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How to Refinish Hardwood Floors

A worker uses a sander to prepare hardwood floors for refinishing.

Scratches, gouges and nicks can leave your beautiful hardwood floors looking worse for wear, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to spend serious money on brand new flooring.

One of the main benefits of installing hardwood is that you can refinish it multiple times to make your floors look new again. We’ll show you how.

Skill Level: Intermediate
  1. Step 1 Decide If Your Floor Needs to Be Finished

    Worn floors in a vintage-inspired living room may need to be refinished.

    Not sure if your hardwood floors need to be refinished? First, evaluate the appearance of your floors. Visible damage like nicks, gouges and stains in prominent areas indicate that it’s time to refinish your floors.

    Areas with heavy layers of wax may also require you to sand your floors down to the bare wood and refinish for a uniform look.

    Test your floors with water. Drip a few drops of water on your floors and see if the water soaks in immediately. Floors that absorb water in seconds need to be refinished.

    Think about your décor. Time for a new look? Refinishing and staining hardwood floors is also a relatively easy, cost-effective way to dramatically change the appearance of your room.

  2. Step 2 Prepare the Room

    A man cleans shoe moulding with a microfibre cloth before beginning a hardwood refinishing project.

    Before you can begin a hardwood floor refinishing project, you’ll need to prepare the room for work. First, clear the room. Remove all furniture and items from the walls like paintings and curtains. You can leave some hard items like drapery rods in place.

    Remove doors from the room to make refinishing faster and easier while also protecting the finish on your doors. Use painter’s tape to protect register covers that can’t be removed from the room.

    Use plastic sheeting to seal doors and vents. This will keep wood dust and debris from getting into your vents or other rooms within your home.

  3. Step 3 Remove the Base Moulding

    A man in work gloves removes base moulding in an empty room.

    Remove base or shoe moulding from the room so you have access to all the hardwood flooring in your space. Label your base moulding and the correct wall with painter’s tape so you can put it back in the same place when you’re done.

  4. Step 4 Fix Loose Floorboards and Remove Nails

    A worn hammer drives nails into hardwood flooring.

    Your room is clear and you’re almost ready to start refinishing. Now it’s time to fix loose floorboards and remove nails that are protruding from the surface of your hardwood floors. Be sure to check for squeaky floors and loose boards by walking on the surface of the floor. Use finishing nails to secure loose boards.

    Use a putty knife to skim the surface of your floors to see if any nails are sticking up. You can remove these nails and replace them or hammer them down.

  5. Step 5 Sand the Floor

    An industrial sander glides over the floor and prepares the wood for refinishing.

    You’ve fixed your loose floorboards and now you’re ready to sand. Be sure to use eye protection, earmuffs and a dust mask before you begin sanding your floors.

    Use your floor sander along the length of the floorboards, going with the grain. Coarse sandpaper like 36 to 40-grit is recommended for the first pass.

    Sand your floors working in roughly four-foot lengths, using overlapping strokes about one-third of the belt width. This will help remove scratches and provide an even look to your floors. Switch to a 60-grit sandpaper for a second pass.

    Clean your floors with a broom and vacuum before moving to the next step.

  6. Step 6 Fill Nail Holes and Gouges

    A plastic putty knife and wood filler is used to fix nail holes and gouges in wood.

    You’ve done a good chunk of the sanding required to refinish your hardwood floors. Now you should look for holes and gouges in your hardwood flooring and fill it with matching wood filler. Use a putty knife to fill the holes and make sure they’re level with the surface of the rest of your flooring.

  7. Step 7 Sand Edges and Corners

    A detail sander rests on an exposed hardwood floor after use.

    Use a detail or hand sander to sand edges and corners where your large sander won’t fit. You’ll want to use the same grit sandpaper to get a matching look all over. Give your floors another quick cleaning to remove wood dust.

  8. Step 8 Finish Sanding with a Fine Grit

    A worker in a mask uses a floor sander to prepare hardwood floors for refinishing.

    You’re almost done sanding, but you do need to do one final pass with a fine-grit sandpaper to complete the job. Finish the middle area of your floors with a 100-grit sandpaper for a smooth finish. Use your large floor sander for this job.

    Use your detail sander along the edges of the floors. You’ll use 100-grit sandpaper here as well.

  9. Step 9 Clean Thoroughly

    A man in socks cleans sanded hardwood floors with a microfibre cloth.

    The sanding work is done, but your floors are likely quite messy at this point, so be sure to sweep up dust and debris. Make a few passes with your broom to get up as much wood dust as possible.

    Use a vacuum along the length of your floors to pick up remaining dust and debris. Do two passes. Use lightly damp, large microfibre cleaning cloths or towels to thoroughly clean your floors before moving on to the next step. Any wood dust remaining can make staining more difficult.

  10. Step 10 Stain Your Hardwood Floor (Optional)

    A gloved hand applies stain to a fully-sanded hardwood floor with a brush.

    Once your floors have been sanded and cleaned you can move on to applying stain. Choose an interior wood stain. A variety of colours, from light stains to deep, dark finishes are available.

    Be sure to put on protective gloves before handling wood stain. Apply the wood stain using a foam applicator, working with the grain. Apply stain to a small area at a time, working in sections.

    Remove excess stain a minute or two after applying it. You can use a cotton cloth, paper towels or a dry applicator pad wrapped in a cotton cloth. Allow the stain to dry according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

  11. Step 11 Apply Floor Finish

    A man applies floor finish on light hardwood floors.

    Whether you stain your floors or not, finishing your wood with a protective coat is essential. Water-based polyurethane and lacquer-type materials are most common. They also dry quickly, which can make them harder to work with. Oil-based polyurethane, as well as wood oils, dry slowly, but may require a respirator.

    Apply your finish with a finish applicator made from a durable material like lamb’s wool. Synthetic styles are also available. Use four coats of water-based polyurethane or three coats of oil-based.

    Sand after each coat using a fine 220-grit sandpaper for an even finish. Once you’re happy with your finish you can put your shoe moulding back in place.

  12. Step 12 Hardwood Floor Refinishing Tips

    Finished floors bring a relaxing living room or family room to life.

    Rent large pieces of equipment like floor sanders. Heavy-duty models can help you work faster, more efficiently and finish your job like a pro at a fraction of the cost.

    Consider upgrading to a drum or edge sander with a built-in vacuum to reduce dust. You can rent these for your project if you don’t have one.

    Test your wood stain in an inconspicuous area before applying it all over. It may look slightly different on your floors than you thought at the time of purchase.

    Make sure that your room is well-ventilated, particularly when you’re staining your floors. A respirator can also be a helpful tool if you’re dealing with oil-based polyurethane.

    Add protective features like rug pads and felt furniture pads to protect your new hardwood floors after a refinishing project. They’ll keep your floors looking new much longer.

What You Need for This Project

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