There are two benefits to water popping a hardwood floor. The primary benefit is to achieve a darker, more uniform color. The secondary benefit is to help eliminate screen marks. The water allows the grain to open up and helps the screen marks dissipate. Water popping is not a cure-all, and there are still important steps to take, such as screening properly, but it can be beneficial to a floor. Personally, I don’t water pop every job. However, I do frequently use the method on a lot of my darker floors. My all-time favorite floor is a white oak quartersawn, water popped with a dark stain.
You should check the floor with a moisture meter before water popping. When you think it is dry, be sure to check it again, to ensure it returns to the original readings. In my opinion, water popped floors should sit overnight to dry fully before staining. I know many people might disagree, and move more quickly in the process, but it’s important to remember and be aware that moisture can stay in cracks and in seams much longer, potentially causing adhesion problems later.
I am often asked if you can put a fan on the floor to speed the drying process. If you want to use a fan, have it point away from the floor, in order to draw moisture out. If it points across the floor, the floor will dry unevenly, potentially affecting the stain color. Great care should be taken in the staining process to not drag feet or kneepads across the floor, as it will show and ultimately be tougher to touch up.
A side effect of water popping is grain raise. A simple step you can take to help eliminate grain raise is to run a thick red pad over the floor with a buffer after it dries and before you stain, in order to knock off the nubs that can rise up. Nubs might not be a technical term, but you catch my drift!
Water popping a floor requires an additional step and the homeowner should be charged accordingly. That being said, it can be a beneficial process for the beauty and longevity of the homeowners’ new hardwood floors.