Water Popping Hardwood Floors


One of the procedures we go through with every single hardwood floor that we stain is called “water popping”. It’s also called “grain popping” or “raising the grain”. Basically, water popping is a process used to open up the grain of wood flooring.

Water Popping Wood Floors

Why is it needed?

Well, once we’ve completed several sanding passes with various paper grits – from coarse to fine – the hardwood floor naturally becomes extremely smooth. The hardwood floors grain has become closed and tight, or in other words, it isn’t always open or porous enough for it to accept stain properly and evenly.

Most of the stain will sit on top of the closed, tight wood grain and not penetrate deep enough. Then when it’s wiped off, the majority of the stain will be removed as it hasn’t soaked into the wood effectively.

By applying water to the wood before the staining procedure, it re-opens the grain and makes the hardwood floor porous again, allowing for much better results with the staining procedure.

The water popping process has a number of benefits:

  1. It allows the stain to be applied more evenly across the floor.
  2. It darkens the stain color by allowing the grain to absorb more of the pigment.
  3. It helps remove any small remaining sanding marks that may have been missed.
  4. By raising the wood fibers, the finish will penetrate deeper and result in a stronger finish.

We’ll go through each of these benefits below one-by-one. But first you’re probably wondering…

How Is Water Popping Done?

You can do this procedure in a number of ways. Some like to use a water jug and a T-bar to pour and then spread the water around the floor. Many use a bucket of water and clean rags to wipe water onto the floor. Others use sprayers to mist the floor with water. Some use a buffer with a soaked carpet pad.

We personally use the sprayer method.

Water Popping Sprayer

Doing it this way allows us to wet the floor very evenly and consistently, while saving time vs the hands and knees method.

We overlap the wet areas as we progress around the floor to make sure no spots are missed, as you can see in the photo below…

Water Popping Hardwood Floors

For beginners or do-it-yourselfers, we suggest the slower, but safer method of a bucket, a rag and getting down on your hands and knees.

This way will allow you to get a much closer view of what you’re doing. If any tiny spot is missed in this procedure then the stain job will be ruined and you would have to start all over again. Not something worth risking. The extra time needed to do it right the first time is worth the extra effort.

You want to wipe wet (but not soaked) rags over the floor, overlapping the areas as you progress to make sure no spots are missed.

Water Popping with Rags

It’s super important that this is done very evenly.

You can’t have a huge puddle of water on one section and then another section is hardly damp. If its water popped unevenly, then the stain will soak in unevenly as well and the floors will look blotchy. Definitely not the results you want.

If this happens, the only way to rectify it is a complete re-sand. All that time and money you just spent to get to this stage will have been wasted.

It’s also important to note that you need to use very clean water with this procedure. If the water has any contaminants in it, it could react with the stain or finish and give you a huge headache down the road.

Once the entire floor has been water popped, we wait for the grain to raise and the floor to dry.

Water Popping Raising the Grain

The time for this can vary because of weather and humidity etc. but usually after 1-4 hours it’s ready.

When the floor has dried, you’ll see that it has become quite rough looking and it’s no longer smooth to the touch. This means the floors grain is now open and ready to accept stain.

Once we’ve double checked the newly water popped floor to make sure nothing was missed and for even coverage… it’s then ready to begin staining.

Let’s look at those 4 benefits we mentioned at the start of the article a little closer.

Benefit 1 – It Allows the Stain to be Applied More Evenly

As was mentioned previously, there are numerous sanding sequences used on a hardwood floor refinishing project.

As the belt sander, edger, buffer and TRIO are all used across the floor with different paper grits. During each sanding stage, the floors grain closes and tightens more. This doesn’t occur evenly though because of the nature and technique of the sanding machines used. The area in the center of the floor may have more open grain than the perimeters because two very different machines are used.

When the floor is water popped properly, all of the hardwood floors grain is evened out and becomes equal. Now when the stain is applied, there will be no worries about any areas accepting the stain differently and ending up with a blotchy floor.

Stained Floor

Benefit 2 – It Makes the Stain Color Darker and Richer

Many people are still choosing darker stain colors for their wood floors. It is a very dramatic and classy look when done correctly.

The problem is that a lot of homeowners have visions of nice, deep dark floors but when they see lighter results than what they were expecting, they’re not happy.

The secret to dark, evenly stained floors is water popping.

Dark black stained Oak

As we’ve talked about, when the floor is smooth, the grain is closed and the stain doesn’t have enough wood fibers to soak into. This is why floors come out lighter than what you see in your stain sample – most of the stain is wiped off leaving very little that has penetrated into the wood.

When the floor is water popped, the grain is fully opened and now you have the perfect surface for the stain to soak into the wood and provide that deep, dark rich color that you were after.

ALWAYS make sure you ask for a water popped sample before committing to a color though. The shade you have on your stain sample may be very different to what you end up with.

Dark Stain Sample Boards

Benefit 3 – It Helps Remove Any Small Remaining Sanding Marks

This is a little bonus benefit you get from water popping.

Of course the floor should be sanded to an extremely high quality before any staining should be started, but no-one is perfect and we can all miss some of those tiny sanding marks – especially from the very aggressive edger.

In a non-water popped floor, the stain will leave a darker shade in the missed sanding marks, leaving then very noticeable.

Below is a very exaggerated example of a floor we were asked to come out and check. No amount of water popping would remove these sanding marks, but it shows the effect clearly…

Sanding Marks

When the grain is raised from water popping though, any tiny cross grain marks (not big ones like above) are minimized and blended into the woods fibers. We think of it as that tiny extra bit of insurance.

Benefit 4 – Finish Will Penetrate Deeper and Result In a Stronger Finish.

It makes sense that, seeing the wood fibers are raised by the water popping process, there is more hardwood floor “surface” for the finish to stick to and soak into.

Water Popping Floor

This is in fact what happens. The first coat of finish goes on very thirsty as it soaks into the grain and flows out across the surface. Because the popped grain is very fibrous, the first coat has much more surface to grab onto and penetrate into. This results in a much stronger coating compared to just coating over a smooth, closed grain hardwood floor.

This isn’t a huge difference, but again one of those extra little bonuses you get from using this procedure.

Caution Needed When Water Popping Hardwood Floors

After a floor is water-popped, it is extremely delicate.

We take great caution when moving around on an open grained floor. Any little scuff mark made from a misplaced shoe movement will result in a lighter area on the floor and thus a complete re-sand.

If you attempt this procedure yourself, please be super, super careful between the stages of a dried water popped floor and staining. We suggest socks only.

Staining After Water Popping

If you are going to try this on your own floors, also be aware of how much water you apply to the floor. It is vital that you coat the floor evenly and not wet the floor too much which will result in blotchy areas. Also allow sufficient time for it to dry properly before applying stain.

The outcome of a water popped floor will vary based on certain factors like the type of wood, the amount of water used, the length of drying time and the color and brand of stain applied.

We always test first before committing to a whole floor and we highly suggest you do the same if attempting this on your own floors.

