Refinishing Hardwood Floors: Best Practices for Top Results

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With each passing year, hardwood floors experience some degree of wear and tear due to usage and sunlight exposure. This article presents a step-by-step guide on how to refinish hardwood floors, what you need for the process, and tips to transform your old wooden floor into a polished, glossy one.

Tools for Refinishing Floors

Reconditioning a floor requires tools and materials which you may not have in your house.

  • Drum Floor Sander or Belt Sander: This tool is the most important one in your hardwood floor refinishing kit. If your floor needs thorough refurbishing—i.e., heavy scratches, bent boards, or gouges—the drum sander is the tool to use.
  • Random Orbit Sander: Use this tool if your floor needs a lighter mode of sanding. When you need to screen (buff) a floor to apply a fresh coat of paint, the orbit sander is the tool you need.
  • Workwear: Refinishing wood floors requires the protection of a face mask, goggles, old clothes or coveralls, and earplugs.
  • Floor Prep Tools: You should have on-hand wood filler, painters tape, a vacuum cleaner, needle-nose pliers,  nails, tack cloth, a putty knife, plastic sheeting, hardwood floor cleaner, and sanding screen for smoothing rough surfaces.
NOTE: Early sanding methods incorporated handfuls of sand. This original method of sanding hardwood floors and floorboards employed handfuls of sand, rubbing it over the wood until it was smooth. (Only the wealthy could afford to restore hardwood floors.)

Cost to Refinish a Floor

The cost for refurbishing a floor depends on where your house is located, the size of your floor, and whether you wish to sand, refinish, or stain (and restain) your floor.

  • Hardwood Floor Sanding 

If you wish to hire professional floor sanding and refinishing, it will cost you about $1.50 to $5.00/sq. ft. (staining not included).

  • Hardwood Floor Refinishing and Staining 

How much does it cost to refinish hardwood floors with staining? Restaining a hardwood floor costs about $0.50 to $2.00/sq. ft. So, combining sanding, the refinishing process, and staining would cost around $2.00 to $7.00/sq. ft. The professional you hire will sand first, apply two coats of stain, and add a clear finish.

NOTE: Home warranty services typically don’t cover foundations, walls, or finishes, such as hardwood flooring and paint. Your homeowner’s insurance might cover structural issues, but a home warranty policy will not—it generally excludes restoring hardwood floors, windows, and doors.

Key Takeaways

The most important tools you’ll need for refurbishing your floor include a drum sander and a random orbit sander.
You should wear protective gear and buy essential items to refurbish your floors smoothly.
There are two types of floor reconditioning: Hardwood floor sanding and refinishing (with staining). 
You pay between $2.00 to $7.00/sq. ft. for complete sanding and staining.

How to Refinish Hardwood Floors

The following steps will teach you how to refinish hardwood floors yourself, giving your floor a fresh, new look.

Prep the Room

Preparation is the most significant part of a successful hardwood floor refurbishing.

  • Remove all furniture from the room
  • Remove drapes, carpets, and rugs
  • Protect vents and electrical boxes with painter’s tape so that no dust can enter them.
  • Tape and seal the doors with plastic sheeting

Remove Shoe Base Molding

  • Use a pry bar (crowbar) to cautiously remove the shoe base molding around the room’s perimeter. This should be done gently by placing the pry bar between the trim and floor and prying it away. Avoid using large crowbars—not damaging the molding or floor. If you don’t have a pry bar, use a sturdy putty knife.
  • Redoing a hardwood floor also requires removing the doors so that they won’t block the wood thresholds. Be sure to get rid of nails and other objects that may damage the machines. If you find nails sticking up on the floor, cautiously tap them back in with a hammer.

When all is set, cover the floor registers with tape so that they won’t get scratched by the sanding machines.

Prep the Floor With Sandpaper

  • First Round

It’s best to start with 40-grit sandpaper—rough sandpaper that will do most of the work removing scratches from the floor and the old finish, creating a coarse surface.

To sand the floor, you need a drum sander. (It may at first be difficult to use it, but doing it improperly can deface your floor.) After turning on the machine, begin with a slow forward motion. Then, steer the sander when moving forward.

Progress across the floor at a steady rate because pausing can leave permanent marks on the floor. Be sure to check the sandpaper frequently and change it when it gets worn. (Typically, a piece of sandpaper can last approximately 20 square feet.) And empty the sander dust bag regularly since it operates better when less than 50% filled.

  • Second Round 

For this round in your DIY refinishing hardwood floor project, you need a different sander with medium-grit (50 or 60 grit) sandpaper to smooth out the edges of the room.

But it might be tricky to know where you’ve sanded since the color of the floor could be the same. In this case, you can use an erasable pencil mark where you’ve sanded. Then, vacuum in preparation for the final finishing.

  • Floor Finishing 

Add another (final) round for an even sleeker finish. You can start with 80 grit and finish with 100 grit sandpaper. Clean everything thoroughly because the following action is to apply the oil finish.

