Floor Finish Yellows

Why Floor Finish Yellows and How To Fix It

When it comes to floor finish, by far the most wide-spread issue people have is “yellowing.” The bad news is that there are several reasons floor finish yellows, or becomes discolored. Because of the variety of causes, getting to the root of the issue can take some evaluation of processes and products. The good news though, for most of these, the solution is fairly simple.  But you must first diagnose the cause.

Nothing is more frustrating than spending time, money and effort of the refinishing process and the floor finish yellows. In spite of the amount of work you put into cleaning a floor, all it takes is one flawed step in the process to ruin or at least set back your efforts.

Why Floors Used To Yellow

Before we get to the modern-day causes for yellowing floors, first let me explain where this term originally came from. When floor finishes were first introduced, the products were not the pure white color they are today. The ingredients and compounds that were used, they had a yellow tint to them right out of the container. After several coats, a light color tile floor would have an overall darker look. This is one of the major reason that floors were stripped more often, so that this discoloration would not continue.

Obviously there were other reasons to refinish floors more often. Cleaning chemicals and equipment as well as maintenance procedures had not evolved to the level they are today. This lead to dirtier floors that in turn, made it necessary to strip them as well.

But in short, it was just the nature of the floor finish product of the time.

Why Floor Finish Yellows Today

Fast forward to today. Floor finish products have evolved and for the most part, they dry clear to the naked eye and don’t contribute to a floor yellowing. Although there are still floor finishes on the market that still have that yellow or amber tint to them.

A good way to determine if this is the case is to pour a little of the product into a white styrofoam cup and it will be pretty obvious what the true color of the finish is. But lets assume that you are using a modern, clear floor finish.

4 Main Reasons That Floor Finish Yellows

Over the years, I have run across many discolored floors. While there seems to always be exceptions to the rule, here are the 4 main reasons that I have seen floors and finish turn yellow and discolor. Notice these all have to do with attracting dirt!

#1 – Sloppy Refinishing

Poor rinsing will cause a floor to yellow.The most common reason floor finish yellows  is a poor refinishing job. If the floor stripper is not neutralized and/or completely removed, it will soften the new finish when you apply it. Soft finish will allow dirt to stick to it and become embedded. Over a very short period of time, the dirt will build up and discolor the floor.

Unfortunately, the only fail proof solution to this is to re-strip the floor and make sure that the proper steps are taken to prep the floor for new finish. Sorry, this is not one of the causes that have a simple solution. This is why it is so important to do the stripping job right the first time.

#2 – Too Much Floor Cleaner or The Wrong Floor Cleaner

Another very common cause for a floor to yellow of become discolored is too much cleaning chemical.

Too Much Cleaner can cause a floor to yellowAdding too much cleaning chemical to your cleaning water will leave excess chemical residue on the floor. This excess residue is sticky and will attract soil from foot traffic.
Most people will blame this on high foot traffic and actually increase the dilution rate for the floor cleaner. Because after all,  “More always does a better job. Right?” But the reality is that this just leads to even more residue to be left on the floor thus attracting even more dirt.
A solution to this is to use a neutralizer because the cleaning chemicals that are typically used for floor cleaning are alkaline. (even neutral cleaners have a little alkalinity to them)
A floor neutralizer, which is acidic, will remove the residue and dirt build-up after only a couple of cleanings. Then, once it is back to normal, go back to using the regular cleaner but at the right dilution.

#3 – Dust Mopping

 floor finish yellows from dust mop treatmentI have already written a post about why you should not use dust mop treatment or dust mop oil. But just to recap, the oil leaves a film on the floor. This film is, in fact, oil. Since water based cleaners are used to clean the floor, it does not remove to oily film. As people walk on the floor, this film attracts dirt. Then, each time you run the oiled dust mop over the floor, you seal in this dirt. And the process continues to add to the problem.
Dust mopping can be a solution to this problem as well. Changing the type of dust mop you use to a synthetic fiber or better yet, microfiber, you will not need to use dust mop treatment or oil and will actually begin removing dirt rather than leaving it behind.