Our professional opinion is that it’s better to leave water popping and staining of hardwood floors up to the experts.

We have spent years perfecting our techniques. And both water popping and staining, while not extremely difficult, have many failure points that could easily and very quickly ruin all the time, effort and money you’ve put into your hardwood floors.

If you have any question about this procedure, leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help.

Updated Jan 2023

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Thank you very much for explaining this so clearly, I always wondered exactly how it was done and why. Now I’m scared to do it though incase I mess up :)

Hi Mick,

You’re welcome, glad we could help. Yes it can be a little daunting the first time. If you have a bit of experience with woodworking it won’t be too hard. Just make sure you practice on some scrap wood a few times first :)

Thank you for a very clear instruction on popping wood floors. I am going to be staining some red oak stair treads. After water popping and staining, do you lightly sand the wood before applying finish, or leave it alone and let the finish smooth out the finished product.


You’re welcome Frank. You’ll want to put a coat of finish on first and then you can lightly sand it to smooth it out. Don’t go crazy on the first coat though, wait until the second coat to make it super smooth.

Good luck Frank!

What do you think about using a alcohol mixture for faster evaporation and less grain pop

Hi Jim, you could definitely give it a try if you like, there are guys out there that do. There wouldn’t be any real significant benefit though and it would add additional cost to the job, plus like you said “less grain pop” so the color won’t be as intense.


I’ve just recently stained my floors withOUT water popping and the color is leaving a lot to be desired. I’m going for a rich, dark brown and after 4 coats of dark walnut, jacobean and ebony, the floor still looks…like it did before I started. I have yet to put the polyeurathane on; is it possible to complete this water popping AFTER I’ve stained?
Thank you!

Hi Alicia,

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news… but you can’t water pop after you’ve already applied stain :( You’ll have to sand it down to bare wood again, water pop first and then stain.

Hope you get the color you want!


Contractors have had to REDO our oak floors 3 times in past few weeks.1st they left trash and waves also rough high areas under cabinets and bubbled mess from trapped vapors.2nd time same..3rd time they did the spray on water popping and one coat of natural poly finish.I am waiting for them to come and do next 2 coats of natural finish.I am so afraid they have messed up again because my floors look as though there are planks that look like dry bare wood AND there is dust particles throughout except on theones I am speaking of and they have NO shine on these ones that look as though they were missed.From what Im gathering from you here is,”It looks like they didnot water my floors evenly and missed areas.Please tell me this is not going to have to be sanded down to bare wood AGAIN.And if they did miss spots will it take the next coat.PLEASE HELP ME :(

Hi Teresa,

Sorry to hear about your troubles. Wow 3 sands in a few weeks! Your poor floors. I hope you don’t have to do it gain, you’ll have no wood left. So were the floors stained? I wasn’t to clear from your post.

It is hard to give advice without seeing he floors in person but I would wait until the second coat before starting to worry too much. Usually the first coat of finish doesn’t look too good in general. The next coat should even things out. Hopefully it works out this time. If not you really need to get a professional in that knows what they’re doing.

Good luck Teresa.


Im a builder in NJ. Finishing a 1.5M house and having nightmare with ebony floors.
They were not water popped. The color is fair but the poly finish is a mess. They
have been done 3 times in 2 weeks. High lows, dull and shiny, white haze.
Any suggestions? They did 2 tries with oil poly and 1 with Abso?? water/oil?
These are beautiful white oak top grade.


Hi Libby,

Yikes! That doesn’t sound like fun :(

Sounds like your guys are not very capable. You need to call in a professional floor refinisher to sort out what the issue is. There is no way a floor should be finished 3 times in 2 weeks and still have major issues. If I was close by I would come out to have a look myself. I hope you can get someone to for this out for you soon. Good luck Libby.


If I have my floors water popped, will a dark walnut stain be a dark brown? Do we need to add Jacobean o Ebony? We have white/red oak floors that are in great shape. Having them refinished. Had them sanded and stained last week. Major disaster! Bad color and very blotchy. They did not water pop. Now they are re-sanding and will water pop.
Also, I think they use mineral spirits in the water pop process. Is this ok?

Hi Laura,

Sorry your having problems with your floors. As far as stain colors, always do tests of different blends in an inconspicuous area or on scrap pieces first. That way you’ll be able to find the perfect color for your floors. Your flooring contractor should be helping you with this.

Not sure why they would use mineral spirits as it wouldn’t raise the grain enough (plus it would stink up the place and add a lot of fumes), are you sure it wasn’t denatured alcohol?

Hope this try gets it done for you Laura – good luck!


Thanks for the info. We now have another problem. The 4th coat of water based poly was Minwax Polycrylic. We now know that it shouldn’t have been used on the floors. Only the 4th coat is this Polycrylic. Can we put a water based oil modified polyurethane on top of the polycrylic without screening? The first 3 coats were a water based oil modified polyurethane.

Hi Laura,

To be completely honest with you, these products your guys are using are low cost DIY big box store type finishes and we don’t have any experience with them and would certainly not use them on our clients floors.

But I had a look at the Polycrylic finish and yes, it definitely shouldn’t be used for floors. And yes it should be screened.

My full cover-all-your-bases suggestion is to test to see if the 2 finishes will adhere properly to each other by screening a small area, cleaning it well and applying a top coat. Wait a few days for it to cure and then do an adhesion test by cutting cross hatches into the finish and apply some clear tape over the top and rip it off. If it has bonded well, you shouldn’t see any finish on the tape. You can then be certain it will be OK for the rest of your floors.

But… if you were my client I’d insist on removing the cheap finish you have by sanding back to bare wood and starting over using a professional finish system :)

As far as professional hardwood floor finishes go there’s no such thing as a “water based oil modified polyurethane”. Minwax is basically using that as a marketing term – very clever but very misleading too… although technically they’re not lying.

If you want some good information about hardwood floor finishes you can read a detailed article we wrote here:

I hope you get everything sorted out and you can soon be enjoying your floors.


thanks for your help. We are following your suggestion!

You’re welcome Laura, hope all goes well.

