By Brett Miller, NWFA Vice President Technical Standards, Training & Certification
For the past few years, wood flooring has lost market share to various lookalike products. Why? Convenience was the culprit. Busy consumers were lured by promises of scratchproof and waterproof flooring products that had the look of wood, without actually having any real wood in them at all. Then the pandemic happened, and consumer thinking shifted. With the advent of shutdowns, many U.S. consumers were spending tremendous amounts of time in their homes. As they refocused their priorities, they developed a strong desire to have real, high-quality products in their homes. And real wood floors fit the bill.
Data on U.S. home improvement spending during the pandemic supports this shift. According to an August 2021 report published by Statista, more than 75 percent of consumers surveyed indicated they had made at least one improvement to their home during the pandemic. What’s even more intriguing, however, is how consumers viewed those home improvement projects once they were completed.
The 2022 Remodeling Impact Report released by the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry calculates consumers’ viewpoints toward their renovation projects. Projects that made the renovators want to remain home, or remodel jobs that sparked an increase of enjoyment among occupants, received a high “Joy Score,” with 10 being a perfect score. Renovators who refinished their hardwood floors or installed new wood flooring gave their projects a perfect 10. Clearly, this illustrates consumer desire for real wood floors, and presents significant business potential for wood flooring contractors.
One of the easiest ways to capitalize on this trend is to offer services repairing existing wood floors, and often these repairs can be a simple refinish. Correcting finish issues related to cloudiness is one of the most common finish repairs.
Cloudy finish is defined as an unintended white, milky or cloudy appearance of an otherwise transparent, clear finish.
Cloudy finish can have a variety of causes, as follows:
- Using cleaning products that are incompatible or are not recommended by the finish or flooring manufacturer.
- A buildup of residue from improper cleaning products.
- Use of steam mops (forcing vapor moisture into, and between, boards).
- Using abrasive cleaning pads.
- Applying finish over a sealer coat, finish or stain that hasn’t dried enough to be recoated yet, causing the solvents to become trapped within the coatings. This commonly is seen between gaps in the floor, resulting in cloudy lines between boards. This haze may be temporary or it may persist.
- If multiple coats of water-based sealers or finishes are applied too quickly (usually more than three in one day), or multiple coats are applied too heavy, water or other solvents may become trapped. Lower temperatures, higher humidity, minimal air flow and minimal air exchange may exacerbate the condition.
- With water-based film-finishes, application in conditions where relative humidity is high or on a floor that is too cold can cause water or solvents to become trapped within the dried film. This also is known as poor coalescence of the finish.
- With oil or solvent-based film-finishes, application during very high relative humidity conditions can cause water vapor to condense on or under the finish as it is applied or dries. The water is then absorbed into the finish and forms a cloudy appearance. This commonly also is seen between gaps in the floor.
- UV coatings cured prior to solvent fully off-gassing, or trapped solvent or water within the coating.
- UV coatings not properly cured.
- High moisture content in the wood prior to sealer/finish application.
- Factory or site-applied finishes exposed to excessive moisture-related issues (leaks, maintenance, substrate-related, etc.), resulting in cloudy finish and potential poor adhesion.
- A build-up of multiple coats of satin film-finishes.
- Improperly mixed finish.
- Poor adhesion between coats.
- Naturally occurring oils from various exotic wood species adversely affecting the drying process of the finish or sealer.
- Adhesive residue remaining on the flooring surface from the glue-down installation process.
- Ambient conditions of the space must be at living conditions, and within the finish manufacturer recommendations prior to any repairs. Finish coats may require extended dry times.
- If the cloudiness does not disappear upon wetting the surface, the problem is likely throughout the coating film and may require resanding the floor.
- When the cause is coating with water-based sealers or finishes over oil-based stains, sealers or finishes before they are ready to be coated, the problem may go away over time; this may take several weeks, especially in cooler, humid conditions. Usually higher heat, lower humidity, airflow and air exchange will speed up the process.
- In the case of multiple coats of water-based sealers or finishes applied too quickly or too thick, the problem usually will go away over time; this may take two weeks or more. Usually higher heat, lower humidity, airflow and air exchange will speed up the process.
- If the cloudiness is on the surface of the film of the finish:
- Where improper maintenance products have been used, change to a proper cleaning product and attempt safely removing contaminants from the surface.
- For site-finished flooring, if the cloudiness is on the surface of the finish, choose an abrasive to adequately remove the cloudiness from the floor. Check with a damp rag before proceeding upward in grit sequence to ensure the cloudiness disappears. If the finish appears clear, proceed through the appropriate grit sequence for the coat of finish being used.
- For recently coated site-finished flooring, it may be necessary to heavily abrade the finish to allow trapped solvents to escape. This should be accompanied by increasing the temperature and airflow for a minimum of 24 hours. Check with a damp rag before proceeding upward in grit sequence to ensure the cloudiness disappears. If the finish appears clear, proceed through appropriate grit sequence for the coat of finish being used.
- For naturally occurring oils in exotic wood species, refer to the finish manufacturer for species-specific recommendations.
- For factory-finished flooring, affected boards may need to be replaced.
The National Wood Flooring Association has detailed information about wood flooring finish repairs available through NWFA University, an online training platform that is convenient and affordable. More information is available at nwfa.org/nwfa-university.aspx.