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Chris Sullivan
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Scratches on a soft wax coating

Question:

Our contractor and decorative concrete subcontractor have installed a beautiful concrete floor colored with a brown stain and protected by a water-based epoxy sealer and a wax finish. We are having issues with the wax scratching and need to know how to maintain the look. From the first day we were able to walk on the floor, we've been getting marks and scratches from shoes (heel marks, not scuffs), foot and dog prints (from bare feet and dog paws -- not nail scratches), empty boxes that were set on the floor and scooted a few feet, and a soft push broom. We have tried several floor cleaners (most recommended by the installer) and soap and water. The dirt comes right up, but the tracks and scratches from any object that comes in contact with the floor remain.

I know the wax is a Johnson product, and the floors were not buffed. Our contractors have tried both a matte and high-gloss finish. The high-gloss wax makes the scratches more apparent. We were told we should rewax yearly, but have not been able to remove the scratches or prints since the floor was waxed the first time a month or so ago and then again a few weeks later. Recently, one area was covered with a high-gloss wax. We waited two days to walk on it, and within minutes scratches and prints that will not come up were present. I've been told that it is too late to have the concrete polished because of the color application. I also understand that the finish is a sacrificial coating to avoid scratching the sealer. However, the wax scratches so easily on the dark color that the floor always looks like it needs to be cleaned, even after it is freshly mopped.

The floor is gorgeous, except for the scratches and prints. Can we apply a durable urethane that will not scratch or show prints so easily? We are so frustrated that we are considering a different floor material altogether.

Answer:

Floor wax is actually a generic term for a special type of finish coating that is a blend of acrylic and wax. As a general rule, these finishes should not scratch under normal daily use, but they are not immune to wear over time. The questions then become:

  • What type of daily wear are the floors seeing?
  • How long before the scratches appear?
  • What type of wax product are you using?
  • How are you maintaining the wax?

You mention getting both scratches and scuffs. These are two very different issues. A scratch is a physical indentation in the coating surface, and a scuff is where another material is left behind on the coating surface (such as a black mark from a shoe). From your description, it sounds like you have a wax hardness issue. Waxes are softer than coatings, but they are designed to handle the traffic you describe.

Is the Johnson product specifically designed to go over a coating on a concrete floor? Does it state that it needs to be burnished? The heat generated by high-speed burnishing is sometimes needed to harden the wax. Check the instructions on the product to see if they mention the need to burnish or buff the wax to finish it off. Also, try buffing a small area of the floor with an angle grinder and a buffing pad, like you would use to wax a car. If this solves the issue, you know you need to have the floor burnished.

Not all waxes are alike. You may want to try a higher-grade finish, such as a commercial grade of wax designed to go over concrete coatings. You can purchase this at a janitorial supply store, and you want something that would be used over a polyurethane coating in a school or hospital. You should be able to apply the wax right over the existing wax. It may take three to five coats, but in the end you should get a nice smooth, hard finish. Test in a small area first.

Lastly, you can strip off the wax and just live with the epoxy sealer as your walking surface. Not a great approach, but better then what you have now. I feel confident you can solve this by using the right wax. Commercial-grade products designed for concrete floors are pretty fool-proof.

Author Chris Sullivan, ConcreteNetwork.com technical expert and vice president of sales and marketing for ChemSystems Inc.

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