Thank-you so much for your articles/blogs. I only wish I had come across them sooner. My husband and I are in the process of having our nearly 100 yo maple/inlaid oak floors refinished professionally. We did them ourselves 13 years ago and were pleased with the outcome, however I am expecting in Nov and did not feel comfortable taking on the project ourselves once again. I have several concerns/questions and have found our refinisher to be difficult to talk to. From the get go we have wanted our floors stained to create a warmer feel in our 1920’s arts and crafts style home. We have shown him pictures taken after they were last refinished to help him understand our goal/expectations. He was very reluctant to stain, but did agree to it eventually. He brought 2 dura seal colors to test on the floor which didn’t appear to change the color much at all except to accentuate the blotchy character of maple. I suggested waterpopping which he initially disregarded due to ” increased blotchiness” with use, but after checking with another professional he agreed to use the technique. Our floors are not perfect and gaps are present. The area that was water popped is approximately 650sf. He did the process with a bucket and rag as you do, however he only used about 2/3 a gallon, and the floors do not feel or look rough as I would have expected based on this info provided. I’m worried that too little water might only pop the already open areas and not have much impact on the closed grains which would I assume accentuate the blotchiness. The floors were popped yesterday, and the contractor plans on returning to stain tomm or Friday. Then to make matters worse we have a storm last night and developed a leak over the middle of a water popped floor. We did get it wiped up right away, but I’m worried about the effect it will have on the outcome of the stain. And finally I am concerned about the finish. He recommends and routinely uses glitsa gold seal light scent which as you said is high in voc’s and contains multiple chemicals known to cause birth defects. I am hoping for a satin finish (I really don’t like anything too glossy) but after reading your reviews I’m afraid my gaps in the flooring create an issue. The total project is a little over 2000 sf and includes 2 stories (everything but a bathroom). I would be willing to invest more money into the project to achieve a better/safer outcome. I have 3 children and a dog and anticipate moderate to heavy wear and tear in certain areas with very little in other areas. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

Hi Kristina,

Sorry to hear of your troubles with the leak. To be honest, I would postpone the refinishing and get the cause of the leak repaired ASAP. You don’t want to take a chance of it leaking all over your wet finish or doing other damage later on. Wood and water do not get along well!

The other issue is that you’ll need to at least buff the floor again and re-pop it because I’m sure there will be crushed patches from rushing around trying to mop up the water leak. Plus just the water leak on the floor would make me re-do it anyway. Make sure there is not too much water used with the popping too, it just needs enough to be damp, not soaking. I’m not to sure from your comment how much oak you have vs maple but the oak will have much more texture compared to the maple so don’t stress out too much if there’s a difference.

As far as finishes, if you want a low VOC satin finish thats tough I would suggest using a two component water asked finish system on top of the stain. If you get the refinisher to roll it instead of using a t-bar the big gaps won’t be an issue.

Hope that helps Kristina… Good luck with the project.


I am refinishing my red oak floors. I picked a dark stain. I used a sprayer to applythe water. I know the water was sprayed unevenly in some spots, I can see the marks where I already applied the stain. In the areas I have not applied the stain can I re-do the water pop with a rag and water? I really do not want to resand. If I do have to resand can I just do it with 80 grit?

Hi Jaren,

Honestly, long-term you will be better off re-sanding the floor. The blotchy areas you’ve already stained will annoy you for a looong time after you’ve forgotten what a pain it was to take another day to sand it back.

You’re at a point where its an easy and cheap fix compared to deciding to do it after applying the stain and finish.

This time do it on your hands and knees with a bucket and rags. Water sprayers work but you need to know what you’re doing to get it even as you found out.

Yes you can start with 80 grit this time. You won’t need to sand much off.

Good luck!


Hi there, I’m wondering if applying a pre-stain wood conditioner would give the same effect as water popping? Also, if you water popped, would you have to apply a pre-stain afterwards, or could you just do either one or the other?

Hi Sharon,

Which brand are you thinking of using? Most pre-stain treatments are oil based which gives a different result from water. Usually they are used for furniture as you don’t have a lot of working time with some brands because if they dry the stain won’t apply properly. Water popping is much more user friendly for big areas like floors, it works very well, you’re not racing against the clock and it is much cheaper.

Hope that helps.


After water popping do you still use wood conditioner?

Hi John,

No we don’t use a wood conditioner after water popping, just stain.


Hi Tadas! Thanks for all the great information. We have white oak throughout a flip house we’re working on, and not totally happy with the final feel of the floors (after using a drum sander using 24, 50, and 100 grit and the edger using the same), so we are renting an orbital with 3 heads, using 80 grit (to get rid of tiny cross-hatch scratches we didn’t see standing up) Once we “level off” the entire floor throughout, do we need to go to a 150 as a finisher, or because of water popping will going that smooth be unnecessary because popping brings out the fibers and makes it rougher? Will 80 grit be too rough as a final pass? I know you prefer a rag to pop with, but what about a sponge? Would that help to stay more even to avoid blotches? And just to be clear, the floor should be more than just damp, it should look wet, but not have puddles, right? What brand of top finisher do you recommend?
Thanks for your guidance, you’re helping a lot of people out here! Jett

Hi Jett,

Depending on the wood then yes, 80 grit should be ok. 150 grit is too fine. 80 – 100 is a good grit for most floors. If a sponge is easier for you it could work I guess, we like fresh clean rags the best though. Yes no puddles, just enough for it to be damp and not soaking.

As far as finishes we recommend either a 2 component waterbased finish or a hardwax oil. As far as brands… Pallmann, Loba and some high-end Bona finishes should do you well.

Hope that helps.


Hi Tadas: Help!
We are in the process of having our red oak hardwood floors refinished. They preferred to water pop. One guy used water and the other followed behind. They said they waited ten minutes before starting to stain with dura seal dark walnut.
The next day they put 2 coats of bona traffic hd and are scheduled to return tomorrow for 3rd coat.

Problem: The floors look wavy. When you enter our home the boards lay out the long way. Many of the short ends look like they may have been slightly raised from water. Floor guy said it was probably a past bad sanding job. Our floors were fine before albeit natural color. Also, along the long seams in many places, they look dark as if the seams were still wet
They said it was from old poly caught in between the boards. Our other rooms that were done recently without water pop-by someone else-don’t have any of that.
Could the waviness and the dark looking stain along some long seams be due to improper water popping or waiting time for drying?
Regards, Ellen

Hi Ellen,

Sorry to hear you’re having trouble with your floor :(

It’s very hard to know what could be the cause without seeing the floors in person but yes, it could possibly be because they didn’t allow enough time after water popping before staining. 10 minutes is definitely not enough time for it to dry properly.

I hope you can get it sorted out.



After some experimenting on sample white oak planks we’ve found the finish we like: Rubio Monocoat “Pure” on top of their Pre-Color Aqua. Basically the target is to avoid ambering – keep the natural unfinished color.
By applying very little of the Pre-Color Aqua and immediately wiping it off we avoid white streaks in the grain and get the color result we want. … BUT – the water based Pre-Color Aqua ‘pops’ the grain. So now the surface is rough instead of smooth.
Should we lightly sand after the Pre-Color Aqua dries and then apply the oil? Or should we “pop” the floor, lightly sand, then start with the Pre-Color? The grain shouldn’t pop again – correct?

Thanks much!

David, do you have any pictures to share of your completed floors? I, too, am trying to keep the paleness in my 4″ select white oak when having it finished.

Hi David,

Sorry I missed your comment. Yeah you should buff the Pre-Color Aqua with a maroon pad before applying the oil.


Thanks for this tutorial – I am reclaiming planks from pallets and going to panel a feature wall. Many different species of wood ans intend to create a checkered look and think this will improve the look.

You’re welcome Bob :)

Good luck with your project, sounds like fun.


