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What Is Water Popping?

One of the procedures we go through with every single hardwood floor that we stain is called “water popping”. It sounds kind of funny doesn’t it? It’s also called “grain popping” or “raising the grain”. Basically, water popping is a process used to open up the grain of wood flooring.

Water Popping Hardwood Floor

Why Is It Needed?

Well, once we’ve completed several sanding passes with various paper grits – from course to fine – the hardwood floor naturally becomes extremely smooth. The hardwood floors grain has become closed and tight, or in other words, it isn’t open or porous enough for it to accept stain properly and evenly. Most of the stain will sit on top of the closed, tight wood grain and not penetrate deep enough. Then when it’s wiped off, the majority of the stain will be removed as it hasn’t soaked into the wood effectively.

By applying water to the wood before the staining procedure, it re-opens the grain and makes the hardwood floor porous again, allowing for much better results with the staining procedure.

The water popping process has a number of benefits:

  1. It allows the stain to be applied more evenly
    across the floor.
  2. It en-richens and darkens the stain color by allowing
    the grain to absorb more of the pigment.
  3. It helps remove any small remaining sanding marks
    that may have been missed.
  4. By raising the wood fibers, the finish will penetrate
    deeper
    and result in a stronger finish.

We’ll go through each of these benefits below one-by-one. But first you’re probably wondering…

How Is Water Popping Done?

You can do this procedure in a number of ways. Some like to use a water jug and a T-bar to pour and then spread the water around the floor. Others use chemical sprayers to mist the floor with water. Some use a buffer with a soaked carpet pad.

We personally use the more time consuming, but more certain and safer method of a bucket, a rag and getting down on our hands and knees. Doing it this way allows us to getter a much closer view of what we’re doing as opposed to a 6ft view standing up. If any tiny spot is missed in this procedure then the stain job will be ruined and you would have to start all over again. Not something we’re willing to risk. The 15 extra minutes to do it right the first time is worth the extra effort we feel.

So basically we wipe our wet (but not soaked) rags over the floor, overlapping the areas as we progress to make sure no spots are missed. It’s super important that this is done very evenly. You can’t have a huge puddle of water on one section and then another section is hardly damp. If its water popped unevenly, then the stain will soak in unevenly as well and the floors will look blotchy. Definitely not the results you want! If this happens, the only way to rectify it is a complete re-sand. All that time and money you just spent to get to this stage will have been wasted.

It’s also important to note that you need to use very clean water with this procedure. If the water has any contaminants in it, it could react with the stain or finish and give you a huge headache down the road.

Once the entire floor has been water popped, we wait for it to dry. The time for this can vary because of weather and humidity etc. but usually after 1-4 hours it’s ready. When the floor has dried, you’ll see that it has become quite rough looking and it’s no longer smooth to the touch. This means the floors grain is now open and ready to accept stain. Once we’ve double checked the newly water popped floor to make sure nothing was missed and for even coverage… it’s then ready to begin staining.

Let’s look at those 4 benefits we mentioned at the start of the article a little closer.

Benefit 1 – It Allows the Stain to be Applied More Evenly

As was mentioned previously, there are numerous sanding sequences used on a hardwood floor refinishing project. As the belt sander, edger, buffer and TRIO are all used across the floor with different paper grits. During each sanding stage, the floors grain closes and tightens more. This doesn’t occur evenly though because of the nature and technique of the sanding machines used. The area in the center of the floor may have more open grain than the perimeters because two very different machines are used.

When the floor is water popped properly, all of the hardwood floors grain is evened out and becomes equal. Now when the stain is applied, there will be no worries about any areas accepting the stain differently and you ending up with a blotchy floor.

Water Popped Floor

Benefit 2 – It Makes the Stain Color Darker and Richer

Many people have been choosing darker stain colors the last few years. It is a very dramatic and classy look when done correctly. The problem is that a lot of homeowners have visions of nice, deep dark floors but when they see lighter results than what they were expecting, they’re not happy.

The secret to dark, evenly stained floors is water popping. As we’ve talked about, when the floor is smooth, the grain is closed and the stain doesn’t have enough wood fibers to soak into. This is why floors come out lighter than what you see in your stain sample – most of the stain is wiped of leaving very little that has penetrated into the wood. When the floor is water popped, the grain is fully opened and now you have the perfect surface for the stain to soak into the wood and provide that deep, dark rich color that you were after.

ALWAYS make sure you ask for a water popped sample before committing to a color though. The shade you have on your stain sample may be very different to what you end up with.

