Refinishing Hardwood Floors – The Ultimate Guide

Hardwood floors are a beautiful and durable addition to any home, and this is why they’re so popular. They can add an understated elegance or warmth to a room, and they’re relatively easy to clean and maintain for years at a time. However, even the most durable hardwood floors need regular upkeep to remove any faded areas, or things like stains and scuffing to restore the wood’s shine. 

Refinishing hardwood floors is something you’ll have to do to keep them looking like new. You do this by sanding them down and sealing them, but you should only have to do this every 10 years or so. The more traffic the floor experiences, the more upkeep it’ll need. So,  you may find yourself wanting to refinish hardwood floors in areas like the kitchen sooner than lower traffic areas of the house like a guest bedroom. 

You can try to refinish hardwood floors on your own, and you don’t have to hire a professional. It’s always a good idea to do your research and pay attention to the best techniques, and this is where my guide comes in. 

I’ll outline every step you may need to take with all the materials you need to help avoid a botched finished product and ensure you know exactly what to expect when you refinish your hardwood floors. Instead, you’ll end up with gorgeous hardwood floor you can’t wait to show off. 

A nicely maintained hardwood floor that contrasts well with the lighter color scheme of the walls and decor. 

Preparing for Your Refinishing Hardwood Floors Project 

The first thing you want to do is get well prepared for the task of refinishing hardwood floors. One of the biggest mistakes people make is jumping in blindly without understanding all of the steps involved in refinishing hardwood floors. 

They don’t think about how it’ll disrupt their homes, and very few things are more frustrating than leaving your job not done because you don’t have enough time. Additionally, not refinishing the whole floor at once can negatively impact the final look, so plan in advance. 

At the minimum, you want to give yourself two or three days at the very least to refinish hardwood floor, and you’ll need an additional two days for your top coat of varnish (sealant) to dry. You can’t step on it during the last 48 hours without the chance of smudging it. So, you won’t be able to get to anything in the room for at least four days, if not more. 

Because of these factors, people with busy households with pets or kids should plan on refinishing hardwood floors during a holiday weekend. This way, you can pack the kids and pets off with family members to keep them off the floor. 

If you’re planning to refinish hardwood floor in the kitchen, consider doing it in the warmer months when you can cook out. Also for the kitchen, you’ll have to consider when to do with your perishables like juice, milk, or sandwich ingredients if you can’t move your refrigerator to another room. 

An example of a refrigerator that would be difficult to move to another room while you refinish hardwood floors in your kitchen. 

Buy and Organize Your Materials and Tools for Refinishing Hardwood Floors 

In the weeks leading up to when you want to refinish hardwood floors in your home, you’ll start to buy, rent, or borrow all of the tools and materials you need to complete the floor refinishing. Your local hardware or flooring store will have almost all of these things, but Amazon is a good place to look too. Your list includes: 

  • High-density foam roller with a long handle
  • High-quality brushes for staining
  • Long handled, high-density foam rollers
  • Masking tape
  • Oil-based stain color
  • Paint trays
  • Plastic tarps (optional)
  • Polyurethane sealant (varnish) – Water Based 
  • Porous sponges
  • Protective clothing (dust masks, earplugs, goggles, neoprene or vinyl gloves, and respirators)
  • Random-orbital sander (large)
  • Sanding discs in varying grits (60-grit, 80-grit, 100-grit, and 240 grit)
  • Sealant stir stick
  • Sharp scraper tool
  • Small random-orbital sander 
  • Rags and tack cloth
  • Vacuum cleaner

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This BLACK+DECKER Random Orbit Sander gives you a fast removal rate with a high-quality finish. It comes equipped with a hook and loop system that makes it quick to change the paper, and it comes with a dust sealant system to keep the area clean while you start refinishing the hardwood floors. 

Refinishing Hardwood Floors – A DIY Guide

Now that you have all of your items, the kids are with family, and the pets are out of the house, it’s time to start refinishing the hardwood floor. I’ll break it down into several steps for you so you can see the scope of the floor refinishing project. 

