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Refinishing Cork Flooring?

by Chris last modified Nov 21, 2011 11:33 PM
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Refinishing Cork Flooring?

Posted by Chris at June 11. 2006

Not sure where else on the web to ask this question, but I am looking to refinish my cork tile (36' x 12) flooring.
I had heard that it can be sanded down and that a new coat of poly can be applied.
1. Is this possible?
2. Can I restain/recolor the cork before the poly is added
3. What kind of stain would be best?

Re: Refinishing Cork Flooring?

Posted by mordo at June 14. 2006

Re: Refinishing Cork Flooring?

Posted by atelier at June 21. 2006
It is possible:
two scenarios-
1. re-apply polyurethane without changing the colour of the cork:
make sure you know what the existing finish is. If it is poly, you can go over with poly. This means you wash and rinse the floor well. Scuff-sand the entire floor without cutting through the existing varnish and re-apply a polyurethane ([url href=""]Duro Design Cork Flooring[/url] will sell you their excellent varnish by the gallon and it can be applied like this)
- If your floor has ever been waxed- you need to strip the floor (de-wax)and re-sand (option 2)
2. sanding the entire floor-
warning: make sure the cork you are using is uniform throughout (looks like [url href=""]this[/url]) and not a veneered cork (looks something like [url href=""]this[/url] )otherwise it is easy to sand through the veneer and screw up you floor.
> I wouldn't really advocate the use of a drum sander unless you have previous experience! Rent a Squar-Buff which is a 18"x12" random-orbit upright sander and use 80 grit. Staining cork in the field is possible - but cork absorbs stain very well - so it is very difficult to get uniform results on a large floor. Use a water-base stain and use light coats until you get the colour you want. Apply a water-base polyurethane that is flexible and tough and made specifically for use on cork- I use [url href=""]Duro Design Cork Flooring[/url] varnish only when specifying a finish for a cork floor.
good luck with the project,

Re: Refinishing Cork Flooring?

Posted by Chris at June 27. 2006

The first link you have provided illustrating what uniform cork tile should look like does not work.
The tiles that I have consist of a green layer of what appears to be cushioning of some sort, sandwiched between 2 layers of cork (~1/8 thick). Will this stuff hold up to any amount of sanding?

If so, I will likely have to palm sand a spare piece and test out the sanding, the staining and the poly-ing.

Thanks for the input.

Re: Refinishing Cork Flooring?

Posted by atelier at June 29. 2006

Fixed the links- sorry.

What you have is a floating cork floor - the center layer is a mdf-type material. If the cork looks like the link (see above), bulletin-board like then you can sand alot. If not, and it is a veneered cork - the veneer is only about 1mm thick. Not much to play with once you cut through the varnish- so be very careful.

Re: Refinishing Cork Flooring?

Posted by patty sieveke at June 14. 2011

I just refinished my cork flooring, and as I was warned, it was a nightmare. Mostly because I am a diy'er, didn't know what I was doing, and had to keep trying things to get it right. I had scratches that went all the way to the cork, so I had to get through all layers of urethane to the bare cork to get rid of the scratches.  Now it's done, and it looks better than when originally installed (you no longer see the seams between the cork tiles). Here's what I learned:

1) Strip it first. Since cork is softer than wood and urethane, the sander wants to keep sanding the areas where the bare cork is exposed rather than get through the remaining finished areas. After using 8 gallons of Jasco stripper, applying, scraping, applying and scraping, the local hardware was out of Jasco so I bought another brand: Kut-Zit. I didn't think it would work because the can was rusty, the solution came out runny like water with chunks in it. But after 10 minutes, all layers of urethane came up easily. I could have stripped the entire floor in one day, instead of several days with the Jasco.

2) After stripping, sand with a floor oscillating sander. I used 60, 80 and 100 grit, but I would have used only 100 or 150 as recommended above if i had already removed all the finish.  I only used the bigger grits (60 and 80) to try to get through the remaining areas of urethane.  If you strip ALL the urethane off, sanding is very quick and easy.

3) Apply new coats of urethane very very thinly. I only had time (and my back could only handle) 2 coats. I'll apply 2 more coats later when I am again able to move all the furniture out.

In our efforts, we tried sanding without first stripping, but it took too many sheets of sandpaper (at $7 each) to get through the finish. I tried hand sanders, a corner sander, but the best was the stand-up oscillating sander I rented, and using the hand (oscillating) sanders for the edges.

I also tried using a heat gun and scraping the finish. It worked, but was very slow and labor intensive. I was afraid of using the stripper, as I assume the cork has some kind of adhesive holding together the bits of cork that make up the flooring. It didn't seem to be harmed, and sanding smoothed it out.

The nice thing about sanding cork is that it doesn't scratch like wood, so you only have to work on getting the smooth finish you want.

Regarding dog scratches: I had to take my cork all the way down to bare cork because I had deep scratches from a dog. Part of that was because the cork had been covered with thick and badly applied coats of urethane. Also the cork is in areas that have all glass walls, so the urethane had been bleached to pale yellow contrasting with bare cork that was warm brown.

If I had known what to do: strip with a strong-effective stripper, then sanding smooth, I could have completed this in 3-4 days, instead of 10 long hard frustrating expensive days.

I learned afterwards that the reason the Jasco stripper didn't work well was because of California's new VOC requirements had weakened the effectiveness. The Kut-Zit I used was an old can that hadn't been reformulated yet (I immediately bought out the remaining cans!)

Now, I'm not an expert or professional, so I am only sharing my experience, not my expertise.

Re: Refinishing Cork Flooring?

Posted by Jenny at November 22. 2011

Although cork floors should last years with basic maintenance, refinishing a cork floor can extend its useful life. Before attempting this project, be sure that you have solid cork floors and not cork veneer floors. Veneer floors cannot be sanded before refinishing, making it impossible to remove scratches that have damaged the underlying cork. Also, some cork is not finished using polyurethane, but simply is oiled before installation. This type of cork flooring should only have oil reapplied and not be traditionally refinished.


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