Benefit 3 – It Helps Remove Any Small Remaining Sanding Marks

This is a little bonus benefit you get from water popping. Of course the floor should be sanded to an extremely high quality before any staining should be started, but no-one is perfect and we can all miss some of those tiny sanding marks – especially from the very aggressive edger. In a non-water popped floor, the stain will leave a darker shade in the missed sanding marks, leaving then very noticeable. When the grain is raised from water popping though, any tiny cross grain marks are minimized and blended into the woods fibers. We think of it as that tiny extra bit of insurance.

Benefit 4 – Finish Will Penetrate Deeper and Result In a Stronger Finish.

It makes sense that, seeing the wood fibers are raised by the water popping process, there is more hardwood floor “surface” for the finish to stick to and soak into. This is in fact what happens. The first coat of finish goes on very thirsty as it soaks into the grain and flows out across the surface. Because the popped grain is very fibrous, the first coat has much more surface to grab onto and penetrate into. This results in a much stronger coating compared to just coating over a smooth, closed grain hardwood floor. This isn’t a huge difference, but again one of those extra little bonuses you get from using this procedure.

Caution Needed When Water Popping Hardwood Floors

After a floor is water-popped, it is extremely delicate. We take great caution when moving around on an open grained floor. Any little scuff mark made from a misplaced shoe movement will result in a lighter area on the floor and thus a complete re-sand. If you attempt this procedure yourself, please be super, super careful between the stages of a dried water popped floor and staining. We suggest socks only.

If you are going to try this on your own floors, also be aware of how much water you apply to the floor. It is vital that you coat the floor evenly and not wet the floor too much which will result in blotchy areas. Also allow sufficient time for it to dry properly before applying stain.

The outcome of a water popped floor will vary based on certain factors like the type of wood, the amount of water used, the length of drying time and the color and brand of stain applied. We always test first before committing to a whole floor and we highly suggest you do the same if attempting this on your own floors.

Our professional opinion is that it’s better to leave water popping and staining of hardwood floors up to the experts. We have spent years perfecting our techniques, and both water popping and staining – while not extremely difficult – have many failure points that could easily and very quickly ruin all the time, effort and money you’ve put into your hardwood floors.

We know many people from outside of the Naperville, Illinois area read our blog, so our advice to you is to ask your hardwood floor refinishing professional for references from previous water popped jobs. Ask lots of questions based on this article to see if they’re knowledgeable about the water popping process.

And most important, don’t forget to ask for samples of your stain color choice on a water popped and a un-water popped wood sample.

69 Comments

  1. Mick says:

    Thank you very much for explaining this so clearly, I always wondered exactly how it was done and why. Now I’m scared to do it though incase I mess up :)

    • Hi Mick,

      You’re welcome, glad we could help. Yes it can be a little daunting the first time. If you have a bit of experience with woodworking it won’t be too hard. Just make sure you practice on some scrap wood a few times first :)

  2. Frank Hall says:

    Thank you for a very clear instruction on popping wood floors. I am going to be staining some red oak stair treads. After water popping and staining, do you lightly sand the wood before applying finish, or leave it alone and let the finish smooth out the finished product.

    Frank

    • You’re welcome Frank. You’ll want to put a coat of finish on first and then you can lightly sand it to smooth it out. Don’t go crazy on the first coat though, wait until the second coat to make it super smooth.

      Good luck Frank!

  3. jim says:

    What do you think about using a alcohol mixture for faster evaporation and less grain pop

    • Hi Jim, you could definitely give it a try if you like, there are guys out there that do. There wouldn’t be any real significant benefit though and it would add additional cost to the job, plus like you said “less grain pop” so the color won’t be as intense.

      Tadas

  4. Alicia says:

    I’ve just recently stained my floors withOUT water popping and the color is leaving a lot to be desired. I’m going for a rich, dark brown and after 4 coats of dark walnut, jacobean and ebony, the floor still looks…like it did before I started. I have yet to put the polyeurathane on; is it possible to complete this water popping AFTER I’ve stained?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Alicia,

      Sorry to be the bearer of bad news… but you can’t water pop after you’ve already applied stain :( You’ll have to sand it down to bare wood again, water pop first and then stain.

      Hope you get the color you want!

      Tadas

  5. Teresa says:

    Contractors have had to REDO our oak floors 3 times in past few weeks.1st they left trash and waves also rough high areas under cabinets and bubbled mess from trapped vapors.2nd time same..3rd time they did the spray on water popping and one coat of natural poly finish.I am waiting for them to come and do next 2 coats of natural finish.I am so afraid they have messed up again because my floors look as though there are planks that look like dry bare wood AND there is dust particles throughout except on theones I am speaking of and they have NO shine on these ones that look as though they were missed.From what Im gathering from you here is,”It looks like they didnot water my floors evenly and missed areas.Please tell me this is not going to have to be sanded down to bare wood AGAIN.And if they did miss spots will it take the next coat.PLEASE HELP ME :(

    • Hi Teresa,

      Sorry to hear about your troubles. Wow 3 sands in a few weeks! Your poor floors. I hope you don’t have to do it gain, you’ll have no wood left. So were the floors stained? I wasn’t to clear from your post.

