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Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floor refinishing is an affordable way to spruce up your space without a full floor replacement. Follow our guide to learn if refinishing hardwood floors is for you.

Tools & Materials

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Before You Begin

water spot soaking into hardwood flooring in need of refinishing

Look inside a vent or along a baseboard to make sure your floors are 3/4-inch solid hardwood, not engineered hardwoods. Refinishing engineered wood should be left to the pros as it consists of several wood layers that are easily damaged. 

If you’re not sure if your hardwood floor needs refinishing, put a few drops of water on it. If the water beads or soaks in slowly over a few minutes, you probably just need a good cleaning and polishing. However, if the water soaks in immediately, it’s time for a refinish.

If your floor is damaged, stained or has wax over the finish, you’ll need to sand to bare wood.


Wear goggles, gloves, kneepads, hearing protection and a respirator or dust mask during this project.

Prep the Sanding Area

Step 1

plastic bin filled with tchotchkes from refinishing hardwoods project space

Clear the room of furniture, drapes, pictures and register covers. Remove the doors.

Step 2

corresponding numerals printed on painter's tape stuck to shoe moulding and wall

Label the shoe moulding using painter’s tape to mark corresponding pieces and walls with a numbered or lettered system – a 1 on the shoe moulding, a 1 on the wall and so forth. Then, remove the labeled shoe moulding with a pry bar.

Step 3

removing a staple from hardwood flooring with pliers

Inspect the floor closely. Drive in all nail heads and remove any carpet staples or fasteners from former flooring. Fasteners tear the paper on floor sanders.

Step 4

plastic sheeting taped to a doorway with painter's tape

Cover the vents, light fixtures and doorways with plastic. Old sheets will also work. Tape thoroughly around the edges.

Sanding - Part 1

Sanding your hardwood floors takes three sessions with progressively lighter grit sandpaper. To begin, use a coarse 30-40 grit, then a medium 50-60 grit and finally a fine 80-100 grit.

For flat floors, use a random orbital sander. This sander is easier to handle than a drum sander and eliminates directional scratches. Random orbital sanders are available for rent. For cupped or wavy floors, a drum sander is required. Since drum sanders are harder to handle and open the door for potential marring, you may consider hiring a professional.


Never skip more than one sandpaper grade in each sanding session.

Step 1

loading sandpaper to begin refinishing hardwoods process

Begin in the farthest corner from the door. Load the sander with 30-40 grit sandpaper. Start it and immediately begin moving along the grain, one row at a time. Failure to begin sanding immediately will damage the floor.

Step 2

orbital sander closing in on edge of room in refinishing hardwood floors process

When you get to the end of the room, move over and pull back – slightly overlapping the first pass by a few inches. Continue sanding, getting as close to the edges as possible.


Do not let the bag fill more than halfway before emptying. Otherwise the additional weight of the dust negatively affects the sanding of the floor. Plus, the bag is lighter, easier to handle and less messy than if you wait until it's full.

Step 3

handsander refinishing hardwoods around the edge of room

After sanding the room’s center, sand the edges using a power hand sander loaded with 30-40 grit sandpaper.

Step 4

detail sander refinishing hardwoods in a corner

In the corners, use a detail sander also loaded with 30-40 grit sandpaper.

Step 5

vaccuum with brush attachment on a hardwood floor

Once the first pass of sanding is complete, vacuum thoroughly with a brush attachment.

Step 6

putty knife and wood putty filling a gap on a hardwood floor

Examine the floor. Fill any gouges or holes with matching wood filler.

Sanding - Part 2

Step 1

pencil drawing on a hardwood floor

To help keep track of your sanding with the second pass, make light pencil marks along the edges of the room. You’ll see where you’ve sanded as you sand away the marks.

Step 2

orbital sander along the edge of a hardwood floor

Load your random orbital and hand sanders with medium, 50-60 grit sandpaper.

Step 3

2nd pass of hand sander along the wall

Follow the same process and pattern as the first pass. Use the random orbital sander in the room’s center, the hand sander along the edges and the detail sander in the corners.

Step 4

Thoroughly vacuum the room with a brush attachment.

Sanding - Part 3

Step 1

Load the sanders with a fine 80-100 grit sandpaper. The fine texture creates a smooth surface.

