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After you’ve installed your new hardwood floor, you’ll no doubt be wondering how to protect it and keep it new-looking. Should you apply a sealant? Should you wax it, leave it alone, or what? Here are some tips on what to do.

Did you have pre-finished flooring installed? This type of hardwood flooring typically uses a process called acrylic impregnation. Prefinished flooring companies recommend that no additional finish be applied. The compatibility and durability of the finish can be a problem. Waxes and oils should be avoided- they may contaminate the wood and cause problems with adhesiveness when refinishing.

If you absolutely must coat the prefinished wood make certain to prepare it well, with either sanding or a deglosser. The finish will not stick otherwise. Additionally, when you refinish prefinished flooring, you can throw any finish warranty provided by the manufacturer out the window, since you just voided it.

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For laminate floors, there is also no need to put any sealant on. Actually, do not put anything on top. It’s perfect as is. That’s the great thing about laminate flooring; it is already protected from scuffs and spills. Read the warranty and installation guide, and maintain them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Unfinished hardwood flooring is a whole different story. Preparation of the floor prior to finishing is critical here. The wood is sanded first, to smooth the surface and to open the wood pores up for better absorption of the finish. If at all possible, it is recommended you have a trained and experienced professional do the sanding; hardwood floors are easily ruined beyond repair by gouges and warpage due to uneven sanding. Thorough vacuuming follows sanding and sweeping to rid the floor of wood chips, sawdust, and debris. Finer dust and oily residues are then removed with a cloth soaked in special spirit-based cleaners.

Two types of sealers are available: water-based and solvent-based.

Water-Based Wood Flooring Sealants- becoming more widely used because of the interest in healthier and more environmentally friendly construction. Some of the solvents used in the polyurethane and epoxy finishes face disposal issues, as well as health concerns over exposure to volatile organic compounds. Another benefit to the water-based sealants is they are less flammable and some are even completely non-flammable. The downside is their greater cost, as they are not as widely available yet as the solvent-based types.

Solvent-Based Wood Flooring Sealants- include polyurethane, moisture-curing urethane, and solvent-based epoxy finishes. The moisture-curing urethane type finishes are currently not as widely used, due to their high flammability and strong odor, which necessitates the use of respiration equipment during application. In their favor, these flooring sealants are very durable and tough, although, on the other hand, this makes removing them for refinishing difficult. The solvent-based epoxies have much the same properties, although they do have a more preferable appearance to some.

Polyurethane finishes are probably the most commonly used hardwood flooring sealant. The balance between durability, cost, and appearance finds a sweet spot here. Relative to other finishes, they are simple to apply and dry within 6 hours. However, they do have a moderately “solvent” smell and must be disposed of according to environmental protection laws in a safe manner.

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