      It is hard to give advice without seeing he floors in person but I would wait until the second coat before starting to worry too much. Usually the first coat of finish doesn’t look too good in general. The next coat should even things out. Hopefully it works out this time. If not you really need to get a professional in that knows what they’re doing.

      Good luck Teresa.

      Tadas

  6. Libby says:

    Im a builder in NJ. Finishing a 1.5M house and having nightmare with ebony floors.
    They were not water popped. The color is fair but the poly finish is a mess. They
    have been done 3 times in 2 weeks. High lows, dull and shiny, white haze.
    Any suggestions? They did 2 tries with oil poly and 1 with Abso?? water/oil?
    These are beautiful white oak top grade.

    Help!

    • Hi Libby,

      Yikes! That doesn’t sound like fun :(

      Sounds like your guys are not very capable. You need to call in a professional floor refinisher to sort out what the issue is. There is no way a floor should be finished 3 times in 2 weeks and still have major issues. If I was close by I would come out to have a look myself. I hope you can get someone to for this out for you soon. Good luck Libby.

      Tadas

  7. Laura Sheppard says:

    If I have my floors water popped, will a dark walnut stain be a dark brown? Do we need to add Jacobean o Ebony? We have white/red oak floors that are in great shape. Having them refinished. Had them sanded and stained last week. Major disaster! Bad color and very blotchy. They did not water pop. Now they are re-sanding and will water pop.
    Also, I think they use mineral spirits in the water pop process. Is this ok?

    • Hi Laura,

      Sorry your having problems with your floors. As far as stain colors, always do tests of different blends in an inconspicuous area or on scrap pieces first. That way you’ll be able to find the perfect color for your floors. Your flooring contractor should be helping you with this.

      Not sure why they would use mineral spirits as it wouldn’t raise the grain enough (plus it would stink up the place and add a lot of fumes), are you sure it wasn’t denatured alcohol?

      Hope this try gets it done for you Laura – good luck!

      Tadas

  8. Laura Sheppard says:

    Thanks for the info. We now have another problem. The 4th coat of water based poly was Minwax Polycrylic. We now know that it shouldn’t have been used on the floors. Only the 4th coat is this Polycrylic. Can we put a water based oil modified polyurethane on top of the polycrylic without screening? The first 3 coats were a water based oil modified polyurethane.
    Thanks!

    • Hi Laura,

      To be completely honest with you, these products your guys are using are low cost DIY big box store type finishes and we don’t have any experience with them and would certainly not use them on our clients floors.

      But I had a look at the Polycrylic finish and yes, it definitely shouldn’t be used for floors. And yes it should be screened.

      My full cover-all-your-bases suggestion is to test to see if the 2 finishes will adhere properly to each other by screening a small area, cleaning it well and applying a top coat. Wait a few days for it to cure and then do an adhesion test by cutting cross hatches into the finish and apply some clear tape over the top and rip it off. If it has bonded well, you shouldn’t see any finish on the tape. You can then be certain it will be OK for the rest of your floors.

      But… if you were my client I’d insist on removing the cheap finish you have by sanding back to bare wood and starting over using a professional finish system :)

      As far as professional hardwood floor finishes go there’s no such thing as a “water based oil modified polyurethane”. Minwax is basically using that as a marketing term – very clever but very misleading too… although technically they’re not lying.

      If you want some good information about hardwood floor finishes you can read a detailed article we wrote here:

      http://napervillehardwood.com/Choosing_Finish.pdf

      I hope you get everything sorted out and you can soon be enjoying your floors.

      Tadas

  9. Laura Sheppard says:

    thanks for your help. We are following your suggestion!

