How To Know When It’s Time To Recoat Hardwood Floors

By Cezar

A hardwood floor is a tremendous investment in your home that can last for decades if treated with care. Part of this longevity comes from the ability to repeatedly refinish the top layer of wood, making it resilient to damage and removing the history of wear and tear. Depending on the level of wear you need to remove, there are a few different ways of restoring your floor – we’ll discuss the options and how to tell which one you need and when.

It’s usually easy to tell when your floor is due for some TLC – if it’s not looking its best, whether dull, tired, faded or scratched, it’s time to give it some attention to bring it back to its best.

Different Ways To Restore Your Floor

  • Refinish

The more extreme method of restoring your floor, a refinish involves removing the top layer of wood with a drum sander. Once this has been completed, a new stain and finish can be applied to the raw wood underneath.

  • Buffing and Recoat

Also known as a screen and recoat, this involves buffing the floor softly enough to remove the old finish without damaging the wood underneath. Once this has been done, a new coat of finish can be applied on top.

As a rule of thumb, it is usually recommended to do a buff and recoat every three years. Most solid hardwood floors can only be refinished 10-12 times over their lifespan, so most homeowners wait until the floor has accumulated significant damage before opting to do a refinish.

Are All Hardwood Floors a Candidate for a Buff and Coat?

Not all floors are a good candidate for a buff and coat. Engineered hardwood floors, depending on the construction, will sometimes not accept a new coat of varnish if buffed – check with the manufacturer of the product to see what maintenance options are available.

If your floor has been waxed before or treated with a mineral oil based cleaner (such as Murphy’s) it’s no longer a candidate for a new coat of finish.

Lastly, your floor should have already been sanded and finished- if you think you have a raw wood floor, it would need to be sanded down and have its first coat of finish applied instead of being recoated.

When Is a Buff and Coat Possible?

A buff and coat is the correct response to the following injuries to your floor:

  • A finish that is growing dull, or visibly wearing through in high-traffic areas
  • A finish you want to replace, such as a glossy with a semi-gloss
  • Light scratches (only down to the level of the finish)

Any of these problems will be solved by a screen and recoat. Examples of problems that will need to be addressed with a full refinish are deep scratches that reach the level of the wood or moisture stains.

The Trouble With Certain Hardwood Floor Cleaning Products

After your floor has been recoated, you’ll want to keep it clean and looking great for as long as possible until the next recoating.

One sad mistake some homeowners make is using the wrong product to clean their floors. The wrong product can damage the floor, which can require a refinishing or in the worst case replacement. Here are some common cleaning mistakes:

  • Too much water: Using a wet mop or too much soapy water can easily cause moisture damage, especially if the water is allowed to sit and air dry. Use no more than a damp mop for hardwood floors
  • Harsh products: Products from ammonia to vinegar can cause chemical damage and staining to your floor by breaking down parts of the underlying wood. Avoid them and look for gentle products designed to maintain high-end hardwood
  • Oil-based Products: Oil-based cleaner’s like Murphy’s claim to be designed for hardwood floors and are a common feature under many kitchen sinks. However, these products should never be used with floors that have been finished, only with floors that have been waxed. They can penetrate a polyurethane finish to seep into the wood underneath, and can make the top of the floor sticky or ruin the look of the finish.


A hardwood floor can last decades and is almost like a living thing – it needs regular maintenance and care to stay healthy and in good condition. Besides regular cleaning, your hardwood floor needs to be buffed and recoated every three years to fix wear on the finish and any small scratches or scuffs. Deeper issues need to be corrected with a full refinishing, which takes off the top layer of wood and can only be done a limited number of times throughout a floor’s lifespan.