  • Vacuum and Wipe Floor

With these steps to refinish hardwood floors, you need to make sure everything is spotless. No hair, specks, sand, etc., can be left behind because it will affect the finish. And wipe the walls down to prevent dust from falling to the floor. Next, use a vacuum cleaner with a brush head to ensure the flooring is 100% clean. You can also use a tack cloth for wiping small particles up and a buffer to remove minuscule sanding marks.

  • Apply Wood Stain 

Your clean floor is now ready to be stained. Choose an oil-based stain, and if you wish to change the color of the hardwood, simply add more stain.

To be on the safe side, make sure the room you’re working in is appropriately ventilated, and put on a mask since stains and other products release unhealthy vapors. It’s also best to use a staining sponge or lambswool applicator during this process.

To refinish your old hardwood floor with a fresh coat of stain, dip your applicator or sponge in the stain and squeeze out the surplus liquid. Start from the farthest edge of your room and move toward the door so that you won’t kneel on the fresh stain. Then, apply it in the direction of the wood grain in three- to four-foot parts at a time.

Prevent the stain from pooling on the floor. Remove the surplus stain by wiping it up, moving to the next section of the floor. Be careful where each stained area meets the next, using a sponge to merge the stained lines.

Keep in mind that after refinishing old hardwood floors, you should let the stain completely dry (at least 24 hours), after which you can put on another coat of stain to get the desired hue.

  • Floor Sealer

When the stain dries, complete the process by sealing the floor, protecting the hardwood from water damage and scratches, and glossing it.

The best hardwood sealer to use is polyurethane, which comes in two forms: oil-based or water-based. The sealer provides excellent protection from scratches and water because it penetrates only the wood’s pores and prevents water and other substances from causing rot. In addition, you can use various finishes, from glossy to matte.

After the hardwood floor refinishing, staining, and sealing, be sure to open the doors and windows for ventilation after using the polyurethane, particularly an oil-based one.

Tips

Consider the following tips when refurbing your hardwood floors.

  • Choose Familiar Equipment 

Some equipment—such as the drum floor sander or the random orbit sander—require some level of skill to operate. If you choose to rent the equipment, ask for some pointers (or even a tutorial) and practice the process on a piece of wood.

  • Lifting Furniture

Refinishing hardwood floors includes the removal of your furniture. Be careful to measure the door space so that the furniture can fit through it. You could also hire professionals to help you move if your furniture is too heavy for you to lift.

  • Safety Gear

Be sure to use personal protective gear, such as a protective coat, dust mask, protective goggles, and gloves.

  • Sandpaper Type

The higher the number of the sandpaper grade, the finer the grit. Conversely, the lower numbers indicate larger grains and coarser sandpaper. Therefore, you should start with 40-grit and use 50- to 60-grit for the second round and finish up with 100+ (e.g., 180-grit sandpaper) for a more refined finish.

  • Sealer

If you decide to refinish an old hardwood floor, consider sealing it because sealing makes your floor water-resistant and prevents rot. And if you choose a suitable sealer, it will make the hardwood look new.

  • Apply Polyurethane

For best results, apply three layers of polyurethane, leaving the floor to dry, and sanding it between each round. Your floor then will be extra protected and more resistant to scratches.

  • Exit Plan

This how-to refinish wood floors step-by-step guide includes positioning yourself to leave a small path towards the exit (door) so that you don’t corner yourself with stain. After finishing the central space of the room, you can apply the stain and sealer on your way out of the room.

NOTE: Hardwood floors can last a lifetime when taken care of properly. Finishes on hardwood typically last for approximately 10 years. And restoring a wooden floor can be done many times, making it like new each time. When hardwood is installed correctly and maintained, it can last for 100 years

Conclusion

Whether you have oak, cherry, maple, or another hardwood flooring, each type loses its condition over time. This guide should help you refinish your hardwood floors to a pristine finish.

FAQ

Is it worth refinishing hardwood floors?

It’s cost-effective to refinish hardwood floors instead of replacing them. It also requires less energy and time and is much easier to refresh the look of your house. Purchasing a new floor can cost you from $12 to $20/sq. ft.

Is it hard to refinish hardwood floors?

Refurbishing a hardwood floor is more straightforward, less expensive, and takes less time than sanding down a floor to bare wood or buying a new one. Within a few hours, your floors can have a glossy, smooth look.

How can I refinish my hardwood floors myself?

Advice on how to refinish hardwood floors begins with preparing the floor for refinishing, removing the shoe base molding, using the above-mentioned sandpaper to prep the floor, and finishing with 100-grit sandpaper. Finally, be sure to vacuum and sweep the floor before the last step of applying the wood stain.

ABOUT AUTHOR

Alex is an IT wizz gone SEO gone fire-juggler. We’re not even joking. When he isn’t researching why one personal loan is better than the other and which piece of hardware you should buy next, he’s rollerblading or selling homes (because he does that, too, the smarty-pants).

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