#4 – Burnishing

 floor finish yellows from burnishing dirty floorsThe last, most common cause that floor finish yellows, is burnishing. Burnishing a floor is a great way to maintain floor finish. You can learn more about how burnishing works to maintain floor finish here. But when you burnish a dirty floor, it only makes a shiny, dirty floor. This is due to the all of the heat and pressure that the burnisher just pushes the dirt into the floor.
Solving this depends on a couple of factors. First, figure out how to get the floor as clean as possible before burnishing. If you wipe a damp, white cloth over the floor and see moderate dirt, then it is not clean enough to burnish. Burnishing dirty floors, over time, depending of the floor finish on the floor, can lead to the need to strip the finish. But if there is a good, clean base of finish on the floor, you may only have to scrub and re-coat.
Depending on how dirty the floor has been when it was burnished. If you can do a deep scrub on the floor, with a blue or green pad, then you can probably get by with scrubbing the floor as described above and apply new finish.
As I have stated, there are lots of reasons that floor finish yellows, but these have accounted for about 90% of what I have seen. Evaluate your current floor care procedures and see where one or more of these may apply. Then make the needed adjustments and enjoy you clean, non-yellow floors!

10 replies
  1. Calvin Morrow
    Calvin Morrow says:

    Can burnishing bounce back spray wax damage the tile? I was told the best practice for spray wax is to wet mop it evenly on the floor, let it dry and then buff/burnish. Please advise.

    • BaldGuyClean
      BaldGuyClean says:

      Hi Calvin, thank you for your question. You have the right procedure. In the old days, we would use low speed machines to polish floor finish. This allowed the use of spray buff chemicals. The lower speeds were able to work the product into the finish and even out the surface. Now, with high speed burnishers, spraying liquid on the floor just blows the mist away from the machine. Mopping a restorer onto the floor, allowing it to dry and then burnishing away the excess is the best practice. Make sure to dust mop afterward as the excess restorer can be a bit messy.

  2. Dave
    Dave says:

    Hey man this was a great read! A few questions. I’m currently building an estimate and this lady has brick pavers in her home and the wax has yellowed. What steps would you take to strip it? It looks as though the people that applied it before left heavy pools that pop off the mortar.. What kind of stripper would you recommend, and what finish would you recommend? Normally me and the guys use Bravo to strip. I appreciate the help.

    • BaldGuyClean
      BaldGuyClean says:

      Bravo is a pretty good stripper. I would apply it and let it sit for 10-15, constantly going back over it with a mop to break up the dissolved finish. Just make sure it doesn’t dry. Once you get it stripped as much as possible, then apply a floor sealer (see my post on floor sealers), not a finish. This will seal up the deep pores of the brick better than a regular finish. Keep in mind, you may need to apply 3-4 coats of sealer before the film gets above the brick surface.
      Best of luck!

  3. mary
    mary says:

    hey i was wondering what kind of stripper is best for vinyl flooring and what type of wax is best because we have yellow places and stains also, we have scratches and scuff marks. I have an electrolux floor pro buffer and a eubank buffer i was wondering if it would be safe to use them or to get a burnisher!!! one last thing is it better to use hot or cold water when you go over the floor?!

    • BaldGuyClean
      BaldGuyClean says:

      Hi Mary. Thanks for your questions. I prefer to use a good, name brand floor stripper because I try to let the stripper do the work for me. Meaning I don’t just jump on it with the scrubber right away. Let the stripper sit for 5-10 minutes and go over it several times with the mop, keeping the floor wet. This allows the stripper to chemically dissolve the floor finish. Then I give it a quick once over with a black pad on a low speed machine. In the heavy traffic areas, you may need to let it sit longer to break down the finish. You cannot use a burnisher for stripping the floors, but it will help you with the scuff marks and scratches through out the life of the floor finish.
      As far a using hot or cold water, I always use cold. Most cleaning chemicals are designed to be used with cold because you can always find cold water, hot is not an option all the time for some people.
      Hope this helps!


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