Not quite a new floor in a bottle, but…

There are several acrylic floor finishes–sometimes mistakenly called wax–that promise they’re like a new floor in a bottle. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if you have reasonable expectations, they definitely can make a floor look better and easier to clean. And depending on how you use them, they can even make the floor last longer.

First, make sure you clean the floors thoroughly. These acrylic finishes aren’t a cleaner–they’ll seal in whatever dirt, hair, or stains are already on the floor. They’ll make a clean floor look better, but they’ll make a dirty floor look much, much worse. Most of the bad reviews you see of these products online are from people who tried to use them as a cleaner, and in their defense, the directions on the bottle aren’t always 100% clear on how to use them.

So, for good results, start with a clean floor. ZEP sells a cleaner that will remove the dirt and any other finish that happens to be on the floor. It works well, but don’t use it on wood. You can also use plain old ammonia to do the same thing, though, and ammonia is much cheaper. Don’t use ammonia on wood either. Both ammonia and the ZEP cleaner will artificially and irreversibly darken wood.

I like to use ZEP Floor Sealer before any other acrylic product, especially on vinyl. It helps make the floors in kitchens, bathrooms and entryways more water resistant. Sealing the seams in between the individual tiles makes the floor stick down a lot longer. ZEP Floor Sealer is also a boon on laminate floors. You’re not supposed to get water on laminate floors, but we all know that happens from time to time. Sealing them makes them more resilient to that.

Available products

After the floor sealer, you can put a shinier acrylic finish on over it. ZEP has a couple of products–high-traffic floor polish and wet-look floor polish. The shine on the wet-look polish may be a bit much or it may be exactly what you’re looking for, depending on the type of floor.

You can also use Holloway House Quick Shine, which comes in smaller quantities and is somewhere between the two in shininess. Even the small 27-oz bottle is more than enough to cover 800 square feet. The cost per ounce with the ZEP products is lower, but if you’re using them in your own house, a gallon jug of the ZEP stuff might last a decade.

Future Floor Finish was wonderful stuff, but SC Johnson bought the product and integrated it with the Pledge product line and they keep changing the name. It took me months to figure out it’s now called Pledge Floor Care Multisurface Finish. By that time, I’d long since bought the bottle of Quick Shine instead.

I’ve found when I put this stuff on a 15-year-old vinyl floor it makes it look shinier and better. If the tiles are still firmly attached but they’re just a bit dull, these products can be just the thing. The floor will look newer, and putting a coat on them is a lot less work than replacing them.

Wood floors

I don’t necessarily like using these products on real wood floors. Most chemicals that can remove acrylic also darken wood.  So if you put some of this down and it gets scratched beyond the point where putting another coat on top makes it look better, your only option is to sand it off, and then you’ll probably have to refinish.

I’ll use it if the floor is to the point where it needs refinishing so I can put off a $500 job for a while, but I wouldn’t use it on a wood floor that still looks good. If you’re going to use it on a wood floor, clean the wood floor thoroughly with a wood-safe floor cleaner first, and if the stain has worn away in spots, touch up the stain first. Applying acrylic to worn, gray wood just makes for slightly shiny gray wood.

Application

Application is easy. If the finish comes in a jug, pour a few ounces of the finish into a clean plastic container large enough that you can get a mop into it, then just mop the floor with it using a new clean, dry mop. If it comes in a squirt bottle, just squirt a little in a zigzag pattern in front of you and then spread it thinly and evenly with the mop. Start in the corner of the room furthest from the exit so you don’t trap yourself and mop in straight lines across the room until you get the whole room. It will be dry enough to recoat in 30 minutes, if necessary. I don’t like to put down more than three coats total initially.

Reapplication and cleaning

About three times a year you can put another coat down on it. If you get too much buildup and it starts to look bad, the fix is easy. Just strip the finish off with ammonia and then start over–as long as it’s not a wood floor, that is.

And, that said, be careful how you clean a floor that you’ve applied an acrylic finish to. Sweep it, spot clean it, and when you mop it, use something gentle like a homemade vinegar cleaner. Ammonia, detergents, and pine cleaners will all remove the acrylic finish. A glossy acrylic finish is dirt-resistant enough that a strong cleaner usually won’t be necessary anyway.

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