Poly beads and flaking after refinishing

Q: I purchased a home built in 1986. The floors are oak, but I am not sure if they are white or red. Before moving in, I wanted to have the floors freshened up.
I used a floor guy who was recommended to me by my realtor, and was told he had a very good reputation. Upon examining the floors, he determined that they were in very good shape, and said they should only need to be screened and recoated. He used Fabulon’s satin finish on the floors, and said he gave them two coats.

Shortly after I moved in, two things quickly began to happen: small beads of what looked like honey were bubbling up between the boards, and the finish also flaking off very easily. I have many spots that almost seem to be down to the bare wood (small, but I see them) and then a boatload of scratches from things like the vacuum cleaner moving at an angle, or a piece of furniture being slid to dust beneath it.

When I questioned the floor guy, I was told that there must have been a product on the floor that the former owners used to dress them up, and that the only way around that would have been to thoroughly sand down the floors and refinish them. He told me that he explained this to me at the time, though he did not. At a loss, because we are now moved in and doing the floors seem like an impossibility, he told me to use a rubber scraper to remove the beads. For the scratches, he said to gently sand down any troublesome areas with a very fine sandpaper, to then use steel wool on those areas, then thoroughly clean away any dust. He left me with a can of the super satin poly, and said that if I feathered in any spots I tried to repair, I might see it initially, but that it would eventually wear and blend in well enough to get me by.

Well, I finally tackled a couple of really bad spots and am worried I went from bad to worse. While I seemed to do a good job easing down the scratches, I now have what looks like a semi-gloss finish where I did the repairs. Do I need to do a second coat? Do I need to buff the repaired area with something? I could spend days trying to fix all the problems, and hesitate to contact the original floor guy because I have since learned that his reputation is far from glowing..

I am happy to tackle the spots on my own, when time permits, but I certainly don’t want everyone’s eyes to now see the glaring repairs due to the difference in finish.

A: This sounds like a mess, I’m afraid to say. Poly beads, while rare, can happen. The floor finish seeps between boards and devoid of air it is prevented from really drying and getting hard. If the boards expand a tiny bit with change in humidity it can force this soft finish to the surface. It is correct that the only thing that can be done initially is scrape them away with a plastic scraper until it stops, then have the floor screened and coated again if needed. However, given that your finish is peeling it is clear their is poor to no adhesion between the old coats of finish and the new. While this can be caused by a contaminant on the floor, it can also be caused by insufficient buffing and preparation. There are strong cleaners that can be used which do a very good job of removing most contaminants and help prepare old coatings for another coat of finish such as Poloplaz Tie Tack. I saved two floors using that product. I am curious that the floor guy did not notice any reaction of a contaminant with his finish as he was applying it as often it will immediately appear like mixing oil and water where the finish is actually being repelled. This happens immediately while coating. It is possible you got the look of a semi gloss because either you did not mix the product sufficiently which he left you or he did not mix it thoroughly before leaving you the can of finish.

To really correct this now you are likely going to have to have the floors sanded to clean wood and start over I’m afraid. It sounds like the floors are worse now than before you started off trying to freshen them up.

Follow-up: Thank you very much for such a thoughtful and quick response. Redoing the floors is simply not in the budget, but taking it bit by bit and trying to correct the problem spots is still something I feel I can tackle. I will take some steel wool to those shiny spots, make sure that the product is about as stirred as it can be, and give it another go. While I am no spring chicken, I am amazed that I still haven’t learned simple life lessons (e.g., being present when work is done, to ensure that the work is properly done). Given the state of my floors, I can’t help but feel that I was taken advantage of (maybe he didn’t even screen them?). Hopefully, I now know enough to prevent that from happening again when refinishing the floors is a possibility.

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