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Understanding hardwood floor finishes: wax

Posted on March 26th, 2012 In: Articles, Wood Floor Repairs Articles

The most common kind of finish for a modern hardwood floor to have is urethane, but older floors may have alternate kinds of finishes.  In previous eras, it was very common to finish a hardwood floor with wax.  Since wax floors can be damaged if they are cleaned with products intended for a urethane finish, it is important for homeowners to determine which finish they have, particularly if they did not install the floor themselves.

Fortunately, there are several different ways in which consumers can test their hardwood floors to determine if the finish used was a wax-based product.  Be sure to perform all these tests in and out of the main walkway area, such as in a corner under the stairs or in a closet.

The first test is to lightly rub sandpaper against the floor.  If the finish tends to form little balls on the sandpaper or on the floor, it is probably based on wax rather than urethane.  Another option is to simply drip a small amount of water onto the floor.  If the floor is finished with wax, the area under the droplets will turn white in approximately ten minutes.  Finally, homeowners can dab mineral spirits onto a clean, white rag.  Rub the mineral spirits onto the floor.  If the finish is based on wax, the rag will begin to change colour to brown or possibly yellow.

Both wax-finished and urethane-finished floors, however, are similar in that they need floor sanding and polishing at regular intervals.

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