Hello… We just purchased a home w maple floors. We are in the sanding process, right now. We didn’t sand well enough, the first time. So will be doing another round, today. I also found out yesterday how difficult it can be to stain maple a dark color. I think we will try water popping, instead of a prestain/shellac coating prior to staining.

What type of stain would you suggest to use after the popping, on maple? I’ve read a lot about using a gel stain, but that was always putting a shellac layer first.

What is your process for maple??? Thank you…

Hi Tammy,

Yes we definitely water pop maple floors. This is one of the most difficult floors to stain evenly, even for professionals!

We use Duraseal stains for maple.


So, I have stripped my handrails to bare wood and the bullnose under the balustrades. Do I use a rag with water to water pop these too?
Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

Hi Theresa,

Yes you can use a rag. For the corners and hard to reach places try a brush if the rag won’t get in there. Good luck with the project!


Hi there!

We’re having our 40-year-old white oak floors refinished (they’ve been covered with carpet since the house was built). We’ve decided on the Bona Spice Brown stain and the Bona Traffic Satin Finish. I found the article on your site with the amazing fumed floors with the spice brown and fell in love, but my floor guy doesn’t do fuming, which is fine – I’m glad he was honest! So now I’m trying to decide whether we should have him water pop. His initial reply was that we might not want to go that dark… I love a dark, rich floor, but not so dark that dirt and scratches become my nightmare. Based on your article it sounds like you always recommend it??? Thanks!

Hi Vanessa,

Yes we water pop every stained floor we do.


A sander professional is going to do my 1890’s maple flooring. He said all the right stuff.

I’m going to refinish it. I want shinny, and don’t like the look of polyurethane. Will use dewaxed shellac. Is a water base stain OK to use?

Wish you were here.


Hi Robert,

Sorry for the delay, it’s our busy season. Yes that should be fine. Just make sure it’s dry before applying the finish. And make sure to do a test spot first too.

Hope it goes well.


We just completed our second floor using the Precolor Aqua 01. We found that unlike the directions, we had to wipe it off almost immediately, in order to avoid lap marks. We put it on with a roller, and wiped it off with cloths.

My first question is, can this be applied with a buffer, the way the Precolor Easy and the 2C oils are? We’re going to test that in a closet, even though we figured that if it was possible, someone would have mentioned it somewhere…

We’re doing a 750 sf room tomorrow morning… so if you have an answer soon, that would be great!

The second question is, when applying the 2C oil to a floor that had received precolor Aqua 01, and then Precolor Easy, is there any harm to immediately going back and buffing in another application of the 2C oil? I ask, because when doing floors, we noticed spots that were more dull than the rest of the floor, as if they had not absorbed enough 2C oil. Once we rebuffed with a bit more product, they looked great. A few minutes later we hit it with a clean white pad to remove any residue.



Tadas — A belated thanks for the belated response :-)

Turns out we did end up applying the Precolor Aqua 01 with a roller, and then going over it with a buffer with a red pad to remove/spread it. We were working on two large rooms, and they came out looking great. We got them rather white by using the Rubio Precolor Easy Nordic White as a second coat, and then using the Super White 2C Oil as the finish.

We’ll be repeating that same process for another couple of large rooms today. The process is pretty easy, other than the Precolor Aqua 01. We had a couple of instances of using that where it was not absorbed 100% evenly. That might have been an issue with the prep (even though it had been carefully done at the time). So the rooms we’re doing today will be the final test, since the prep is meticulous.

Hi Bob,

I’m a little late to reply sorry but I hope it turned out well for you. To answer your question, no, we haven’t tried buffing PreColor Aqua. But you had the right idea… test it first :)

No there is no problem rebuffing the dull spots with more oil. Although it’s much easier to put down the right amount first and get it in one shot. Just make sure ALL of the excess oil is buffed off, otherwise you will have issues.


I was wondering if when you do the water-popping if you go with the grain or against it, or doesn’t it matter?

Hi Ryan,

We go with the grain.


We are in the process of having our hickory floors oil stained with a water base finish. The contractor sanded to 100, water popped, then put on the stain. The application of stain has made the wood peel and separate. He tried to patch and re-stain which made it worse. He has now pulled out the board and put in a new board, sanded/stained — but it looks horrible as you can see overlap marks. He went ahead with the 3 coats of water base finish over past couple of days. Now I am seeing more board split. This is a split in the board, not the finish cracking. What could be causing this and how can we prevent? I am also very unhappy with the amount of swirl sand marks and spots which appear to have too much finish or debris under finish. How do you suggest we handle these concerns — Am I being to picky, are these normal and to be expected? Thanks for your help!

Hi Cristy,

Yikes, sounds like you have a bit of a mess there :(

The boards splitting should have nothing to do with the finish. It seems like it is not good quality flooring to begin with. Is it engineered flooring? Sounds like it. Good flooring should never split like that regardless of what finish process is used.

My guess would be that the contractor used too much water in the water popping process and that’s what could have caused this issue. It’s very hard to say without seeing it in person though.

As far as the swirl marks and debris, there is a small amount that would be acceptable. Usually the industry standard is if you can’t see them from a standing position they are passable. We like to do much better than that, but everyone is different.

If you’re not happy then call the contractor up and let him know. Have you paid them in full yet? Hopefully not.

Hope you get it worked out.


Dear Tadas,
In the case i apply Water popping before stain and aplly Primer and top coating, How long from apply water popping to Apply prime? Please help me advise!! I use Stain, primer, top coating from Bona. Thank you.

Hi Brain,

That would depend on the stain, sealer and finish systems used. But generally if you water pop, wait till it is dry before applying the stain. This may vary depending on the weather and humidity. You can use a moisture meter if you want to know exactly.

Then the stain drying time would depend on the color, whether it is oil based or water based and again the weather and humidity. Dark stains will need more time than light ones. Always read the instructions that come with the product to be certain.

In a perfect scenario you could water pop and stain in one day and then seal and apply the first coat of finish the next. This is water based of course.


I am so lost. I meticulously sanded and water popped my red oak floors, and the dark stained still dried uneven… they look awful. I’m in the process of re-sanding 1100 SF with my palm sander because that the only way for me to ensure no swirl marks. My question is, do I have to get absolutely all of the stain off? I’m noticing that some spots are sanding to a lighter color than others and I terrified that the color difference will show up (like chicken pox) when I re-stain. Additionally, if I remove the majority of the satin, to the point where all the shine is gone, can I or should I try to water pop the wood again before re-staining?
Any advice would be much appreciated
Thanks, Rosemary

Hi Rosemary,

You poor thing, I’m very sorry for you that this has happened. I can’t imaging sanding that much floor with a little hand held sander!

Yes, unfortunately all the stain will need to be removed in order for it to look good. Then, once back to bare wood, you can pop the floors again and start staining again.

My advice would be to get a professional in with a proper belt sander, edger as well as a TRIO to sand the floors back to bare wood. By doing it with a small palm sander you will never be able to get the floor sanded evenly and flat. It’s extremely hard to get a professional look and finish with tools that are inadequate for the job.

