RM Blog Inside, Out10/19/2010

Hands On with Amy Devers: Give Your Old Floors a Facelift

Dear Amy,

We refinished our downstairs hardwood floors when we moved in, but couldn’t afford to do the second floor at the same time. We’re hoping to tackle that soon (um, probably not till next year). Since that’s where we sleep, I’d like to know if there is a more eco/healthy option for floor refinishing than the usual PVC treatment? Our floors are the original 140-year-old yellow pine boards and have unfortunately been stained super dark.

140 years old, nice! Yeah, I wouldnt want to treat those beautiful old boards with polyurethane, either. Sure, its a nice durable finish, but it does have a kind of plastic-y sheen which can look a little artificial—sort of like grandma with a too-taut face-lift. You can get a warmer, more natural looking luster (like grandma after a second honeymoon in Hawaii) with a hardening oil finish. I like WOCA Oil Finishes. They’re VOC free, which means they’re healthy for both you and the planet, plus very durable and easy to maintain because you can spot-treat areas as needed.

RM Floors imageThe first health concern with refinishing floors is dust. You can rent an orbital floor sander and do it yourself, but even with a vacuum bag attachment there will still be a lot of airborne dust that will get into everything and linger for days after the finishing process is over and you’ve moved your furniture back in. With 140 years on them, who knows how toxic the dust storm could be. I’m a bit asthmatic so if it were me, I would definitely spring for a professional floor finishing service that has a an elaborate dust-extraction system. The other alternative would be to move out of the upstairs for a bit longer, do the sanding yourself, allow a day for it to settle, clean the house top to bottom, sweep and vacuum the hardwood again, and then go over it with a tack cloth to remove the finer particles.

After that, all you need to do to prep the floor is damp mop it with WOCA wood cleaner and let it dry overnight. The next day apply a coat of WOCA Master Oil (available in natural, or a variety of colors) by rolling it on the floor with paint rollers. Let it penetrate for 10 to 20 minutes and then work it in with a floor buffer and a red pad. You can rent one of these, along with the pads. I suggest starting in the least visible areas, like the interiors of closets, so that you can work out any iffyness in your technique before moving on to the real high-visibility areas. And, as usual, try not to paint yourself into a corner.

Give it 5 to 6 hours to dry. Then you’re ready for a coat of WOCA Maintenance paste, applied in the same manner. Your floors will be ready to handle light foot traffic after 5 to 7 hours. After 36 hours you can move your furniture back in, and after about 3 days it will be water resistant and fully cured.

Good luck!


[images via WoodCare USA]

eco friendly finish floor hard wood home improvement