Water Popping, What is it?

When you add hardwood flooring to your home, you are significantly improving its value and appearance. Not only will you be able to more fully enjoy and appreciate your home while you own it but also you’ll probably be able to make a tidy profit when it comes time to sell your home.

Working with the experts at Atlas Floors will probably introduce you to all sorts of terms and topics with which you may not have been familiar before. One of these is “water popping.”

Chances are good that unless you’ve had hardwood floors installed in your home before or worked as an installer yourself, you’ve never even heard of water popping.

Below, we’ll discuss what water popping is, how to do it in the manner that will yield the best results and the benefits that come with having water popping performed on your hardwood floors before the stain is applied.

What Is Water Popping?

Professionals who install and refinish hardwood floors frequently recommend water popping. In fact, most regard it as an indispensable part of the installation process.

Before hardwood flooring can be stained, it is sanded to a smooth finish. Most people think that the next step is to apply the stain, but this is generally not the case.

Instead, professionals who work with hardwood flooring recommend using water popping before the stain is applied. When performed correctly, water popping enhances the staining process, which means that the end result is a rich, even and flawless finished product.

Water popping typically is not something that should be performed by the uninitiated. A sophisticated technique is required, and most people who are not hardwood flooring professionals would likely make costly errors that would impair the appearance and functionality of the finished flooring.

Let’s first consider why water popping is a critical part of finishing hardwood floors.

The Benefits of Water Popping

Ask anyone who works with hardwood flooring on a regular basis, and they will probably tell you that the benefits of using water popping include:

Giving the stain a more intense color;

  • Application of stain is smoother and more even;
  • The reduced appearance of sanding marks; and
  • Ensuring that the stain more deeply penetrates the wood.

How does water popping produce these benefits? It turns out that wood is what is known as a hygroscopic material. In other words, it has a decided response to the introduction of water. When small amounts of water are applied to wood, it effectively opens up the grain.

This means that the wood fiber stands up, thereby providing a greater surface area that can receive stain.

Thanks to this effect, it also is possible to minimize the appearance of swirl marks that may have been left behind by the sander.

Water Popping Step by Step

The professionals at Atlas Floors begin by testing the moisture content of the floor before any water is applied. This is done using an instrument that is known as a moisture meter. Taking a moisture content measurement before applying water establishes a baseline that will be used later to determine when the wood has fully dried after water popping.

Hardwood flooring professionals do not use tap water for water popping. This is because ordinary tap water may contain chemicals that interfere with the process and may even damage the flooring. Instead, they utilize purified water, sometimes mixed with denatured alcohol, because this substance helps to significantly speed up the required drying time.

When it comes to actually applying the water, several methods may be used. For example, the water may be spread by a:

  • -Wet mop
  • -Rag
  • -Buffer with a water-soaked carpet rag
  • -Watering can and a t-bar

In general, the method that involves a watering can and a t-bar for spreading is considered the easiest and most effective. The watering can is used to apply an approximately two-inch line of water onto the surface of the floor. The t-bar is then used to spread the water evenly across the surface.

Professionals take great care in ensuring that the water is applied with perfect evenness. If too much or too little water is applied to any portion of the floor, then it is necessary to begin the sanding and water popping processes from the beginning.

Accordingly, water popping typically is performed in one small section at a time to ensure the most even coverage.

Once the entire floor has received the water popping treatment, it is essential to allow it to dry for between two and four hours. The moisture meter will be used again to ensure that the floor is completely dry. Factors such as air circulation, humidity and temperature all may affect how slowly or quickly the floor dries, so using a moisture meter is imperative.

At this point, the floor is no longer completely smooth. Instead, it feels rough and gritty. This tells a seasoned professional that the floor is ready to be stained.

However, they will look for any signs of inconsistencies before proceeding. Areas that appear rougher or smoother than other portions of the floor may have had either too much or too little water applied to them. The presence of inconsistencies signals the need to begin again with the sanding and water popping to ensure a more polished finish. If the floor were stained with these inconsistencies intact, then the stain would look splotchy.

Leave Water Popping to the Professionals

It may be tempting to try water popping your hardwood floors by yourself, but it can be a difficult and frustrating process without the proper training and experience. No one wants to completely sand and water pop a floor only to be required to begin again if everything doesn’t look perfect.

Water popping can make a hardwood floor look remarkable, but it also can spoil it if it is not done correctly.

If you ask Atlas Floors to install or refinish your hardwood flooring, you may notice that they perform a sampling process before water popping the entire floor. The sampling process helps the professional see precisely how the flooring reacts to the water to help determine the precise technique that will be used and to ensure that the best possible outcome will be achieved.

Professionals take enormous care throughout the water popping process. This is because they know that applying too much water can actually damage the wood and will result in a splotchy stain application. If the water is not laid down evenly, the stain cannot perform optimally. Accordingly, professional hardwood floor finishers use their experience to ensure the even application of water.

Great care also is exercised before the stain is applied to ensure that the hardwood flooring is completely dry. If excessive moisture remains while the stain is applied, the finished product will be splotchy and uneven. This is why professionals check and double check moisture readings before beginning to stain the floor.

Professionals also will guard against allowing anyone to walk on the floor while it is drying after the water popping process. At this stage, the floor is incredibly vulnerable, and even someone walking on it in their socks could leave behind unwanted scuff marks. It is likely that no one will be permitted to step on the floor once the drying process is underway.

Learn More at Atlas Floors

Whether you need new floor installation, a repair on a damaged floor or a major refinishing project on your existing floors, Atlas Floors is here to help. Let us guide you through the process of choosing the perfect hardwood flooring for your home or ensuring that your current flooring is looking its best and is prepared to last for a lifetime.


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