Temporary protection of unfinished hardwood floors
October 7, 2017 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I pulled up the (terribly ugly, bad condition) vinyl flooring in the kitchen of my 100 year old house. Removal of underlying plywood and gluey stuff went well (if laboriously) to reveal oak hardwood floors that appear to match the rest of the house. However, the majority of the boards seem to be unfinished. How can I protect them for ~two years before doing a full refinishing (as part of a kitchen remodel)?

The wood is in good condition, clean, with no big discolorations or holes. It just looks like it's unfinished - not shiny, soaks up water drops, and is in stark contrast to a 1-5" strip along the walls of the room that is finished (likely oil-based polyurethane).

[Side note: I have not been able to figure out exactly why there's a weird strip of finished flooring around the perimeter of the room (used to be under old cabinets? But why a strip in front of the doorways too?)]

It's an old house, so I'm not going for perfection. I'd be fine with the look of it right now - sort of a dull wood grey - but I'm worried that it'll get damaged, especially from the inevitable water droplets in the kitchen.

I'm not going to do a full sanding/refinishing of the floor now, mainly because it will be part of the full kitchen remodel in the near future. Additionally, I didn't get out all the vinyl flooring, because I can't take out all the cabinets, so I can't actually refinish all of the floor. I don't want to build up a new protective coating that I'll just have to sand off in two years so it'll match the rest of the floor when I do that part.

What can I do to temporarily seal/protect this wood? Can I use some kind of oil or wax, or will that not be good enough? Use a polyurethane anyway, and just sand it down later?
posted by chemicalsyntheticist to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd use a high traffic polyurethane and sand it off when you're ready to refinish. The kitchen can be a tough environment for floors and poly will protect best. Clean the floor with denatured alcohol before you apply the poly.
posted by quince at 2:09 PM on October 7 [5 favorites]

I'd just live with them. Water dropplets won't be a huge issue. Any staining will come out with the sanding. You don't want a flood, or an open shower or something nearby, of course, but a couple of years of kitchen action aren't worth whatever you might apply to them in the interim.

I'm easily pleased and utility focus, I should say.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:12 PM on October 7

Waxing wood floors, or tiny or some other kind of oil is definitely a thing, but I don't know what that will mean when you want to do the work later.
posted by kellyblah at 3:09 PM on October 7

missed the window. autocorrect turned tung into tiny.
posted by kellyblah at 3:15 PM on October 7

I have not been able to figure out exactly why there's a weird strip of finished flooring around the perimeter of the room

Before wall-to-wall carpeting, people often had rugs/carpets that covered most of the room, leaving perhaps a foot or so of space between the rug and the woodwork/wall. Therefore, only this exposed part of the wood floor was finished.

Re temp protection: I agree with quince re poly. Maybe I'm harder on kitchen floors than the folks above, but I definitely wouldn't leave it as is for 2 years or go with just wax or an oil finish. E.g., water droplets aren't a problem, of course, but a plumbing leak that goes undetected for a weekend could warp boards. Spilled cooking oil, grape juice, and Kool Aid can stain. I would prefer to sand the poly off in a couple of years rather than have to be especially vigilant in the meantime and/or sand off the accumulated stains when it's time to redo the kitchen.
posted by she's not there at 3:59 PM on October 7 [8 favorites]

Do not wax if you want to refinish all of the floors in one go. It's my understanding (as someone who does regularly wax her hardwood floors) that waxing causes issues down the road when refinishing - especially if one area is waxed and another isn't. You may want to talk to a floor refinisher before you do anything that can't be undone.
posted by sarajane at 3:59 PM on October 7 [1 favorite]

I'd leave it. Any minor wear/damage will come off when you sand the whole thing. This is just a normal kitchen, right? not some industrial use?
posted by mmf at 4:40 PM on October 7

Put some plywood back over the floor?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:44 PM on October 7 [1 favorite]

It was common to have an area rug ( or in the kitchen possibly linoleum) in the center of the room and varnish only the wood that wasn't covered by around the edges of the room. And i would go ahead and polyurethane the floor now. It can be sanded and redone with the rest of the kitchen in a few years.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:35 PM on October 7

Bona and Minwax both make temporary sealers...

I think this waterborne sealer from Bona is a step up from the one I originally was thinking of... This Minwax "Reviver" product was more of what I had in mind.
posted by jbenben at 7:32 PM on October 7

You can put down ram board. Though two years may be a bit too long for that.
posted by jeffamaphone at 7:44 PM on October 7 [1 favorite]

I would not leave it. The ramboard looks good, or thin plywood, or painted canvas floorcloths. In its current state, it should need a light sanding, not the heavy sanding of a full refinishing. Wax fouls sandpaper, so don't use that.
posted by theora55 at 7:01 AM on October 8

We finished the hardwood floors in our place fifteen years ago with a tung and citrus oil mix (sadly no longer available retail). It's held up really well, including in the kitchen where it gets the occasional thorough mopping, and I would recommend an oil finish in a heartbeat over polyurethane simply because worn patches on an oil-finished floor can be patch-repaired without needing to re-do the whole thing. It also feels a lot nicer under bare feet than polyurethane does, and it didn't render our house toxic for weeks while it cured.

If you were to give your presently exposed floorboard sections a light sand, then apply an oil finish and burnish it in with a floor polishing machine, I would expect you to find that applying a similar finish to the rest of the floor a few years down the track would be completely doable without requiring you to refinish what's already been done.
posted by flabdablet at 7:41 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]

Thanks, all! I went ahead with the polyurethane. Easy enough to do (especially since it's a tiny space: 5'x7'), and it'll be good to have the protective layer.

Carpet/linoleum in the center of the room makes sense. It's fun to see the archeology of the old house as I take stuff apart!
posted by chemicalsyntheticist at 3:29 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]

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