  10. Kristina says:

    Thank-you so much for your articles/blogs. I only wish I had come across them sooner. My husband and I are in the process of having our nearly 100 yo maple/inlaid oak floors refinished professionally. We did them ourselves 13 years ago and were pleased with the outcome, however I am expecting in Nov and did not feel comfortable taking on the project ourselves once again. I have several concerns/questions and have found our refinisher to be difficult to talk to. From the get go we have wanted our floors stained to create a warmer feel in our 1920′s arts and crafts style home. We have shown him pictures taken after they were last refinished to help him understand our goal/expectations. He was very reluctant to stain, but did agree to it eventually. He brought 2 dura seal colors to test on the floor which didn’t appear to change the color much at all except to accentuate the blotchy character of maple. I suggested waterpopping which he initially disregarded due to ” increased blotchiness” with use, but after checking with another professional he agreed to use the technique. Our floors are not perfect and gaps are present. The area that was water popped is approximately 650sf. He did the process with a bucket and rag as you do, however he only used about 2/3 a gallon, and the floors do not feel or look rough as I would have expected based on this info provided. I’m worried that too little water might only pop the already open areas and not have much impact on the closed grains which would I assume accentuate the blotchiness. The floors were popped yesterday, and the contractor plans on returning to stain tomm or Friday. Then to make matters worse we have a storm last night and developed a leak over the middle of a water popped floor. We did get it wiped up right away, but I’m worried about the effect it will have on the outcome of the stain. And finally I am concerned about the finish. He recommends and routinely uses glitsa gold seal light scent which as you said is high in voc’s and contains multiple chemicals known to cause birth defects. I am hoping for a satin finish (I really don’t like anything too glossy) but after reading your reviews I’m afraid my gaps in the flooring create an issue. The total project is a little over 2000 sf and includes 2 stories (everything but a bathroom). I would be willing to invest more money into the project to achieve a better/safer outcome. I have 3 children and a dog and anticipate moderate to heavy wear and tear in certain areas with very little in other areas. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Kristina,

      Sorry to hear of your troubles with the leak. To be honest, I would postpone the refinishing and get the cause of the leak repaired ASAP. You don’t want to take a chance of it leaking all over your wet finish or doing other damage later on. Wood and water do not get along well!

      The other issue is that you’ll need to at least buff the floor again and re-pop it because I’m sure there will be crushed patches from rushing around trying to mop up the water leak. Plus just the water leak on the floor would make me re-do it anyway. Make sure there is not too much water used with the popping too, it just needs enough to be damp, not soaking. I’m not to sure from your comment how much oak you have vs maple but the oak will have much more texture compared to the maple so don’t stress out too much if there’s a difference.

      As far as finishes, if you want a low VOC satin finish thats tough I would suggest using a two component water asked finish system on top of the stain. If you get the refinisher to roll it instead of using a t-bar the big gaps won’t be an issue.

      Hope that helps Kristina… Good luck with the project.

      Tadas

  11. Jaren Quigle says:

    I am refinishing my red oak floors. I picked a dark stain. I used a sprayer to applythe water. I know the water was sprayed unevenly in some spots, I can see the marks where I already applied the stain. In the areas I have not applied the stain can I re-do the water pop with a rag and water? I really do not want to resand. If I do have to resand can I just do it with 80 grit?

    • Hi Jaren,

      Honestly, long-term you will be better off re-sanding the floor. The blotchy areas you’ve already stained will annoy you for a looong time after you’ve forgotten what a pain it was to take another day to sand it back.

      You’re at a point where its an easy and cheap fix compared to deciding to do it after applying the stain and finish.

      This time do it on your hands and knees with a bucket and rags. Water sprayers work but you need to know what you’re doing to get it even as you found out.

      Yes you can start with 80 grit this time. You won’t need to sand much off.

      Good luck!

      Tadas

  12. Sharon says:

    Hi there, I’m wondering if applying a pre-stain wood conditioner would give the same effect as water popping? Also, if you water popped, would you have to apply a pre-stain afterwards, or could you just do either one or the other?

    • Hi Sharon,

      Which brand are you thinking of using? Most pre-stain treatments are oil based which gives a different result from water. Usually they are used for furniture as you don’t have a lot of working time with some brands because if they dry the stain won’t apply properly. Water popping is much more user friendly for big areas like floors, it works very well, you’re not racing against the clock and it is much cheaper.

      Hope that helps.

      Tadas

  13. john says:

    After water popping do you still use wood conditioner?

  14. Jett says:

    Hi Tadas! Thanks for all the great information. We have white oak throughout a flip house we’re working on, and not totally happy with the final feel of the floors (after using a drum sander using 24, 50, and 100 grit and the edger using the same), so we are renting an orbital with 3 heads, using 80 grit (to get rid of tiny cross-hatch scratches we didn’t see standing up) Once we “level off” the entire floor throughout, do we need to go to a 150 as a finisher, or because of water popping will going that smooth be unnecessary because popping brings out the fibers and makes it rougher? Will 80 grit be too rough as a final pass? I know you prefer a rag to pop with, but what about a sponge? Would that help to stay more even to avoid blotches? And just to be clear, the floor should be more than just damp, it should look wet, but not have puddles, right? What brand of top finisher do you recommend?
    Thanks for your guidance, you’re helping a lot of people out here! Jett

    • Hi Jett,

      Depending on the wood then yes, 80 grit should be ok. 150 grit is too fine. 80 – 100 is a good grit for most floors. If a sponge is easier for you it could work I guess, we like fresh clean rags the best though. Yes no puddles, just enough for it to be damp and not soaking.

      As far as finishes we recommend either a 2 component waterbased finish or a hardwax oil. As far as brands… Pallmann, Loba and some high-end Bona finishes should do you well.