I hope the next go works out for you Rosemary.

Good luck!


What is the finest grit sandpaper you recommend to use before water popping? I’ve just sanded a large table top with 320 grit and I’m worried that is too fine. Should I rough it up with a coarser grit and then do the water popping?

Hi Jim,

The finest we use is usually 120 grit. Remember that the purpose of the final sand is to remove all the edger, scraper and other tool and rougher sandpaper marks – not to smooth the wood. After you water pop, then stain and/or seal with a first coat, is when you smooth out the wood/finish to ready it for the top coats.


I sanded my floors with 24, 60, 120, buffed with 100 and water popped. Put stain on with a buffer and carpet pad, looked great, buffed out with clean carpet pad. I left for an hour while two of my workers did this and they never took off excess stain. Floor looks terrible. Was talking to a floor guy who said to buff with mineral spirits- helped alittle, still blotchy and streaked in some areas, uneven. He then said to screen the whole thing and restain. Am I better off just drum sanding again, 36,60, 100 or 60, 80, 100, buffing with 100 water popping and restaining? Im about to lose my mind, I cant afford for it to come out bad again. Also heard if you finish with 80 you don’t have to water pop? any help appreciated thanks

Hi Jesse,

Sorry to hear about your troubles. What a pain. Don’t screen the floor as it will do nothing. After allowing the stain to completely dry, I would belt sand the floor back with the highest grit that will remove the stain. Try using 100 grit first and then 80 if that doesn’t work. Then buff, water pop and stain again. This time stick around and help your guys remove all the excess though :)

Hope you can get it sorted out.


What happens if you don’t use purified water?

Hi Diana,

The water needs to be very clean but not necessarily “purified”. You just don’t want any contaminants in it that could react with the stain or finish.


Great foum and information! I am renovating the triplex in Boston and the clients want extremely dark ebony floors with a very matte finish. Currently they have red Oak throughout with inlay details on the borders of the family room and living room. We will definitely be water popping the floors but I am curious to find out what brand of stain you would use and whether you would go with a water-based or oil-based finish and how many coats of stain and finish you would need to apply.
Also do the inlay details totally get lost in a very dark ebony finish?
Thank you

Hi Paul,

There’s a couple of options you could go with to make a dark floor. One is use Rubio’s Pre-Color Easy Intense Black with either Pure or Black Oil Plus 2C. This will make a dark floor that will be matte.

You can see the color charts for that here:

The other stain we use is Duraseal Ebony. Waterpop the floor as you are going to and this is a very dark stain. It can be put on in 2 coats according to their instructions (the second one much lighter) but we do just one good coat. Make sure there is lots of ventilation and it dries well before applying the top coats of finish. The type of finish is a personal choice based on a few factors you can read about in this series of posts here:

And yes, most likely the inlay will be obscured by the darl stain.

Hope that helps.


Great article and responses, they are very informative.

I’m currently about to lightly pole (120 grit) my dining room floor after belt sanding (i know it’s not the best sander to use for this but I have a lot of experience and I’m quite good with using it – for this smaller project area I trusted myself to use this more than a commercial/bigger rented type) the field and orbital sanding the edges to try and make the sanded areas as uniform as possible. I’d probably use a buffer with a 120 screen but my father is using it so I’m making due with what I have. After this I’ll vacuum and clean everything (ceiling, walls, etc) and then a final wipe down of the floors with microfiber cloths prior to water popping the floor.

After seeing how knowledgeable you are I figured I’d ask you my one crucial question I have (hopefully you see this soon as I have to choose my path in a day or two) to get advice, which is:

After water popping the floor I have two options, of which I’ve seen 2 opposite responses and don’t know which to chose.

1. I can wear clean soft socks (or soft painter style “booties”) and walk across the water popped floor gingerly to the area of the dining room under the window and furthest away from the living room (exit) and apply stain, not walking the floor that I’m applying/wiping off what i’m staining. But this requires me to walk on the popped floor.

2. Start applying stain at the living room side of the floor. Not walking on the floor until the stain has been applied to part. Then walk over the partially stained floor (but not the bare, water popped section)to wipe off some stain while standing on the wet, not yet wiped off stained section.

I doubt that makes sense but am trying my best to describe my dilemma. From what I’ve read there are conflicting suggestions. I can either walk across water popped floor and apply/wipe off stain like most would (exiting stained room without walking on stained floor but having to walk on popped floor prior to application of stain). Or I can apply stain to popped wood without walking on popped wood but walking on wood after staining it to dry and apply to other sections.

I know that sounds long winded and it could’ve probably been summed up in a few sentences and apologize for not being able to do so. I greatly appreciate any help (especially if you can quickly but not I’m not trying to push lol) you can provide and I’m sure if it’s like all the others it’ll be extremely helpful.

Again, thank you very much for the great article and comments, you’ve been extremely helpful!

Hi Josh,

Happy to help where I can. To answer your question… Yes you can do option 1. Just be very, very careful. Don’t drag your feet or anything else across the floor. We wear shoes that have no tread but we also use a buffer to apply stain… if you use socks that should be fine.

Good luck and take your time. Hope it goes well.


Hi Tadas,
We are building our house and would like our floors to be rich dark color. The builder is going to use Minwax stains and we are tending towards equal parts of Ebony and Jacobean. Also, I do not like the oak grains .. but that is what the builder is giving. I am trying to use a dark stain to soften the oak grain. But from what I am reading, it looks like for a darker color , it is good to do water pop. My question is , does water popping also make the grains stand out more and make them more obvious? I don’t want to go total dark like ebony. Does a satin top coat makes it look darker? Confused !! Can you please suggest some stains for a darker finish on oak floors? and also what should be the process to achieve that? like water popping or number of coats

Hi Katie,

Sorry I thought I had replied already but I must have missed you, sorry.

Yes you are right, for darker stains always water pop. Yes the whole wood will darken, including the grain, but with the dark color you are considering, it will blend in together better than a lighter colored stain. The sheen of the finish has nothing to do with the color, it just affects how shiny or matte the floor sheen looks. Although in saying that, a glossier finish will give a lot more depth to the color verses a flatter looking satin finish. Ask for samples so you can see both.

As far as colors the ebony Jacobean mix you are considering is a nice look. You can play around with percentages to get the exact shade you like.

With the process, sand very well (dark stains show every scratch), water pop once, very carefully stain the water popped floor (always stain only one time as well otherwise you will have adhesion issues) and let it completely dry before coating with your chosen finish system. The system you decide on will have a factor on how many coats you will need.

Good luck Katie. If we can be of any more help just ask.


Hello. I am staining pine wood floors in a 100 year old house. I sanded last week and then noticed that there were footprints. I tried to clean off the prints with a damp rag. Have I in fact water popped that area, and will the result be the stain looking uneven because of it? What should I do now? It has been a busy remodel and many people have walked on the unstained floor, especially in the high traffic areas so there is some pathing. How do I clean those areas before staining and how long after I clean do I wait to stain the floor?