First Step – Remove the Furniture & Get the Room Ready 

To start, remove any and all furniture and area rugs from whichever room you want to try refinishing the hardwood floor. Make sure you have enough help to get the heavier items out. If it’s possible, carry the items rather than slide them. This will prevent you from accidentally scratching the floor and making more floor refinishing work for yourself. 

Next, close the doors because you’ll create a lot of dust. If you don’t have doors, consider hanging plastic tarps across the doorways to help contain the dust and keep the rest of your home clean. Additionally, you can drape these plastic tarps over any carpets, furniture, or areas you can’t seal off to create a dust proof barrier. However, this won’t stop at least some of the dust from coating other areas of your house. 

The painter’s tape sealed off the outlets and the base of the wall. 

Take your masking tape and seal any cracks where you don’t want dust, and don’t forget the wall sockets. If you don’t want to sand particular areas on the floor, you can tape them off as well. It’ll be useful when you start your project if you use tape to show you where you don’t want to step when you finish sealing the floor. This way, you won’t accidentally step on the floor when it’s drying. 

Finally, apply your masking tape to the bottom edges of the baseboards of cupboards, skirting boards, or any place you don’t want to accidentally scuff when you use your random-orbital sander as you start floor refinishing. 

Second Step – Suit Up 

Refinishing hardwood floors will produce a ton of dust, and you want to protect yourself against it. Additionally, the varnish will release strong odors when you use it. Take steps to protect yourself throughout the project. Wear gloves to protect your hands, a respirator to protect your lungs and a dust mask, and eye protection to avoid irritating your eyes. Some people even put on complete boiler suits to protect their entire body. 

Safety goggles, gloves, and a respirator mask that can help screen out dust and odors from the stain and sealant when you start refinishing the hardwood floor. 

Third Step – Clean Your Floors

Before you start sanding your floors, take a few minutes to clean them. Sweep or vacuum them to get rid of any loose debris that your sander could kick up and throw back at you. This is particularly important if you have pets or kids that tend to be messy. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and a few rough passes will do. This will give you a clean slate to start refinishing your hardwood floor.

Fourth Step – Start Sanding Your Hardwood Floor 

You may mistakenly think that all sanders are the same, but there is actually a large difference between the random-orbital sander and the drum sander. Many people will have trouble substituting a drum sander for a random-orbital sander, and you don’t want anything to delay refinishing your hardwood floor. 

Drum sanders are notorious for being extremely difficult to operate because they’re heavy. They can also leave marks in your floor that pop out when you start to apply your layers of stain and sealant. This will give you a sloppy and uneven look. 

This is why it’s essential that you pick out a random-orbital sander. If you rent one, make sure you specify this is the tool you want, and that you want it for refinishing your hardwood floor. There are fewer chances that a random-orbital sander will mark your floor. It also gives you the freedom to work with or against the wood grain, and this makes it easier to use. If you want to get in corners or go right up to your walls, consider getting a palm held sander. 

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The Bosch ROS20VSC Palm Sander has a smaller head that allows you to get close to walls without scuffing them. It has a variable speed control and a dust collection system to keep your floor tidy while you work on refinishing the hardwood floor.

If you’ve never used one of these sanders before, practice on something before you try it out on your floor. Although they’re relatively easy to use, this is a small learning curve. For example, your first instinct will be to press down and put weight on the tool when you sand. 

However, you should concentrate on moving the sander without applying a lot of pressure. Also, move it around and don’t leave it sitting in one spot or you’ll get a circle that is too deep in your floor, and this will show up later as a light spot when you stain. 

To start, use a sanding disc that is medium-grade. This is durable enough to remove any old finish on your flooring. Try a 60-grit disc. Start sanding the floor very carefully, and make sure you cover all of the floor with an even hand. Once you do your first pass, get your palm sander and go up against the walls and in corners. If there are areas where the finish refuses to come off, get your sharp scraper and lift the varnish up. 

