Varathane water based floor finish dried with milky streaks


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This is my first woodworking project ever, and it's kind of a major one. We tore all the carpet off our stairs and are attempting to refinish the treads. They were raw pine. We stained with GF oil based gel stain and that went fine enough. We let three weeks pass before we attempted to seal with Varathane water based floor finish. We went with water based because we have a roommate that lives upstairs, and we needed a fast dry time. Anyway, I cleaned the treads with mineral spirits and then went back to the top, tack clothed, and applied the finish, one tread at a time. It was looking great, until it dried completely. Random milky white spots showed up all over with no apparent pattern. Some followed the grain, others did not. Some were over perfectly smooth spots, others were over slightly rougher areas. Weirder still, I hoped it was a single coat thing that would go away on its own. I applied coat two and some streaks went away, others stayed. New ones appeared as well. Second coat was only cleaned with tack cloth. It went on about 2.5 hours after the first coat. Today I was hoping for the best for coat three, but when I applied it abs it dried, all the terrible white streaks remained. The white streaks seem to be having a hard time adhering like the rest. They scratch easily.

What the heck did I do wrong? Indoor temps with heat on, so low humidity.

Is there any way to fix this disaster? I can't spend another 2 months doing this again from the start.

Thank you.

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Pictures are worth many words. At a guess, perhaps the varnish was not well mixed? 

A comment, though - pine is not a very durable material for stair treads. Don't be surprised to see splinters peeling off the leading edge within a few months, if use is moderate to heavy. Under carpet, fine. Exposed, pine is a little soft for that application.

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This is just based on my experience. I am not an expert on water based finishes. I am suspect about your use of mineral spirits and a tack cloth ahead of applying your water based finish. I would have used neither. I am also suspect of using an oil based stain under a water based product. However, it seems like it should have been cured enough after 3 weeks. Before applying the first coat of finish, I would have done nothing except vacuum it thoroughly. After the first coat dries, I would sand it lightly to remove dust nibs and raised grain and then apply the second coat. Lightly sand the second coat, vacuum again and wipe with a slightly damp (water) cloth just to pick up any remaining dust, apply another coat, and repeat for each coat there after.

I think your only option now is to sand back to bare wood or strip it and start again. However, you might try to sand one step starting with 150 grit and work through 220 until you get an even scratch pattern and then try a new coat. If that works, proceed with the rest.

Good luck

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