Hi Tasmin,

Yes if you water popped certain areas they will take the stain differently to the surrounding wood. It sounds like you need to do a final sand again before you stain. Whether that’s with the big machine, a TRIO or a buffer will depend on what damage there is from everyone walking over it. That’s what I would do, I wouldn’t be taking any chances. Once the stain goes down, if you have missed some spots you will be sanding back anyways and now it will be much more difficult.

Hope you can get it sorted and looking great.


Hi Tadas, I hope you don’t mind me contacting you, I’m based in the UK but am at a loss. We have just had our Junckers hardwood floor sanded and sealed. It was here before we got here but we think it is Beech and it had a varnish on it before. The result is a completely patchy finish, but it doesn’t look like it’s the natural variation in the wood, it looks like the wood has either not absorbed, or over absorbed the oil / sealant in patched (I have photos). Should it have been water popped? It looks terrible and our contractors answers is that it’s nothing to do with his process and there’s nothing he can do other than put a dark stain on it. Many thanks for any advice you can offer. Sian

Hi Sian,

Sorry for your troubles. It’s disappointing when things don’t turn out right. From way over here it would be hard for me to say exactly what the issue is, I would need to inspect them in person. Beech can be a tricky wood to get even color on when staining. Most likely not the cause if your floor guy is a professional, but if he isn’t… Did the contractor sand off all the previous finish? That could be one of many causes.

Hope you can get it sorted out and sorry I can’t be of too much help.


We will be using Rubio Monocoat Pure (no pre-color) on white oak. Would it be a good idea to water pop before the Pure? I called Rubio, and the response was, ‘sure, you could water pop if you want.’ Just wondering if we would get better ‘grip’ or durability. I have tried on some sample pieces, and can’t tell if there is a positive difference.


Hi Susan,

Yes, we water pop all our jobs. Do lost of testing first though and be VERY careful walking across it and working on it once water popped… it’s very delicate and will show marks through the finish if burnished.

Good luck!


Following up on the comment above, I will be having some new white oak floors installed with a mix of quarter, rift, and plain sawn board. I am planning not staining, using Pallmann Magic Oil in netrual color and water popping to accentuate the grain. My concern is that the water popping will give the wood a rough feel.

You mentioned earlier than buffing with a maroon pad between stain application and a rubio monocoat would smooth things out. Would this same technique work if done between the 1st and 2nd coats of Magic Oil?

Hi Alex,

Yes definitely do this. Hope it goes well for you :)


Hi Tadas,

I had a professional refinish our floors – they left a picture frame around the walls 0-5″ from wall – stain is much darker – the refinsher is refusing to fix – we want redo a few bad areas where we we cannot hide – we want to sand down individual boards running from the wall and restain them again individually – apply 2 coats of poly and then have another contractor put another coat on the entire floor to blend together – do you think is a worth a try

Hi Lester,

How frustrating. To be honest, this isn’t something I would do. It possibly could make it look better, but most likely not. It would be a lot of work too. Personally I would suggest a re-sand sorry. Hope you can get it sorted.


Hi Tadas,

We’re about to lay down new 1 1/2″ oak floors (no one does this in South Florida anymore!). I’ve been educating my contractor about all of the things I’ve learned from your posts and am leaning heavily toward Pallmann’s Magic Oil, have ordered color samples and want to experiment with mixing to find that perfect old amber color. Everyone in South Florida is doing water based poly. In fact, I had some 90-year-old floors ruined in my prior home ruined (in my opinion) with Bona Traffic, no stain. Completely flat and lifeless afterwards.

The Pallmann distributor in South Florida has told me that no one is using it yet, only Rubio Monocoat so far. First question, if a finisher is proficient in Rubio, will that translate to Pallmann?

But my real question is, how did you arrive at the finish in your last photo, bottom row, middle swatch? It is the most old-fashioned amber of all 6 swatches, or at least what I can tell from my screen.

Please let me know how we can replicate this! What is the stain, finish, etc?

As an aside, I have three little kids and would like not to have to constantly correct them about their treatment on our floors. For example, our Bona Traffic floors were horribly scratched and dented almost immediately.

Thanks for any help you can give,

Hi Rebecca,

This photo is 6 years old so I’m not 100% sure but it’s either Early American or Special Walnut. It would have been water popped. I think the finish was Bona Traffic in a satin sheen :)

Are you sure that’s what they used on your floors? Some cheap guys swap out inferior, cheaper finishes and say it’s a high-end finish like Traffic. It’s a very good system so I’m surprised when you said it was trashed so quickly.

Good luck with this next project.


I am having an unfinished European white oak installed in my new home. I want to wire brush the floor on site and use Pallmann’s magic oil. I couldn’t find a factory brushed floor that I liked for the right price. Would you recommend water popping before or after doing the wire brushing? Does everyone who walks on the floor between the time of water popping and finishing need to do so in socks?

Hi Danny,

I would water pop after. Either socks or very flat, smooth soled shoes. Either one can do damage if you’re not careful.

Hope it goes well.


I have just have my floors refinished a week ago… I was told they used water/alcohol popping… the color looks good but the finish wood floors are not smooth!!!
The installer is telling me to wait another two weeks that the floors will smooth out!!! That the water/alcohol will evaporate!!! The floor already have 3 coats of poly. How can it evaporate through 3 coats of poly? What do you think?

Hi David,

Lol. I haven’t heard that one before!

Sorry, but no, not going to happen. He’s making up stories. Did he not buff between coats?

It’s frustrating when you think you’ve hired a pro and find out later they’re not. He’s going to have to buff it smooth and do another coat. That’s going to be one thick finish.


Hello. Thank you for your time in answering all these questions. I have pine floors and have water popped them. I’ve done one coat of stain by hand using lint-free rags. I’ve gone wall to wall one board at a time, being sure not to overlap on any boards. The color isn’t as deep as I expected, even in doing a sample area in my closet. Is a second coat possible? I’m using minwax stain. Thank you.

Hi Corrina,

We never recommend applying stain a second time. Some guys tint the finish to darken an already stained floor, but we don’t recommend this either as too much can go wrong. Only safe option is to re-sand and apply a darker stain unfortunately :(


We waterpark day floor earlier today it’s a heart pine floor. The homeowner came home and walked all through the house after we water pop it what do I need to do to fix it

Hi Michael,

If that happened to us we would re-sand the floor. Too risky to take a chance.

Sorry that happened.


Hi, great information on your site. Sadly I’m not in your area or I’d use your expertise. I’m leaning towards the Rubio Monocoat for our old hardwood floors. Being that the stain is in the product, would you suggest water popping the floors prior to using this product?

Hi Emily,

Yes, definitely.


