How to Refinish Hardwood Floors

Yes, you can refinish hardwood floors yourself! With careful planning, the right tools, and a long weekend, you can DIY refinishing hardwood floors in your home with these helpful tips.

how to refinish hardwood floors

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Hardwood floor refinishing and sanding is unforgiving work. Make a mistake, and it will show. However, a refinished floor can bring beauty to a room like no other project. To hire a pro to sand, seal, stain, and apply several finish coats of an oil-based poly will cost $4 per square foot or more. This means that a 2,000 square foot home will cost around $8,000 for the labor and materials needed to refinish hardwood floors. Doing it yourself can save at least half of that. Think you’re up for it? Check out some helpful tips about how to refinish hardwood floors below.

If you’re doing this home improvement project yourself, expect prep work such as fixing gouges as well as the actual process of staining and refinishing hardwood floors to take about four days of work and around $700. Here we will dive into the materials, work, and process to refinish hardwood floors, including:

  • Choosing DIY-friendly sanding equipment
  • Avoiding injuries
  • Using personal protective equipment (PPE) such as a respirator
  • Choosing the appropriate sandpaper and floor sander
  • Being careful sanding tight corners
  • Controlling dust
  • Applying sealer
  • Applying wood stain evenly
  • Applying polyurethane
  • Having an exit strategy

As you will find, refinishing your home’s floors will take some time, but if you pay attention to each step and use the right tools, you will have like-new hardwood flooring in no time! Read on for some helpful tips about refinishing hardwood floors if you are ready to tackle this home improvement project!

10 Tips for Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Recoating hardwood flooring is an excellent choice for homeowners whether you’re renovating a single room or you want to breathe new life into all of the flooring in your home. Let’s take a look at the top tips for how to refinish hardwood floors:

1. Choose DIY-friendly sanding equipment.

Random orbital sanders are the best choice for do-it-yourself hardwood floor refinishing. They take longer to remove old finishes than drum sanders, but they do not require a lot of experience to use and are less likely to damage your wood floor. With a random orbital sander, you can move with or against the wood grain.

Just be sure to keep the sander level at all times. Even an orbital sander can “run away” from you and cause sander markings that are difficult to remove. To learn more about random orbital sanders, click here.

Be sure to prepare your home before sanding and refinishing wood floors:

  • Clear the area: You will want to remove rugs, furniture, and other items from the hardwood flooring area that you will be working on.
  • Thoroughly clean the sanded floor: You need to clear the entire floor of dust and debris before applying the new finish.
  • Secure floorboards: Use finishing nails to secure any loose floorboards before recoating your hardwood flooring.

Sanding your floors is one of the most critical steps to refinish hardwood floors because it removes the old stain and turns your entire floor into a blank slate.

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2. Be careful when lifting equipment and working on the floor

Like any other home improvement project, you will need to take precautions to avoid back injury when transporting sanders from the rental store to your house (or upstairs) by always having a helper. Use ramps to move the machine whenever possible. Similarly, get help moving heavy furniture out of the room. (It has to be completely emptied before you begin.) You also need to use proper form when bent over sanding, applying varnish, or cleaning up throughout the project.

RELATED: The 8 Most Common Reasons DIYers End Up in the ER

How to Refinish Hardwood Floors - Sander

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3. Use safety equipment such as respirators

Hardwood floor refinishing and sanding generates a large amount of dust and fumes. Stock up on dust masks and earplugs and, when applying sealers and oil-based polyurethane, wear NIOSH-approved organic vapor respirators, neoprene or vinyl gloves, and eye protection with splash guards.

You will also need to put up plastic sheeting to prevent the spread of dust throughout your home. Be sure to choose the right type of plastic-based on the desired durability and cover-up vents to keep dust at a minimum.

4. Choose the right sandpaper and floor sander

Begin with coarse-grit sandpaper sufficient to remove the old finish and most surface scratches. Avoid using grits coarser than 60; this will help keep you from damaging the flooring.

Proceed with abrasives that are gradually finer until you reach the desired degree of smoothness. (My preferred progression for a hardwood floor such as oak begins with 60-grit abrasive, goes to 80-grit, and finishes with 100- or 120-grit.)

Move the floor sander as though you are mowing the lawn. Proceed row by row, overlapping runs by half the sander’s width. You will have to make numerous passes with each grit.

5. Remember the corners

A palm sander may be used to sand near baseboard moldings, but use a sharp scraper or putty knife to remove any old finish areas the sander may miss. Scrapers allow you to get into recesses (along board edges, at butt joints) without having to remove a lot of material with the sander.

6. Clean up dust and hair

When you’ve finished sanding, remove all dust by vacuuming and wiping the sanded areas with a tack cloth. If you find a stray hair embedded in dried polyurethane and you still have at least one coat to go, lightly sand over the hair with a very fine (320) abrasive. Carefully dig out the hair with a pin or fingernail, if possible. Then resand with the same very fine abrasive, taking care not to breach the stain layer. Upon recoating with poly, the hair mark will all but disappear.

RELATED: All You Need to Know About Waxing Hardwood Floors

7. Apply sealer

A sealer coat is not normally needed, but if your floor takes stain unevenly, it will help ensure even stain coverage. Test for this by applying stain to an area that will not be visible once the furniture is moved back into place. It is essential to apply the sealer evenly. Otherwise, ”holidays” (skipped areas), stop marks, and lap marks may show through after staining hardwood floors.

How to Refinish Hardwood Floors - Stain

Photo: JProvey

8. Apply wood stain evenly

Applying wood stain evenly, especially over a large expanse, isn’t as easy as it might seem. I find that the best technique involves applying the stain with an applicator to one small area at a time (about 18″ x 3′) and then rubbing off all excess with a rag. Avoid letting the leading edge of your job dry; you will end up with lap marks (stripes). Oil-based stains stay workable longer than water-based.

9. Carefully apply polyurethane

Many pros pour polyurethane along the floor and then spread it with an 18-inch lamb’s wool applicator, but this is likely to result in a layer that’s too thick for the novice. A better way for the do-it-yourselfer is to roll on the polyurethane using a foam roller, preferably a high-density foam roller. The coat will be thin, even, and will quickly dry to a glassy smooth finish. Use a good brush for cutting in around the room perimeter.

How to Refinish Hardwood Floors - Polyurethane

Photo: JProvey

10. Have an exit strategy

Begin your applications along the wall opposite the door you intend to exit. Work in parallel rows toward the wall with the door. When you get close, you will have to change your work pattern and work from the end walls toward the door. This makes it tough to achieve uninterrupted smoothing strokes, so apply a little extra poly and count on its self-leveling properties for a smooth finish.

RELATED: 11 Tried-and-True Ways to Care for Hardwood Floors

JProvey Refinishing a Wood Floor

FAQs About How to Refinish Hardwood Floors

Is it difficult to refinish hardwood floors?

Refinishing your hardwood floors may seem like a difficult task, but with the right equipment, knowledge, and time you can save a lot of money by doing this project yourself.

How much will a professional charge to refinish my hardwood floors?

Typically, a professional contractor will charge between $3 and $4 per square foot for preparation, sanding, and other steps needed to refinish hardwood floors.

How much will it cost to refinish hardwood floors myself?

If you are looking for a DIY home improvement project, this one will take you about four days and cost approximately $700.

Refinishing your floors?
Some jobs are better left to the pros. Get free, no-commitment estimates from licensed flooring contractors near you.
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