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How to Tell if Your Wood Floor Needs a Buff and a Coat?

You’ve got hardwood floors for your home or office, and you’d like to take care of them, but you don’t understand the difference between buffing or sanding or finishing and when each process is the way to go. 

Let us help make things clear and show you how to tell if your floor needs a buff and a coat or something more.

By the way, check out two of our most popular guides here: Top Hardwood Floor Vacuum and Mop Combos of 2021 and Top Soft Bristle Broom for Hardwood Floors [2021 Reviews].

What’s a “Buff and Coat”/”Screen and Recoat” Procedure?

A buff and coat – also known as a “screen and recoat”- consists of two processes. First is the buffing process, which removes the top layer of the polyurethane finish of your hardwood flooring. This process is also called floor screening, as a sanding screen -which is made of abrasive particles embedded in a mesh- is used to abrade the old finish lightly. 

Meanwhile, the coating process places a new polyurethane layer. This layer adheres to the abraded polyurethane, leaving a fresh finishing coat on your hardwood floor. 

The purpose of this screen and recoat is to maintain and protect your floors from external factors such as shoes, pet stains, claw marks, dropped objects, spilled liquids, and so much more. 

It basically acts as a clear nail polish that protects your nails from scratches and chipping, ensuring their longevity and shine. However, what if the damage has already occurred? Then a sand and refinish is the answer.

What’s a “Sand and Refinish” Procedure?

A sand and refinish restores your floor by removing the existent damage. The sanding process removes all the old finish, in addition to the damaged surface of the wood. Refinishing is achieved when a new coat is placed with your desired sheen level, giving you an excellent new finish for your wood floors.

So, how can you tell if your hardwood floors need a buff and coat procedure or if they need a sand and refinish? Here is how to make sure a buff and coat is the appropriate procedure for your case or if it’s best to pick something else.

Reasons to Get a Buff and Coat

Regular Maintenance

A buff and coat procedure is mainly a precautionary procedure against wear and damage. Once applied initially, it needs to be reapplied every 3-5 years before the onset of irreversible wear and abrasion. That’s because once the damage develops, it’s already too late to get a screen and recoat, and the lifespan of your hardwood flooring is considerably shortened.

Upkeep of High Traffic Areas 

Take care of high traffic areas that see a lot of use in your house, such as the kitchen, exterior doorways, or other frequently used rooms. These areas should get a screen and recoat more regularly, usually within a year of the final coat, as the polyurethane layer gets worn away much faster and easier than other less frequented areas. Remember to check the floors underneath regularly pulled-out chairs and in hallways as well.

Reduced Shine

Whether your floors have satin, semi-gloss, or glossy finishes, whenever you notice a decrease in the level of the original shine, know that the polyurethane layer is being gradually worn away, and the time has come for a fresh coat. If your floors had a matte finish, then look for other signs of wear and tear.

Changing the Preexisting Sheen Level

If you’ve had enough of the sheen you initially picked, or it doesn’t suit your living environment anymore, buffing the floor can remove the old sheen without damaging the underlying wood. 

The old finish is screened until the sheen dies down, then a new finish of your preference is applied, leaving your hardwood floors as shiny as you like them.

Superficial Scratches

While most scratches found in your hardwood flooring need sanding and refinishing, surface scratches present in the polyurethane layer can be removed by floor screening. 

Look for translucent and fine scratches that aren’t white or lighter than the wood’s original color. Also, any dark scratches observed are deep ones that have been filled with dirt and grime. Therefore you can’t buff them out of your floors.

Reasons to Avoid a Buff and Coat

Aluminum-oxide Finishes

Buffing floors that are finished with an aluminum-oxide finish doesn’t create a surface capable of bonding to a new polyurethane coat. The only way to recoat these types of floors is by chemical etching followed by the coat application. 

Similar to them are wax finishes, which can’t bind to the polyurethane top layer and are very difficult to be appropriately removed with a sanding screen.

Specific Floor Cleaning Products

If you’ve cleaned your floors with a wax/silicon cleaning product or oil soaps, then a buff and coat isn’t possible. That’s because these products leave behind slick, waxy sediment, which doesn’t allow the new coat to adhere to the floor. Sanding is the only process capable of removing this sediment to allow for a new coat application.  

Converting the Wood Color

If you would like to change your floor’s color, then sanding and refinishing the floor is the only choice. Only when the stained layer of wood has been eliminated can a new color application follow.

Bare Wood

When the polyurethane layer is completely worn down and exposes the underlying wood, this bare wood becomes discolored and turns gray. This is especially common in high traffic areas, and the only way to remove this discoloration is by sanding the wood floors till the discoloration is gone. Then, another coat of polyurethane is applied to protect the sanded floor. 

Deep Scratches and Damage

If you discover the aforementioned light or dark scratches, the time for a screen and recoat has come and gone. Likewise, if there are any dents, pet stains, or UV discoloration, the damage will still be visible -if not more visible- after the buff and coat. 

Final Words

While buffing and coating floors regularly may seem like a waste of money, it’s only a fraction of that required sanding or replacing the damaged floors. Thus, you end up saving money in the long run.

If you can’t make an accurate judgment about the procedure your floor needs, make sure to ask for a professional’s opinion.

In conclusion, a buff and coat takes care of surface problems and maintains your floors for years to come, while a sand and refinish takes care of the deeper issues. If the damage is severe or the floors have undergone sanding multiple times, then replacing the hardwood floors is the only option left.