We had our previously carpeted staircase treads replaced with white oak treads to match the hardwood floor installed a year ago. The floor done by a flooring company, was water popped & is smooth & gorgeous. The treads were done by a staircase remodeling company & are not smooth or even attractive. They water popped them, stained, finished & have installed them. They have what looks like raised black bubble-ish kind of stuff over all the grain. They are rough when you run your hand over them. You can visually see the roughness from a distance if 3 ft or more & if the light is reflecting off it from 5ft or more. The blackish crud on them is ugly. I’m thinking either they used too much water, didn’t wait until it was throughly dry before staining or didn’t sand between finish coats. Please tell me what the problem here is so I can tell them they need to sand & refinish each tread. Thanks for your help!

Hi Patti,

I’m not sure to be honest. I’d have to see them in person to know for sure. I’d call them out and show them the finish on the floor and ask them to match that.

Hope they can fix it for you.


I have a couple of questions. I live in a newer home with red oak floors. They were varnished, I’m guessing, with an oil base finish with no stain. eight years ago when we bought the house the floor seem to look much brown. Over that eight years it has turned more of a yellow orange color.
I would like to have the floor re-sanded and restained a light color. Is there a stain mixture that would help to camouflage the pink tone without being real dark?
The man who is refinishing my floor plans to water pop it. He has a lot of experience, and he knows what he’s doing. The only problem is I am concerned that the grain will show much more after water popping, and I don’t want the grain to be more prominent. Am I right about water popping making the grain more noticeable? Is water popping important if I am staining with a lighter stain?
Years ago I sanded and stained all of the floors myself in an old Victorian home. I used a waterbase finish by Zar, which they don’t make anymore. The finish was many years old and wore well. The man who is doing our floors is not thrilled with water based finishes. Do you feel they’re OK. The main reason I wanted water base is because I do not want the yellowing or oranging of the floor.

Thank you so much for this site. I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi Linda,

You could mix any of the stain colors with 50% Natural to lighten the shade. that way you get the color you want but not as intense. You can see some of the more common colors available here:

We water pop all our floors for the reasons mentioned above. And no it won’t make the grain stand out way more.

Water based finishes have come a very long way in the last decade. They are more difficult to apply though and that is why some floor guys don’t like working with them. We only use water based and hardwax oil finishes now. We stopped using oil-based years ago. And yes, they will be the best choice for stopping the floors from yellowing or amberizing like an oil based finish will do.

Hope that helped a bit Linda. good luck with your project!


Along with everyone else I thank you for your great information! The unfinished red oak floors in our new construction home are installed and sanded (we chose #1 Common), and the flooring contractor is ready to sample stain for us. We love seeing the variety of grains in the boards, and want a deep golden brown that has depth and a range of nice color differentiation between the boards, not terribly unlike what your floor photos show in this blog post. We’d planned on water popping, and our contractor is very experienced with same, but he is warning us against water popping as he says it would make the stain color too uniform lead to too across the floor and we wouldn’t see the rich variations. He is going to stain a sample of water popped and a sample of not water popped so we can see what he means. The unstained floor has a decent color variation all by itself, which we figured would show through the stain too. We don’t want it to look like hickory or anything, just want to enjoy the real wood look. So… do you agree that water popping can lead to too much uniformity in color? Thanks so very much!

Hi Janice,

I would suggest the samples of each choice like your floor contractor has offered. It’s always the best way to see which one is your preference.

Hope you enjoy your new floors :)


I’m preparing red oak stair treads for staining, but I’m not sure if I should use the “water popping” procedure on the red oak treads after sanding with 100 grit. I read that red oak already has an open grain so I’m concerned that I will open the grain too much if I use the “water popping” procedure I read on your blog. Please advise if it would be beneficial to do this on red oak.

Also, how many passes with 100 grit sandpaper is considered sufficient on the top surface and nose of the stair treads?

Hi John,

Most of the work we do is with red oak and we always water pop it. You should only need to do one pass of the 100 grit if you have used a proper sanding sequence of other grits beforehand.


Hi Tadas, thanks for the great articles you put out. They are very helpful.

I finished installing my house with R&Q white oak throughout and also just finished drum sanding the entire house and now am working on blending edger swirls in by hand sanding. So far it’s looking really good. My plan is to water-pop the floors to stain it and then apply Magic Oil based on your other articles you’ve written. I’m wondering about the smoothness of the final finish if it’s water-popped underneath since according to Pallman’s instructional video, there is no sanding between coats, only buffing. Does this buffing smooth out the rough, popped grains or do I need to do a little light sanding between coats? I want the best adhesion but also a smooth finish.

Another concern is the floor is #1 common grade which includes a decent amount of mineral streaks, early and much denser late wood. I’m concerned with how this will turn out when the stain and finish is applied. According to NWFA instructions, late wood may require the board to be replaced as it won’t accept finish very well. Obviously I don’t want to be cutting boards out that I just installed so what is your experience on this very dense Oakwood taking a finish? Does it just sit on top or does the Magic Oil penetrate ok? Thanks for any guidance you can provide.

Hi Silas,

Yes the buffing will smooth it out. For the mineral streak areas, make sure you do some thorough testing first so you’re happy with how it looks before doing the whole floor.


Oh one more thing I forgot…

Pete’s Hardwood Flooring (I think you’ve referenced them before) suggest doing the final sanding with a buffer and a 120 grit screen rather than an actual orbital sander. This is their general recommendation for finishing floors but not specific to my finish. Is this your recommendation for the Magic Oil to be applied? Currently the whole house is at 100 grit drum sanded and edged. Thanks

Hi Silas,

Yes that will work.


Hey Tadas,
I love your articles. Very informative and helpful. And I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say it’s very much appreciated when you take the time to help everyone with their questions.
My first question is about applying Rubio Monocoat after water-popping. Since Rubio is only applied in one coat, does this leave a rough finish from the water-popping after polishing off and curing? If so, what’s the remedy to get a smooth finish after?
Second question is about Pallmann Magic Oil. Do you lightly sand in between coats? (if still rough from water-popping)

Hi Adrian,

The buffing will smooth out the finish. Red pad (or white) to buff on and white pads to buff off. Finish up with clean terry cloth rags on the buffer to polish it and remove all traces of excess finish. After that it will be nice and smooth. And no sanding between coats of Pallmann Magic Oil, just buffing as well.


I’m really very happy to read this blog thanks for sharing it.

You’re welcome. Thank you for reading it :)


Hi there, thanks for all the info,
I’ve clear coated several floors in the past year but this is my first dark stain, wich I failed already in getting a even stain..took it back to bare wood for my second attempt.. I didnt get too far before realizing switching to oil based and very meticulously sanding to 220 still left invisible sanding anomalies, as well I had some places where moisture had been wiped off and sanded leaving very visible dark spots…
Now I’ve taken this newly stained portion back to 60G with a buffer to try and remove the stain but it penetrated deep in the dark spots (there was water on the floor that had dried and been sanded and anywhere the seperate tools were used to try and remove small imperfections.)

If I was to raise the grain now during sanding (just with damp lambswool) could this help me to remove the discolored wood I’m sanding now? The area is almost to bare wood but has got faint blotches that seem to run too deep to remove with the buffer ..

