How To Refinish Hardwood Floors

By Cezar

A refinished hardwood floor can make your entire home look brand new. There are few singular changes that can have a bigger impact. On this page, we’ll show you how to refinish hardwood floors cheaply and easily.

Prepare the Room

Before beginning to refinish hardwood floors, make sure that your floor actually is hardwood. This may seem strange, but many new laminates are so good that they can’t be easily distinguished from hardwood floors. Pull up a heating vent cover or anything else that will allow you to visually verify the wood grain running through the board.

Next, make sure the floor can be refinished again. Experts estimate that average hardwood floors can be refinished up to 10 times. A floor that has been done more times than that may have been sanded down too many times to refinish again.

With those two things out of the way, prepare to refinish hardwood floors by:

  • Sealing air vent covers to keep out sanding dust
  • Sealing doors with plastic sheeting
  • Moving furniture and carpeting off floors
  • Removing moldings, floor boards, and anything else attached to the floor.

With those bigger items out of the way, you’re ready to get down (pun intended) to the nitty gritty of refinishing hardwood floors.

Repair Hardwood Floor

Now that you’ve cleared the big stuff off your hardwood floors, you’ll want to get prepare it for wood stain. This will first require repairing significant cracks and breaks and getting rid of protruding nails. To do the latter, slide the blade of a putty knife over your hardwood floors to see if it catches on any nails that are sticking out.

Secure any loose floorboards with finishing nails. Get rid of surface debris with a broom, vacuum cleaner, and/or mop.

Sand the Floor and Corners

For this step, you’ll first need to select the right tool for sanding your hardwood floors. You can choose between floor sanders or drum sanders. The extra power of the drum sander might seem temping, but it can actually be a problem for people unaccustomed to using one. They are so powerful that you risk damaging your floor. If you choose to refinish hardwood with a drum sander, practice on old plywood before starting on your hardwood floors.

  • Wear safety goggles, dust mask, and ear protection.
  • Use the drum or belt sander in the direction of the wood grain along the length of the boards, then work it back and forth over length of three-to-four feet. For scratches, use overlapping strokes.
  • Begin with coarser sandpaper and move your way to finer sandpaper as you go. Get rid of the debris and dust before transitioning to finer.
  • After about 250 square feet of sanding, replace the belt.

Sanding will get the stains and scratches off your hardwood floors, but it won’t be able to fix some deeper gouges and discolorations. After sanding, fill those holes in the floor with wood putty or wood filler.

Stain Hardwood Floor

Wood staining isn’t a necessary step you have to take to refinish hard wood floors, but it will significantly improve the appearance. Wood stain is a kind of paint that soaks into and binds with wood fibers, giving the floors a nice appearance.

  • Decide upon the color you want and then research which wood stain will settle that way.
  • Break the work up into manageable chunks (such as one-foot squares) and apply the wood stain in the direction of the wood grain with a foam applicator.
  • Remove excess stain with paper towels or cotton cloths. Read the directions on the stain you use, as some brands have special instructions.

If you chose to skip the wood stain, you should still apply a sanding sealer when you refinish hardwood.

Finish Hardwood Floor

The final step to refinish hardwood floors is the actual finish. Wood finish is the coat that protects your floor. There are the broad options:

  • Conversion Varnish: This option provides a hard, glossy finish. Like nitrocellulose lacquer discussed below, it is made with multiple toxic solvents and requires a protective mask for use. Unlike nitrocellulose lacquer, it’s very difficult to remove.
  • Nitrocellulose Lacquer: This option offers very durable protection and a nice glossy finish but has the drawback of containing multiple toxic solvents. You need to wear a protective mask and should carefully read safety directions. Despite the toxic aspects, it’s relatively easy to remove.
  • Oil Wood Finishes: Oil wood finishes include linseed and tung oils. They accentuate wood visually with a nice, warm glow, but they offer little protection or durability. Drying usually takes 12 or more hours. Removing this will require the substrate to be sanded down because the wood absorbs the oil.
  • Polyurethane Varnish: This petroleum-based varnish requires a 30-day curing period. It delivers a nice, clear coating that can be made stronger with multiple layers. It’s not as toxic as some other options on this list and can be removed with paint remover.
  • Shellac: Shellac is a clear finish (some are yellowish tint) that provides a durable coat that protects against water and most solvents, except for alcohol, which can be used to remove shellac completely. Shellac works well as a base layer that is compatible with other coatings.
  • Water-based Polyurethane: An advantage of this option is that it lacks the plastic look of some others and works well on floors exposed to a lot of UV light. It’s less toxic and safer to use. A disadvantage is that it dries faster than the others, so you have less room for error. Paint removers can strip it off.

With your finish of choice selected, follow these steps:

  • Use lamb’s wool applicator or something similar to apply the finish in even lines with as little dripping as possible.
  • Three coats of oil-based finish is sufficient. Four coats for water-based finish.
  • After the coat dries, lightly sand the floor with #000 steel wool or 220-grit paper. Vacuum any dust afterwards before applying a new coat.

Once this work is done and drying is complete, replace the moldings or other items you previously removed.


It takes a lot of tools and time to refinish hardwood yourself. You’ll need:

  • Dust mask
  • Tool bar
  • Hammer
  • Sanders
  • Plastic drop sheets
  • Safety goggles
  • Hearing protection
  • Painter’s tape
  • Sandpaper
  • Polyurethane
  • Sanding sealer
  • Mineral spirits or paint thinner

Experts estimate 6–8 hours to refinish hardwood floors, or roughly a day of work time. This means that five floors will require five days. Remember, though, that these estimates are for professionals and experienced do-it-yourselfers. Newbies may take more time. Also, the drying times of the stains and finishes you select will factor in.

Use this guide to help if you decide to do it yourself. If this seems like more of a labor investment than you were planning on, it might be easier and safer to use a hardwood floors refinishing service.

There is no “one size fits all” solution here! Each wood floor and its condition are unique. We will provide you with the best and most cost-efficient solution for your floors.

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As a general rule, professionally refinished hardwood floors last 5 times longer vs DIY.