Step 2

Follow the same process and pattern as the first and second pass, using the hand sander around the edges and the detail sander in the corners.

Step 3

Vacuum thoroughly using a brush attachment and damp mop to pick up any remaining particles on the floor. Use a damp rag to wipe away excess dust from windows, sills and other structural edges around the room.


screen that will further smooth hardwood floors

If the floor feels rough after sanding with the 100-grit paper, buff it with a 120-grit screen. Buffing with a screen helps smooth out fine scratches. Follow the same pattern as sanding, working along the grain and getting as close to the wall as possible.

Use a sanding screen on an extension pole for the room's edges and corners.


Step 1

vacuum attachment running along walls and windows

Thoroughly clean the room – vacuuming and wiping away excess dust from walls, windowsills, fans and other fixtures.

Step 2

gloved hand wiping hardwood floor down with a cloth

Wipe the floor with a cloth dampened with mineral spirits.


Check local fire regulations and with your local solid waste department for disposal instructions.


Staining the floor is only necessary if you want to change the floor color. To do so, apply a pre-stain conditioner and stain according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Begin staining at the farthest corner from the door and work toward the exit so as to not stain yourself into a corner of the room.


gloved hand applying sealer to hardwood floor along the room's edge with a brush

If you’re not staining the floor, apply a sanding sealer starting in the farthest corner of the room. Let it dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then lightly sand with 320-grit sandpaper.

Vacuum the entire room again and clean the floor with a tack cloth.

Good to Know

It’s essential to have a dust-free room prior to polyurethane application.

Clear Polyurethane

Finish the project with an application of polyurethane. Polyurethane has a strong odor, so make sure you open doors and windows for ventilation throughout your home. Some polyurethane adds an amber tone to wood. Check the label before buying / application to ensure your desired color and sheen.

Step 1

gloved hand stirring clear polyurethane with a paint stir stick

Stir the polyurethane thoroughly. Do not shake the can as this may cause bubbles.

Step 2

painter's tape used to dab away excess fibers

Remove excess fibers from the stain applicator with tape. Likewise, remove any loose bristles from your natural-bristle brush.

Step 3

applying polyurethane to hardwood flooring with a stain pad

Using smooth strokes, apply the polyurethane starting at the edge of the room, with the natural-bristle brush, in the farthest corner from the door. Maintain a wet edge and move slowly and deliberately so as to not create bubbles in the polyurethane. Use the stain applicator as you move towards the center of the room. With each pass, overlap your strokes slightly to feather the starts and stops together for a more uniform coat.

Step 4

Let the polyurethane dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and then apply a second coat.

Good to Know

Some products require sanding between coats. Refer to your product’s instructions for application.

Step 5

Let the second coat dry for a few days, per the product’s labeled instructions, then check the tackiness of the floor. If the floor is sticky to the touch, allow more drying time.

Step 6

Wearing soft, flat shoes that won’t damage your new floor, reattach the baseboards, shoe mouldings and transitions you removed during the refinishing process.

Step 7

shot of refinished hardwood floors with furniture and decor in room

Replace your furniture, but do not slide anything across the floor to avoid re-scratching the surface.

Good to Know

Applying felt pads to furniture and table legs helps prevent future scratching and scuffing.

A Note on Removing Other Flooring

If you've decided it's time to remove the carpet and enjoy the hardwoods underneath, remember:

  • Some carpet pads can be a challenge to remove. Use an adhesive remover to dissolve the carpet adhesive. Remove the carpet tack strips around the perimeter of the room. If the resulting holes won't be covered by moulding, fill them with a wood filler putty prior to sanding.
  • Carefully remove any staples or nails to prevent damage to tools and the floor itself. If nails can't be pulled, use a nailset to sink them below the floor surface.
  • Even a resilient floor, such as vinyl or linoleum, can be removed, although it may be difficult. Pull up as much as possible. Use adhesive remover to remove the flooring adhesive. If scraping is necessary (it probably will be) take care not to gouge the wood with the scraper. If you do gouge the wood, use wood filler to correct the mistake prior to sanding.

Older resilient floors (up to the 1970s and 1980s) made from vinyl or linoleum may also contain asbestos. If you are unsure, DO NOT SAND. Contact an asbestos-removal company.