Now it’s time to go back over your floor with a slightly finer 80-grit sanding disc. Make sure you do the corners and walls too with the palm sander. Finally, you’ll make a third pass with a 100-grit sanding disc. The goal is to go over the entire floor you want to refinish with one disc before you swap out to the finer grade. This will help ensure you get an even result. 

A corner sander that you’ll use to finish out the edges and corners of your room to give yourself an even work surface to stain. 

Each time you switch out for a finer grit, take a short break and run the vacuum over the floor. This will help reduce your dust levels and give you a clear view of the floor. After you finish with your finest grade sanding disc, vacuum the whole room very carefully. Get your damp rags or tack cloths and run them over the floor to collect any stray dust. Let the floor dry. Now you’re ready to move on to step five in the process of refinishing your hardwood floors.

Step Five – Stain Your Hardwood Floor 

Once you stripped the finish off and sanded your flooring to an even and smooth finish, it’s time to apply your chosen stain. If you want to match the stain color to an existing flooring color, do a test before you do the whole floor. Perform this test in an area you’ll cover later with rugs or furniture. Let the stain dry 100% and look at how the color stacks up to the existing color. If you’re satisfied with it, you can apply the stain to the rest of the room. 

The trick with applying stain is to make sure you do it in an even and thin layer. You want to be methodical but quick during this step to keep each layer even. You can section off the floor and put the stain a section at a time rather than trying to do the whole floor at once. This will help prevent the stain from drying out and giving you overlapping marks. An oil-based stain dries slower, and this makes it a good choice because it lets you complete your floor refinishing without sections drying out. 

A medium-sized brush you could use to apply your stain to your hardwood floors.

To apply the stain, try porous sponges, rags, or brushes and see which one works better for you. You’ll need a dry rag on hand to get rid of the excess stain. Another option is a foam roller. However, this can make you want to do bigger sections all at once, and this increases your risks of having overlapping areas of finish. Let your stain dry completely. This can take between 18 and 24 hours. Avoid walking on it during this time. When it’s 100% dry, you can start the next step of floor refinishing. 

Step Six – Seal Your Hardwood Floor 

The final step in the process is to seal your hardwood floor. If you keep your shoes on, you could leave dusty footprints in your new stain. So, you might want to remove your shoes off and complete this step in socks or house slippers. The sealant will form a barrier that protects your floor from scratches, scuffs, and water damage. 

Ideally, you’ll apply a triple coat of your sealant. The fastest way to accomplish this is to get a foam roller that has a very long handle. You want to apply your sealant working with the woodgrain, and you want to be very careful that you don’t accidentally drip sealant on any bare wood. You can pour the sealant into a tray and set the paint tray on a tarp to help avoid drips. 

Get one of your high-quality brushes and use it to cut-in your sealant around any built-in furniture and around the room’s edges. Put the layer of sealant on the floor as evenly as possible. Polyurethane (whether oil based polyurethane or water based polyurethane) has a built-in quality that helps it level, so this will help ensure you get an even coat over your floor as it starts to dry. So, don’t worry too much about getting it exactly even. Try to get it close though. 

Water based polyurethane is more expensive, but water based polyurethane dries more quickly. You can expect water based polyurethane to cost $20 to $50 a gallon. Water based floor finish typically take about two days to dry out. 

This step will most likely take you a good portion of the day. Once you apply the first coat of floor finish, give it at least 60 minutes to dry. If it’s humid, you’ll need more time. When it dries, go back and sand it gently with a 240-grit, disc. Then, apply your second coat of floor finish sealant. Repeat the process of allowing it to dry, sanding it, and applying the third coat of floor finish. 

Once the floor finish dries, you’re free to walk on the floor finish and rearrange your room. Sit back, relax and admire your beautiful new finish!

At this stage, you’re done! However, you have to wait a minimum of 48 hours before stepping foot on your refinished hardwood floor. If you don’t wait and step it on when it’s not set, you’ll end up with scuffs that don’t go away. After 48 hours, it’s safe to move your furniture and rugs back into the room, kick back, and admire your stunningly refinished hardwood flooring.