      Hope that helps.

      Tadas

  15. Ellen says:

    Hi Tadas: Help!
    We are in the process of having our red oak hardwood floors refinished. They preferred to water pop. One guy used water and the other followed behind. They said they waited ten minutes before starting to stain with dura seal dark walnut.
    The next day they put 2 coats of bona traffic hd and are scheduled to return tomorrow for 3rd coat.

    Problem: The floors look wavy. When you enter our home the boards lay out the long way. Many of the short ends look like they may have been slightly raised from water. Floor guy said it was probably a past bad sanding job. Our floors were fine before albeit natural color. Also, along the long seams in many places, they look dark as if the seams were still wet
    They said it was from old poly caught in between the boards. Our other rooms that were done recently without water pop-by someone else-don’t have any of that.
    Could the waviness and the dark looking stain along some long seams be due to improper water popping or waiting time for drying?
    Regards, Ellen

    • Hi Ellen,

      Sorry to hear you’re having trouble with your floor :(

      It’s very hard to know what could be the cause without seeing the floors in person but yes, it could possibly be because they didn’t allow enough time after water popping before staining. 10 minutes is definitely not enough time for it to dry properly.

      I hope you can get it sorted out.

      Tadas

  16. David says:

    Hello,

    After some experimenting on sample white oak planks we’ve found the finish we like: Rubio Monocoat “Pure” on top of their Pre-Color Aqua. Basically the target is to avoid ambering – keep the natural unfinished color.
    By applying very little of the Pre-Color Aqua and immediately wiping it off we avoid white streaks in the grain and get the color result we want. … BUT – the water based Pre-Color Aqua ‘pops’ the grain. So now the surface is rough instead of smooth.
    Should we lightly sand after the Pre-Color Aqua dries and then apply the oil? Or should we “pop” the floor, lightly sand, then start with the Pre-Color? The grain shouldn’t pop again – correct?

    Thanks much!

  17. Bob says:

    Thanks for this tutorial – I am reclaiming planks from pallets and going to panel a feature wall. Many different species of wood ans intend to create a checkered look and think this will improve the look.

  18. Tammy Moll says:

    Hello… We just purchased a home w maple floors. We are in the sanding process, right now. We didn’t sand well enough, the first time. So will be doing another round, today. I also found out yesterday how difficult it can be to stain maple a dark color. I think we will try water popping, instead of a prestain/shellac coating prior to staining.

    What type of stain would you suggest to use after the popping, on maple? I’ve read a lot about using a gel stain, but that was always putting a shellac layer first.

    What is your process for maple??? Thank you…

    • Hi Tammy,

      Yes we definitely water pop maple floors. This is one of the most difficult floors to stain evenly, even for professionals!

      We use Duraseal stains for maple.

      Tadas

  19. Theresa says:

    So, I have stripped my handrails to bare wood and the bullnose under the balustrades. Do I use a rag with water to water pop these too?
    Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

    • Hi Theresa,

      Yes you can use a rag. For the corners and hard to reach places try a brush if the rag won’t get in there. Good luck with the project!

      Tadas

  20. Vanessa says:

    Hi there!

    We’re having our 40-year-old white oak floors refinished (they’ve been covered with carpet since the house was built). We’ve decided on the Bona Spice Brown stain and the Bona Traffic Satin Finish. I found the article on your site with the amazing fumed floors with the spice brown and fell in love, but my floor guy doesn’t do fuming, which is fine – I’m glad he was honest! So now I’m trying to decide whether we should have him water pop. His initial reply was that we might not want to go that dark… I love a dark, rich floor, but not so dark that dirt and scratches become my nightmare. Based on your article it sounds like you always recommend it??? Thanks!

  21. Robert says:

    A sander professional is going to do my 1890′s maple flooring. He said all the right stuff.

    I’m going to refinish it. I want shinny, and don’t like the look of polyurethane. Will use dewaxed shellac. Is a water base stain OK to use?

    Wish you were here.

    Thanks

    • Hi Robert,

      Sorry for the delay, it’s our busy season. Yes that should be fine. Just make sure it’s dry before applying the finish. And make sure to do a test spot first too.

      Hope it goes well.

      Tadas

  22. Bob Dee says:

    We just completed our second floor using the Precolor Aqua 01. We found that unlike the directions, we had to wipe it off almost immediately, in order to avoid lap marks. We put it on with a roller, and wiped it off with cloths.

    My first question is, can this be applied with a buffer, the way the Precolor Easy and the 2C oils are? We’re going to test that in a closet, even though we figured that if it was possible, someone would have mentioned it somewhere…

    We’re doing a 750 sf room tomorrow morning… so if you have an answer soon, that would be great!

