A Waterlox learning experience started as a mystery

We thought we liked Waterlox before, but now we are absolutely sure.

It started as a Waterlox mystery…

A customer stopped at the counter to discuss his concerns with his Waterlox finish.

He explained that even nine months after application, it was still acting “soft.” Chair legs with fresh, felt floor protectors were able to peel up strips of the Waterlox. Even standing in stocking feet on tiptoe could leave an imprint on the floor. This is not characteristic Waterlox behavior, so we began a concerted effort to determine the cause.

After dozens of questions and a few hours of crawling around the customer’s floor with a moisture meter, we were still confounded. The customer had been extraordinarily careful to follow the Waterlox directions to the letter during the coating. The coverage rate was spot on, and correct interior temperature was maintained with adequate ventilation.

The customer even performed Waterlox’s own recommended abrasion test before recoating. And yet, even nine months later, the smell of uncured finish was still detectable in the home, and we discovered “finish beads” – still-soft little polyps of Waterlox that had been squeezed out between the boards during the August humidity.

The customer had carefully saved his leftover finish, even replacing the air in the can with an inert gas to keep it from gelling in the can, so we took a portion of it to see if we could replicate the problem in our shop.

Dupslaff 3
Dupslaff 3
Dupslaff 3

What really happened here?

First, the test panel that we made with the customer’s leftover Waterlox cured perfectly, so we ruled out problems with the finish itself. So, we refocused our attention on the coating conditions.

Historic weather data for any location in the country is easy to find, and the NOAA records were able to tell us that the days that the customer coated the floor were unseasonably warm and damp. Usually, late December air here in Minnesota is cold and very dry. But on the day of the first coat, warm air was melting the snow and creating fog and extremely high humidity.

So the air that the customer was using to ventilate his curing finish was full of water, so full of water that it could not provide enough oxygen for the finish to polymerize. So, the subsequent coats, applied on days with lower humidity, cured and sealed off the uncured first layer. That would certainly explain why the finish was behaving like it had a soft, molten center.

But the question remained, why was that bottom layer still soft after nine months? Is it possible that by sealing in the uncoated first layer we didn’t just slow down the curing process, we stopped it for good? Can that really happen

One call to the Waterlox technical department confirmed that, while this is rare, the coating conditions experienced by our customer  were capable of completely preventing the first layer of Waterlox from curing.

While this was in no way caused by a problem with the Waterlox product, Waterlox did refund the full purchase price of the product to the customer.

What lessons did we learn?

  1. Waterlox is the old-fashioned company they claim to be: they produce a quality product that they know inside out. Further, they care enough about the difficult experience of one single customer enough to reimburse them for product that was not defective.
  2. Pay attention to coating instructions; 24 hours in the minimum dry time between coats of Waterlox, assuming perfect conditions. And conditions are rarely perfect.
  3. This is NOT an excuse to go whining to the manufacturer every time you have a problem with your Waterlox or (or any other finish). If anything, this proves that in almost every case, finish problems are caused by environmental or user error.