Flooring Sealer Basics

Applying polyurethane sealant with squeegee

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Flooring sealer is a chemical solution that is applied to the surface of different types of floor covering materials to protect them against stains and damage. Some sealers can also interact with some materials to give them a glossier appearance which may be desirable in certain style locations.

Fast Facts

  • Other Names: Seal, Sealant, Sealer, Floor Sealant, Floor Sealer, Floor Finish, Finish
  • Initial Use Sealer: This refers to a chemical sealant that is applied to a floor immediately after it is installed. This is usually done for very porous materials that are susceptible to deep set-in stains, such as cork, brick, sandstone, and other types of natural stone materials.
  • Regular Use Sealers: Some materials will be fine with just an initial coat of sealant. However, sometimes this coat will wear down over time, requiring you to reapply it periodically. This is usually done on an annual basis, though some situations may call for more regular monthly use.
  • Restorative Sealers: This refers to a sealer that is applied to the material to reinvigorate its look. This can be done with most natural stones, as well as unglazed tile. With hardwood, this process requires stripping the chemical seal layers down and then applying a fresh coat along with an optional finish.
  • The following are important floor sealant considerations. All of this information should be contained within the individual product specification sheets.
  • Material Limitations: Different sealing agents will work to clog different types of material. Some sealants will be multi-purpose, and you will be able to apply them to a variety of flooring choices. Others will be more specific or may have particular restorative properties. You should also be aware that some recycled materials, such as rubber, will require different sealants than their virgin counterparts.
  • Function: Some sealers are specially formulated to handle specific types of hazards, such as oil stains, or chemical splashes. This can be particularly important in locations such as garages and warehouses, where a wide variety of materials and liquids will come in contact with the flooring over time.

Differences Between Seal and Finish

A seal is a chemical that protects floors by soaking into the pores found naturally in highly absorbent materials, clogging them so that staining agents can’t get down into them. A finish is a product that creates an invisible protective layer over the surface of the floor, acting as a barrier against staining agents. There are also some products that both seal and finish flooring

  • Slip Resistant Flooring Sealer: These are chemicals that can do double duty, both protecting your floor, and creating gentle traction across its surface which makes it more slip-resistant. This can be a great safety function in heavily trafficked areas or spaces that frequently have to deal with water splashes.
  • Application: Most flooring sealants are applied using some form of a brush. A simple foam brush can give you a very smooth, even application, although more elaborate bristle brushes can also be used.

Before you begin, the floor has to be cleaned thoroughly. Any small particles that are left can end up embedded in the chemical. The sealant is generally applied in multiple coats, with each application being allowed to dry fully before proceeding. Make sure that you use a light hand and apply only a very thin, even coat each time, with no bubbles or rises.

Types of Sealant

The three main categories of flooring sealant are polyurethane, water-based, and solvent. Poly creates the strongest and most permanent coating, but can also be somewhat toxic and has a distinct odor that can linger. Water-based seals are more eco-friendly and less toxic, but also less effective. Solvent-based seals are strong, but can be quite toxic and need to be applied only in well-ventilated areas.

Improving Longevity

Sealing is done to protect a floor and increase its effective lifespan. Some materials will need to be sealed often, while others can just be done once initially, and then left alone. Over time, an application of sealant may start to fade away. This wear can be reduced by pursuing a regular regimen of sweeping, vacuuming, or damp mopping to remove small grit particles that can tear at the protective layer.

If using detergent to clean a floor that has been sealed previously, you should use a mild, ph-balanced solution. Then apply it gently with a mop or sponge, doing your best to avoid vigorous motions that could strip the seal away.