hardwood floor rehabilitation questions

Back story, since I don’t know which facts are useful here:

So i finally got sick of the nasty old wall-to-wall in our house and tore it up, should have done it years ago. Underneath is fairly decent looking wood, possibly red oak? It has some sort of old finish on it which is in poor shape.

I bought some cleaning products to tidy it up, and that’s where things started getting hairy: after pouring a healthy splash of Trewax Wood Cleaner on the floor it quickly got thick and tacky, taking up the color with it into a thick and nasty sludge. Reading closer, the product “deep cleans to lift waxes” and is “frequently recommended by floor professionals for removal of acrylic and wax build-up on sealed and unsealed wood.” Anyway, I was committed after that, and did a room and a half going through three bottles of that product. It pulled up a whole bunch of orange nastiness, and left the floor a bit tacky, but that went away after leaving it to dry for a day or two: likely I didn’t take up all the finish, just a considerable majority.

With half a room left and a subluxed shoulder, I overheard the housekeeper commenting on a spot of bad finish in the living room where she thought someone must have spilled a drink, which made me think, hmmm… long story short, seems I can take up this same finish with rubbing alcohol just as easily and much more cheaply- pour it on, leave it there for a minute or two, scrub at it a bit to loosen the finish gunk, and mop up with shop towels. Meanwhile, I’m taking care of some old cat pee stains with hydrogen peroxide, so it’s a bathroom cabinet operation all the way.

On to my questions!

  1. What the heck is this finish that I’m taking up? It’s shiny and a little orange; my best guess would be varnish except that it comes up so easily with alcohol. It can’t just be floor wax, can it?

  2. Is just taking it down as close as possible to bare wood using isopropyl a really bad idea? I’m loathe to apply a sander to it unless I have to.

  3. What should I do to refinish it afterward? Is Varathane/polyurethane what the cool kids are doing nowadays, or should I just use floor wax, or something else? I know next to nothing, just that it’s probably unwise leaving it totally unprotected.

(It’s not a super awesome floor, and I am a total cheapskate with low standards, so telling me to get a professional to take care of this would fall on deaf ears ;))

Thanks for any hints, instructions, cautionary tales!

how old are the floors apx? that would help narrow down what was used.

as far as after you are done doing what you are doing a poly would be great. they have gloss, semigloss, and non-gloss as finishes. depending on the traffic on the floors you put on a layer, wait for drying, layer, dry, layer, dry, etc.

in my living room i did 4 layers of non gloss, in the bedroom i just did one layer of gloss.

I’m guessing a good 30 years or more since they were last finished: the house is 1950s, and there were at least two generations of wall-to-wall over it since it was last bare floor, judging by the vintages of the various staples and edge boards.

Did you sand between layers? Or just start a follow-up layer before the previous layer had fully dried?

cat enjoyed post so much, he decided it needed to be sent twice.

sorry lost you in the pages.

you may be lucky and it is just very heavy wax build up. my parents put down wood floors in the '60’s and just waxed. i finally poly’d about 7 years ago.

i did a very, very, light sanding with a very, very, fine grade between layers. just to be sure that dust and cat hair would not be lovingly preserved for generations.

i duct taped the fine grade sheets to my swiffer mop, did a light scuff up, then duct taped tack cloth to the swiffer and swiffed (i did 4 tack cloth changes in the living room. 2 in the bedroom between paint and poly).

the poly has worn away in some areas of the living room, no wear in the bedroom.

What are you pulling up? Who knows - probably some blend of layers of wax, wax, dirt, wax, dirt, polyurethane, dirt, wax, dirt, dirt, wax, varnish, stain. Possibly some shellac as well - varnish and poly use mineral spirits as their solvent, but classic shellac is orangey flakes of resin that are dissolved in alcohol at the time of use.

Over the years, it all blends together into muck, and most people go with a relatively quick power sanding to scour it all off.