Should I use polyurethane or wax on my wood floor?

I am removing my carpets and going with wood floors. They are old and appear to have been varnished in the past. Do I need to strip them or can I just clean them well and wax them, if the finish seems to be in pretty good shape? Or should I strip and polyurethane them? What kind of protection works better?

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4 Responses to “Should I use polyurethane or wax on my wood floor?”

  • mrknowitall:

    Old floors almost always need sanding to re-finish. It’s a big job, like everyone here has said so far–being happy with "rustic" floors and just giving them a new coat of wax is a LOT easier. You may need to chemically strip the old layer of wax, however.

    For complete re-finish, try to see if the floors have been sanded before–you need enough remaining wood above the groove to sand and re-finish again. If your floors are really old and have been refinished several times (or gouged badly by someone who didn’t know how to sand) this may be a problem. If you have heating registers in the floor, you can lift the register out and look at the edge of floorboards around the hole–if you’re doing it yourself, you probably want a quarter inch of wood above the top of the groove to sand and refinish.

    Sanding is very hard work, requiring patience and care. It really helps to have someone who’s done it before show you how. Sanding floors makes a lot of fine dust that gets everywhere. Floor sanders are heavy, noisy and hard to handle without practice. The drum-type sanders work quickly, but gouge floors if you’re not careful. The square, vibrating type won’t damage the floor as easily, but your floor has to be flat first to get good results–usually old floors aren’t (esp. in humid climates). Either way, you’ve got to go slowly and delibrately–it usually takes me 1-1.5 hours per pass on a medium sized room. I sand with coarse paper (36 grit) until the floor is flat and the old finish is removed (2-4 passes), then work up through the grits (60, 80, 100, 120) for a smooth finish, usually one pass each, although sometimes I need 2 passes with 60 to remove the scratches from the 36. So that’s at least 6 hours, not including edging (which is pretty quick, but back-breaking).

    For finish, I like high quality water-borne polyurethane. It’s more expensive than oil-based, and slightly softer, but easier to use. Low odor, quick dry time, easier to apply smoothly. The fumes from the oil-based stuff require a respirator, and will drive most people out of the house. 3 coats minimum, oil or water based–follow all product directions and make sure you sand and tack cloth between coats. I like satin finishes–glossier finish shows more flaws, and look plastic.

    I think putting the finish on is the hardest to do right, and a bad finish job makes the best floor look horrible–sometimes flooring guys can be hired to put on the finish if you’ve done the sanding.

  • dupie:

    This is a hard job but you can do it. If they are in good shape, clean them well and wax them. If you can’t live with them as is, you will have to sand them and refinish them using stain and sealant. The tricky part is the sanding so be very careful and get good information on the process.

  • bettiegrl:

    If they don’t look that bad, I would just clean them well and wax them. If you decided to go with stripping the wood and applying polyurethane, you might have to apply several coats, in addition to going through all the work of stripping the old stuff off!!

  • chrishu:

    please use the wax

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