How To: Refinish bamboo floors

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q. We made a poor choice of a bamboo floor for a kitchen. With two dogs and direct entry from outside, it is dented, scratched, dull and in general looks really bad. There is conflicting information on whether bamboo can be refinished. What do you think? I know it can’t be sanded down much, but could we get some kind of stain and harder finish applied? If not, what could we use for a replacement? The problem is compounded by an island with a granite top that we do not want to take out, so if we remove the bamboo, we need an alternate of the same thickness that would be compatible with oak hardwood in adjacent rooms.

Washington

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A. Your impression that bamboo can’t be refinished is inaccurate, according to Don Conner, technical director for the National Wood Flooring Association, a trade group that sets standards and provides training for bamboo flooring companies as well as ones that deal only in wood (even though bamboo is technically a grass).

Just as with wood flooring, there are many kinds of bamboo flooring on the market, some of which have a fairly thick layer of bamboo on top and others with only a very thin layer. The thick kind can be sanded down to remove dents and scratches, while the thin kind has to be refinished carefully so that the sanding is confined to the finish layer and doesn’t dig into the top layer of bamboo. That careful treatment is also the only option if the bamboo was stained, because it would be nearly impossible to touch up sanded areas so they match a factory-applied color.

Bamboo is harder than oak and most other woods used for floorings, so it’s possible that the sorry look you describe is actually just skin deep. Conner said he doubts that dogs could actually dent bamboo — it’s that hard. “Finishes can dent and look scratched, even though the surface below it isn’t,” he said.

Call in a couple of floor finishers and ask for their advice about refinishing. If you have any extra pieces, have those available for them to examine, or they may be able to see how thick the top layer is by examining pieces alongside a floor register or other accessible spot. On the flooring association’s Web site (www.woodfloors.org), you can find local professionals who are members.

Several of the vinyl tiles in my kitchen are buckling on one or more corners. I suspect that the refrigerator being moved for service had something to do it, because most of the problems are in front of that unit. I do not have any replacement tiles and would prefer not to replace all of them. Should I try to lift some of them up so that I can clean and reglue them to the floor?

Springfield

You don’t mention whether the tiles are the peel-and-stick type or ones glued down with a separate adhesive, or how old they are. But the problem you describe is fairly common with peel-and-stick tiles, said Matthew Grant, a sales associate at Flooring America of Springfield (703-650-0771; www.flooringamerica-fairfax.com). “I’m 99 percent sure that’s what they are,” he said — an indication of how many stories like yours that flooring companies hear.

It is possible to soften vinyl tiles with a hair dryer and peel them off. But the tiles would then be warped, and there would probably be grit worked into the backs. And once the tiles cooled, they could easily curl back into the shape they are now. So trying this repair sounds like something where a possible cure could leave you with a floor that looks a lot worse than what you have now.

Peel-and-stick manufacturers often recommend buying extra pieces, though they aren’t likely to emphasize why. People who do have extras can peel off problem pieces, clean off the floor underneath, and patch in the replacements quite successfully. You may be able to do this too, even though you don’t have any extras.

Grant said that peel-and-stick styles usually remain available for about five years before manufacturers phase them out, so he suggested that if your tiles aren’t too old, there’s a good chance you can buy more. Starting with the store where you bought your tiles, contact several flooring companies that sell vinyl tiles, show them pictures of your pieces, and ask whether they can get pieces that match. Of course, if you know the manufacturer and the style, the search for replacement pieces will be a lot easier.

If your tiles aren’t peel-and-stick, curling up of the corners could be a result of a manufacturing problem. Contact the manufacturer and ask that someone come to check out your floor.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

 
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