    The second question is, when applying the 2C oil to a floor that had received precolor Aqua 01, and then Precolor Easy, is there any harm to immediately going back and buffing in another application of the 2C oil? I ask, because when doing floors, we noticed spots that were more dull than the rest of the floor, as if they had not absorbed enough 2C oil. Once we rebuffed with a bit more product, they looked great. A few minutes later we hit it with a clean white pad to remove any residue.

    Thanks–

    Bob

    • Hi Bob,

      I’m a little late to reply sorry but I hope it turned out well for you. To answer your question, no, we haven’t tried buffing PreColor Aqua. But you had the right idea… test it first :)

      No there is no problem rebuffing the dull spots with more oil. Although it’s much easier to put down the right amount first and get it in one shot. Just make sure ALL of the excess oil is buffed off, otherwise you will have issues.

      Tadas

    • Bob Dee says:

      Tadas — A belated thanks for the belated response :-)

      Turns out we did end up applying the Precolor Aqua 01 with a roller, and then going over it with a buffer with a red pad to remove/spread it. We were working on two large rooms, and they came out looking great. We got them rather white by using the Rubio Precolor Easy Nordic White as a second coat, and then using the Super White 2C Oil as the finish.

      We’ll be repeating that same process for another couple of large rooms today. The process is pretty easy, other than the Precolor Aqua 01. We had a couple of instances of using that where it was not absorbed 100% evenly. That might have been an issue with the prep (even though it had been carefully done at the time). So the rooms we’re doing today will be the final test, since the prep is meticulous.

  23. Ryan Rhode says:

    Hello,
    I was wondering if when you do the water-popping if you go with the grain or against it, or doesn’t it matter?
    Thanks
    Ryan

  24. cristy says:

    We are in the process of having our hickory floors oil stained with a water base finish. The contractor sanded to 100, water popped, then put on the stain. The application of stain has made the wood peel and separate. He tried to patch and re-stain which made it worse. He has now pulled out the board and put in a new board, sanded/stained — but it looks horrible as you can see overlap marks. He went ahead with the 3 coats of water base finish over past couple of days. Now I am seeing more board split. This is a split in the board, not the finish cracking. What could be causing this and how can we prevent? I am also very unhappy with the amount of swirl sand marks and spots which appear to have too much finish or debris under finish. How do you suggest we handle these concerns — Am I being to picky, are these normal and to be expected? Thanks for your help!

    • Hi Cristy,

      Yikes, sounds like you have a bit of a mess there :(

      The boards splitting should have nothing to do with the finish. It seems like it is not good quality flooring to begin with. Is it engineered flooring? Sounds like it. Good flooring should never split like that regardless of what finish process is used.

      My guess would be that the contractor used too much water in the water popping process and that’s what could have caused this issue. It’s very hard to say without seeing it in person though.

      As far as the swirl marks and debris, there is a small amount that would be acceptable. Usually the industry standard is if you can’t see them from a standing position they are passable. We like to do much better than that, but everyone is different.

      If you’re not happy then call the contractor up and let him know. Have you paid them in full yet? Hopefully not.

      Hope you get it worked out.

      Tadas

  25. Brian Nguyen says:

    Dear Tadas,
    In the case i apply Water popping before stain and aplly Primer and top coating, How long from apply water popping to Apply prime? Please help me advise!! I use Stain, primer, top coating from Bona. Thank you.

    • Hi Brain,

      That would depend on the stain, sealer and finish systems used. But generally if you water pop, wait till it is dry before applying the stain. This may vary depending on the weather and humidity. You can use a moisture meter if you want to know exactly.

      Then the stain drying time would depend on the color, whether it is oil based or water based and again the weather and humidity. Dark stains will need more time than light ones. Always read the instructions that come with the product to be certain.

      In a perfect scenario you could water pop and stain in one day and then seal and apply the first coat of finish the next. This is water based of course.

      Tadas

  26. Rosemary says:

    I am so lost. I meticulously sanded and water popped my red oak floors, and the dark stained still dried uneven… they look awful. I’m in the process of re-sanding 1100 SF with my palm sander because that the only way for me to ensure no swirl marks. My question is, do I have to get absolutely all of the stain off? I’m noticing that some spots are sanding to a lighter color than others and I terrified that the color difference will show up (like chicken pox) when I re-stain. Additionally, if I remove the majority of the satin, to the point where all the shine is gone, can I or should I try to water pop the wood again before re-staining?
    Any advice would be much appreciated
    Thanks, Rosemary

    • Hi Rosemary,

      You poor thing, I’m very sorry for you that this has happened. I can’t imaging sanding that much floor with a little hand held sander!

      Yes, unfortunately all the stain will need to be removed in order for it to look good. Then, once back to bare wood, you can pop the floors again and start staining again.