My strategy would be to then to get the newly sanded portion back up to 100G. Then to sand the rest of the floor back down to 100G (perhaps again open the grain first to make sanding more productive by passing with a damp lambswool)

Then return the whole floor to 220G and water pop carefully before staining. (using minwax oil based jacobean)

Is this concept of popping to help with sanding and popping again to prep for oil based stain a terrible idea?..

Hi Grant,

It’s not a terrible idea in theory, we use water to raise the grain with small dents etc. all the time. Usually with an iron to steam the spot. But there is a better way to do what you’re trying to accomplish across a larger area.

Instead of using a buffer, use a proper belt sander. Belt sanders are designed to remove wood. Buffers are designed as finish sanders and polishers. They spin on the surface vs cut with the grain. It will take you 4 times as long and not be half as good.

Also you don’t need to sand up to 220 grit. Only go as far as 100 grit and then water pop.

Hope you can get it sorted.


This blog has been so helpful. Thanks for all the information and time you put into it. Especially the Hardwax experiment series on this site.

Having young kids I am attracted to Hardwax oils for VOC levels as well as repairability. My Major question has to do with Stain color as they seem somewhat limited and one has to worry if they play well with other brands.

Will Rubio, Osmo or Magic oil do well with standard stains from box stores? I’ve seen you mention Water Based Stains or is it only Duraseal? Do I need to do anything special in between stain and hardwax oil?

Wish you guys were in NY.


Hi Steven,

Glad you’ve found the blog helpful.

Have a look at all the color options with Rubio Monocoat in these posts:


Rubio have one of the best selection of colors. The blends you can do with Pre Color Easy, Fume and the oil colors is virtually unlimited.

For OSMO and Magic Oil, you could use Minwax if you like. We stick to better stains like Duraseal.

Nothing is needed inbetween the stain and applying the oil. Just be very careful you don’t contaminate the surface.


Thank you for the great info! I am wondering if water popping replaces the wood conditioner step before staining?

Sorry Tadas,

If I had of kept on reading I would have found my answer. :). No need to reply. Saw a couple of replies to conditioning thank you!

Hi Scott,

No worries. Glad you found your answer :)


Hi. Thanks for this brilliant blog. We are planning to finish our 100 year old pine floors with Rubio Monocoat. I’d like a darkish brown look (trying to stay away from the amber/orangish look), but have found some advice that says using the darker shades don’t work so well on pine. Any advice on a particular color? Thanks so much.

Hi Jeanette,

We haven’t worked with Rubio Monocoat and old pine floors so I can’t really give you any professional advice sorry. My suggestion would be to get the samples from Rubio and test out the colors you like for yourself. It will take a bit longer, but that way you’ll know 100% if its the color you want or not. Sorry i couldn’t be more helpful.


Do you also recommend water popping with hard wax oil finishes? I am doing my own little experiment with different Rubio colors and water popping vs not. The surface is quite rough on the water popped samples. Do you lightly sand after applying Rubio monocoat if you water popped? I am planning to test a universal top coat as well and am wondering if I should sand before applying the top coat. Thanks so much.

Hi Laura,

Yes we always water pop for hardwax oils. It makes for a much stronger finish coat. The action of buffing in the oil and polishing the excess off will smooth out the popped grain.



I usually use youtube as my resource for learning about these things but there’s really not much there. You should definitely consider having your own channel as there’s so much great information you are providing us. Thank you for all the information and for answering my question above.

Just one last question.

I sanded to 100 and water popped my red oak stairs. I applied stain and it looks super-rich as you said. However, after water popping the stairs are really rough. How do I make them smooth? You mention buffing in a reply to someone else but any chance you could be more specific? I shouldn’t try to lightly sand the floor before hardwax right?



Hi Steven,

A YouTube channel with lots of well done videos would be nice but I have a hard enough time just keeping up with this blog :)

To answer your question, the action of buffing in the oil and polishing the excess off will smooth out the popped grain. Key is to have a professional buffer with a bit of weight behind it.


What an amazing resource you have put together. Thank you for taking the time to write and post your many useful articles. We are getting ready to hire a professional to refinish over 2,500 sq ft in our 100 year old home. Of the 3 contractors we received bids from, only one of them water pops and uses Pallman. After reading your articles, I feel more confident in our decision to move forward with him. Thank you!

Hi Stacie,

That’s great to hear. Thank you for your kind words, happy to help :)


Thanks so much for this post! I was thinking of getting conditioner for my pine floors, but now I’m thinking water is more economical.

My question is, can I still apply an oil-based stain after water popping? Or is the water not compatible with the oil based stain?

Second is I have new pine floors, very yellow color. I want to stain them dark. Will water popping help them be more even and less “zebra” like with all their grains and lines?

Thank you!

Hi C,

Yes you can still apply an oil-based stain after water popping. Just make sure the floor is thoroughly dry. And yes, water-popping will help make the stain apply a bit more evenly. Pine is much more difficult to get even compared to oak though.


So I water popped my pine floors…the rag I put into a bucket of filtered water and I really wrung it out. So it was wet but not dripping, also it was microfiber. I kinda rubbed back and forth on each board. Sometimes it was hard to see what I did and what i didn’t do yet, so I overlapped.

I let dry for a whole day. I put provincial minwax stain on. Looked terrible. A very very dark brown. I got the sanders in to sand again and take it off.

Did I do it wrong?

Also, at that point they had only sanded my floors to 120 grit. When they came back, we decided to go until 180 grit. But now I’m scared to water pop again.

Can I do anything else to ensure a smoother less blotchy approach to the staining beside water popping? Or could I have possible gone wrong the way I did it?

Hi C,

It’s hard to say where you went wrong without seeing your technique. I would use a cloth rag vs a microfiber one. Also you don’t need to rub back and forth too much. Just wipe it on and wet the surface.

Did you do a test area first to see what it would turn out like? I highly suggest that before committing to the whole floor.

120 grit is more than enough. We sand to 100 before staining. 180 is too much. The grain will be too tight.

If your floor is sanded properly (evenly and consistently) and the water popping is done well, that is the best way to ensure a good result. You have problems with blotchiness if either of those are not done well. Staining is one of the toughest things to do for DIYers. It takes lots of practice to get consistent results. Definitely test smaller samples and areas first before trying again if you don’t have much experience.


We had new red oak floors installed. They sanded well and floors were smooth. They then water popped and stained (water based). The grain raise was significant and varied from deep to shallow depending on the grain. Since they have applied 3 coats water based finish with screening between. The hills and valleys of grain raising are still there, just coated. I’m afraid the boards will accumulate debris and be difficult to clean. Contractor will come back in 2 days, but I think all he is going to offer is another coat of water based poly. It seems to me the only way to smooth the floors is to re-sand and use an oil base finish. Thoughts?

Hi Ron,

Hmm, after multiple sceenings the floor should be flat and smooth again. Not sure why it’s not. Maybe they didn’t screen enough. I would try screening again, thoroughly, and applying another coat of finish. If that doesn’t work, then yes, a re-sand may be in order.


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