filler called Timbermate which could be used. www.timbermate.com

Poly started flaking and buffer circles started showing up

Q: We just went through a major renovation. We added new hardwood floors and had the existing ones refinished, so all would match. Due to some problems with the finish clouding and not drying properly, they were sanded at least three more times, with poly put on after each sanding. Two weeks after we moved back into our home, the poly started flaking and buffer circles started showing up. Now 6 months later it looks horrible. The flaking has accelerated. The guy who did the floors says it’s due to the low humidity and we should get a humidifier and that all wood floors do that. I’ve talked with friends who have hardwood floors and they are NOT having this problem.

Please HELP! What is causing this? He said he may have to do the floors all over again.

A: Applying coatings can be difficult and technically challenging, since a number of factors can influence the final outcome. some of these factors include environmental elements such as temperature and relative humidity in the home. A floor having too low a moisture content won’t cause a polyurethane to peel. Though if a floor is actually wet with moisture reading well above normal, it can happen. I suspect some contaminant of some sort has gotten onto this floor between coats of finish and has caused this failure. Perhaps someone decided to “clean” the floor with something that has affected adhesion. A finish can and will peel off if the previous coat has not been abraded or scratched. And since you mention that you can see swirl marks, we can safely say the man did abrade the floor. I don’t think it is that these marks are just now appearing. They were there before, but you didn’t notice them because the lighting wasn’t just right at the time. This also is a vexing problem for floor refinishers.
Abrading or scratching the previous coat is not optional. If we don’t do this, we have no way to gain adhesion. It is even possible to buff with a maroon pad (320 grit equivalent) with a couple of 180 grit strips applied and still see swirls with gloss urethane under, for example, pot lights. The finer the scratches applied to the finish, the less the next coat has to grip onto. It can become a “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” scenario.

It can also cause problems applying too many consecutive coats of finish. What you have needs time to fully cure. I would allow at least 1 month before attempting another buff and coat. It will have to be a fairly vigorous screening or buffing to hopefully get below the coat that is contaminated (if that is what the cause is) without cutting into the stain. It may or may not work.