      My advice would be to get a professional in with a proper belt sander, edger as well as a TRIO to sand the floors back to bare wood. By doing it with a small palm sander you will never be able to get the floor sanded evenly and flat. It’s extremely hard to get a professional look and finish with tools that are inadequate for the job.

      I hope the next go works out for you Rosemary.

      Good luck!

      Tadas

  27. Jim says:

    What is the finest grit sandpaper you recommend to use before water popping? I’ve just sanded a large table top with 320 grit and I’m worried that is too fine. Should I rough it up with a coarser grit and then do the water popping?
    Thanks,
    Jim.

    • Hi Jim,

      The finest we use is usually 120 grit. Remember that the purpose of the final sand is to remove all the edger, scraper and other tool and rougher sandpaper marks – not to smooth the wood. After you water pop, then stain and/or seal with a first coat, is when you smooth out the wood/finish to ready it for the top coats.

      Tadas

  28. jesse says:

    I sanded my floors with 24, 60, 120, buffed with 100 and water popped. Put stain on with a buffer and carpet pad, looked great, buffed out with clean carpet pad. I left for an hour while two of my workers did this and they never took off excess stain. Floor looks terrible. Was talking to a floor guy who said to buff with mineral spirits- helped alittle, still blotchy and streaked in some areas, uneven. He then said to screen the whole thing and restain. Am I better off just drum sanding again, 36,60, 100 or 60, 80, 100, buffing with 100 water popping and restaining? Im about to lose my mind, I cant afford for it to come out bad again. Also heard if you finish with 80 you don’t have to water pop? any help appreciated thanks

    • Hi Jesse,

      Sorry to hear about your troubles. What a pain. Don’t screen the floor as it will do nothing. After allowing the stain to completely dry, I would belt sand the floor back with the highest grit that will remove the stain. Try using 100 grit first and then 80 if that doesn’t work. Then buff, water pop and stain again. This time stick around and help your guys remove all the excess though :)

      Hope you can get it sorted out.

      Tadas

  29. Diana Grabner says:

    What happens if you don’t use purified water?

    • Hi Diana,

      The water needs to be very clean but not necessarily “purified”. You just don’t want any contaminants in it that could react with the stain or finish.

      Tadas

  30. Paul Grant says:

    Great foum and information! I am renovating the triplex in Boston and the clients want extremely dark ebony floors with a very matte finish. Currently they have red Oak throughout with inlay details on the borders of the family room and living room. We will definitely be water popping the floors but I am curious to find out what brand of stain you would use and whether you would go with a water-based or oil-based finish and how many coats of stain and finish you would need to apply.
    Also do the inlay details totally get lost in a very dark ebony finish?
    Thank you

    • Hi Paul,

      There’s a couple of options you could go with to make a dark floor. One is use Rubio’s Pre-Color Easy Intense Black with either Pure or Black Oil Plus 2C. This will make a dark floor that will be matte.

      You can see the color charts for that here:
      http://napervillehardwood.com/blog/rubio-monocoat-pre-color-easy/

      The other stain we use is Duraseal Ebony. Waterpop the floor as you are going to and this is a very dark stain. It can be put on in 2 coats according to their instructions (the second one much lighter) but we do just one good coat. Make sure there is lots of ventilation and it dries well before applying the top coats of finish. The type of finish is a personal choice based on a few factors you can read about in this series of posts here:

      http://napervillehardwood.com/blog/how-to-choose-hardwood-floor-finish-part-1/

      And yes, most likely the inlay will be obscured by the darl stain.

      Hope that helps.

      Tadas

  31. Josh Newhouse says:

    Great article and responses, they are very informative.

    I’m currently about to lightly pole (120 grit) my dining room floor after belt sanding (i know it’s not the best sander to use for this but I have a lot of experience and I’m quite good with using it – for this smaller project area I trusted myself to use this more than a commercial/bigger rented type) the field and orbital sanding the edges to try and make the sanded areas as uniform as possible. I’d probably use a buffer with a 120 screen but my father is using it so I’m making due with what I have. After this I’ll vacuum and clean everything (ceiling, walls, etc) and then a final wipe down of the floors with microfiber cloths prior to water popping the floor.

    After seeing how knowledgeable you are I figured I’d ask you my one crucial question I have (hopefully you see this soon as I have to choose my path in a day or two) to get advice, which is:

    After water popping the floor I have two options, of which I’ve seen 2 opposite responses and don’t know which to chose.

    1. I can wear clean soft socks (or soft painter style “booties”) and walk across the water popped floor gingerly to the area of the dining room under the window and furthest away from the living room (exit) and apply stain, not walking the floor that I’m applying/wiping off what i’m staining. But this requires me to walk on the popped floor.

