Debris in finish throughout floor

Q: We just had new white oak 4′ installed in a large area, about 800 sq. ft. Then Minwax special walnut was applied. Then 3 coats of semi-gloss oil poly. From the beginning, there was debris throughout. I told the finisher and he said it will come out when they buff.

Now, the 3rd and final coat has been applied. Still with debris in the finish: hair, grass, (wood?) and bubbles! They told me to have the cabinets installed, and that they can buff all this out after it sets. Will this stuff come out? Is the floor salvageable? I don’t want to install the cabinets if the floor won’t be right.

A: This could become testy if they keep putting layers over debris. They may have to buff it so aggressively that they end up cutting into the stain. Then you have an even bigger problem. I think I would have them coat it before the cabinets. I don’t create any airborne dust with my vacuum system attached to my equipment, but I still vacuum the floors and then tac them to make sure there is no debris. I also strain my finish either after coating or before applying another coat to make sure it is clean.

Dirt trapped under the polyurethane

Related Q: I hired a crew to sand and refinish 90-year old oak floors. The quote stated that they would use three coats of poly (which we chose to be satin), but today the crew leader said they would do one coat of gloss and one coat of satin (two coats total). They are starting our job two days late, and I am worried that they are doing this to try to make up time. I see in another post that you said you like to use one or two coats of gloss then satin. What is the reason for a bottom layer(s) of gloss? Should I push them to do three coats of poly? Thank you very much for fielding my question and heading off a possible disaster!

A: The approach to use gloss first may not be that important these days with better finishes. Gloss, not containing any additives to reduce the shine is a little bit harder than semi, satin or matte. I would insist on the 3 coats, however, regardless of the shine they apply and in which order. The only time I use only two coats of polyurethane is when first using a stain such as Dura Seal Quick Coat which itself contains polyurethane resin. This type of product stains and seals with polyurethane in one application. On jobs not being stained first I always apply 3 coats of poly.

Follow-up Q: Thank you very much for your previous advice. The crew did end up applying three coats of poly at our insistence, but the floors feel rough upon completion like there is dirt trapped under the poly. I have attached some photos that show either air bubbles or dirt, it’s hard to tell, but the entire house looks like this. I’m going to meet the guy tomorrow morning to talk about the problem. Do you have advice for what to ask/watch out for? It seems to me that they didn’t clean well enough between coats of poly.

A: That does look like debris in the finish. Over time some of those may compress and wear down. If it was a tiny fleck here or there I could excuse it. But if it is everywhere that is another story. When I apply coats of finish, I always vacuum carefully not only the floors but down duct work for heating vents and surrounding areas. Then I wipe the floor down with a micro weave mop. I use a roller to apply my finish now, working out of a bucket. Whatever finish is left over I always strain through a filter to make sure it is always clean.

Follow-up: Thank you so much. It turns out that they turned the heat back on, which was not a good idea, because it blew dust everywhere! They came and sanded again and applied another coat, and it’s a lot better – not perfect, but the house is 90 years old, so I’ll take it. Thank you very much for your generosity in answering my question!