    2. Start applying stain at the living room side of the floor. Not walking on the floor until the stain has been applied to part. Then walk over the partially stained floor (but not the bare, water popped section)to wipe off some stain while standing on the wet, not yet wiped off stained section.

    I doubt that makes sense but am trying my best to describe my dilemma. From what I’ve read there are conflicting suggestions. I can either walk across water popped floor and apply/wipe off stain like most would (exiting stained room without walking on stained floor but having to walk on popped floor prior to application of stain). Or I can apply stain to popped wood without walking on popped wood but walking on wood after staining it to dry and apply to other sections.

    I know that sounds long winded and it could’ve probably been summed up in a few sentences and apologize for not being able to do so. I greatly appreciate any help (especially if you can quickly but not I’m not trying to push lol) you can provide and I’m sure if it’s like all the others it’ll be extremely helpful.

    Again, thank you very much for the great article and comments, you’ve been extremely helpful!

    • Hi Josh,

      Happy to help where I can. To answer your question… Yes you can do option 1. Just be very, very careful. Don’t drag your feet or anything else across the floor. We wear shoes that have no tread but we also use a buffer to apply stain… if you use socks that should be fine.

      Good luck and take your time. Hope it goes well.

      Tadas

  32. Katie says:

    Hi Tadas,
    We are building our house and would like our floors to be rich dark color. The builder is going to use Minwax stains and we are tending towards equal parts of Ebony and Jacobean. Also, I do not like the oak grains .. but that is what the builder is giving. I am trying to use a dark stain to soften the oak grain. But from what I am reading, it looks like for a darker color , it is good to do water pop. My question is , does water popping also make the grains stand out more and make them more obvious? I don’t want to go total dark like ebony. Does a satin top coat makes it look darker? Confused !! Can you please suggest some stains for a darker finish on oak floors? and also what should be the process to achieve that? like water popping or number of coats

    • Hi Katie,

      Sorry I thought I had replied already but I must have missed you, sorry.

      Yes you are right, for darker stains always water pop. Yes the whole wood will darken, including the grain, but with the dark color you are considering, it will blend in together better than a lighter colored stain. The sheen of the finish has nothing to do with the color, it just affects how shiny or matte the floor sheen looks. Although in saying that, a glossier finish will give a lot more depth to the color verses a flatter looking satin finish. Ask for samples so you can see both.

      As far as colors the ebony Jacobean mix you are considering is a nice look. You can play around with percentages to get the exact shade you like.

      With the process, sand very well (dark stains show every scratch), water pop once, very carefully stain the water popped floor (always stain only one time as well otherwise you will have adhesion issues) and let it completely dry before coating with your chosen finish system. The system you decide on will have a factor on how many coats you will need.

      Good luck Katie. If we can be of any more help just ask.

      Tadas

  33. Tamsin 1/4 Acre Troff says:

    Hello. I am staining pine wood floors in a 100 year old house. I sanded last week and then noticed that there were footprints. I tried to clean off the prints with a damp rag. Have I in fact water popped that area, and will the result be the stain looking uneven because of it? What should I do now? It has been a busy remodel and many people have walked on the unstained floor, especially in the high traffic areas so there is some pathing. How do I clean those areas before staining and how long after I clean do I wait to stain the floor?
    Thanks

    • Hi Tasmin,

      Yes if you water popped certain areas they will take the stain differently to the surrounding wood. It sounds like you need to do a final sand again before you stain. Whether that’s with the big machine, a TRIO or a buffer will depend on what damage there is from everyone walking over it. That’s what I would do, I wouldn’t be taking any chances. Once the stain goes down, if you have missed some spots you will be sanding back anyways and now it will be much more difficult.

      Hope you can get it sorted and looking great.

      Tadas

  34. Sian says:

    Hi Tadas, I hope you don’t mind me contacting you, I’m based in the UK but am at a loss. We have just had our Junckers hardwood floor sanded and sealed. It was here before we got here but we think it is Beech and it had a varnish on it before. The result is a completely patchy finish, but it doesn’t look like it’s the natural variation in the wood, it looks like the wood has either not absorbed, or over absorbed the oil / sealant in patched (I have photos). Should it have been water popped? It looks terrible and our contractors answers is that it’s nothing to do with his process and there’s nothing he can do other than put a dark stain on it. Many thanks for any advice you can offer. Sian

    • Hi Sian,

      Sorry for your troubles. It’s disappointing when things don’t turn out right. From way over here it would be hard for me to say exactly what the issue is, I would need to inspect them in person. Beech can be a tricky wood to get even color on when staining. Most likely not the cause if your floor guy is a professional, but if he isn’t… Did the contractor sand off all the previous finish? That could be one of many causes.

      Hope you can get it sorted out and sorry I can’t be of too much help.

      Tadas

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