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How to Refinish Hardwood Floors DIY

Updated: May 14


Refinishing hardwood floors requires a considerable amount of effort, but the end result is truly rewarding. Not only do hardwood floors enhance the value of your home, but they also exude a timeless elegance that complements any decor style.

Refinishing hardwood floors is an excellent way to breathe new life into your home, whether you are renovating an older property or simply looking to update your current living space. Take stock of the condition of your floors; minor scratches or a dull finish may only necessitate buffing and applying a fresh coat of varnish.

Even if your floors require a complete overhaul, refinishing hardwood is a manageable and rewarding DIY task that can result in significant cost savings.

In general, a professional will typically charge anywhere from $4 to $5 per square foot for the refinishing of hardwood floors.

For a house measuring 2,000 square feet, this could result in a bill as high as $9,000. It is feasible to complete the entire 2,000-square-foot home in as little as four days for about $900. Are you prepared to take on this project?

Follow these steps to refinish hardwood floors and achieve a professional-quality outcome.


Tools And Materials Needed To Refinish Floor

·         drum or belt floor sander (rent from a home improvement store)

·         edger sander (rent a home improvement store)

·         small pry bar

·         needle-nosed pliers

·         painter’s tape

·         plastic sheeting

·         wood filler - either a full trowel filler or wood patch

·         spackle knife

·         protective eye wear and respirator mask

·         40, 60, 80 and 120-grit sandpaper to fit each sander

·         sanding pole

·        120-grit sanding screen

·        shop vacuum

·        tack cloth

·        denatured alcohol

·        oil-based stain (optional)

·        stain applicator pads (optional)

·        smooth foam roller

·        polyurethane

·        #2 fine steel wool pads

·        rags

1. Prepare the Room

Ensure that all furniture, window treatments, and rugs are completely removed from the area. Additionally, take the necessary precaution of covering vents and electrical boxes with painter's tape to prevent any dust from entering the ducts and causing damage to electrical components.

If you are refinishing a single room, it may be advisable to utilize plastic sheeting to seal the doors effectively. Utilize a pry bar in a careful manner to delicately detach the base molding. It is possible to remove the small section of quarter-round while leaving the remaining baseboards intact.

Pro Tip: For accurate replacement, it is suggested to use a pencil to number the molding pieces as they are being removed.

Utilize needle-nosed pliers to extract nails or staples from the surface. Secure any loose boards by firmly nailing them down.

2. Patch and Repair


Examine the floor for larger holes or cracks and address them by using wood filler and a spackle knife. For heavily damaged floors, it is recommended to use a trowel filler, a thinner wood filler that can cover extensive areas. Application of this filler can be done with a large putty knife.

In the case of minor damages, apply a wood patch filler on individual spots. Let the filler dry thoroughly. Wipe the floor with a damp rag to get rid of debris and dust. Allow it to dry completely before starting the sanding process.

3. Sand the Floor

Use a drum sander that you have rented from a home improvement store for this particular step. Working with a drum sander can be quite tricky, as it can be challenging to control and mishandling it may result in damage to your floors.

Make sure to ask for a brief tutorial and some helpful pointers when you rent the equipment. Before starting on your floors, practice sanding on a large plywood sheet until you feel confident.

Begin moving forward slowly with the motor running, engaging the sander as you move and disengaging it before stopping. Don't forget to wear a respiratory mask and eye protection.


Initiate the sanding process by employing the 40-grit sandpaper. This particular type of sandpaper possesses a coarse texture, making it ideal for effectively eliminating scratches, dings, and the previous finish.

However, it should be noted that it will leave the surface with a rough texture. To achieve optimal results, it is essential to work in sections measuring 3 to 4 feet, while following the direction of the wood grain. Maintaining a slow and steady pace while progressing across the floor is crucial, as any sudden stops can lead to permanent marks on the floor. It is advisable to overlap rows by one board for a consistent outcome.

Each piece of sandpaper is typically suitable for covering an area of approximately 20 square feet. Regularly inspect the sandpaper's condition and replace it promptly once it shows signs of wear.

Additionally, ensure that the dust bag on the sander is emptied regularly, as it will perform better when kept less than half full.

The drum sander's large and unwieldy nature means that a different sander must be used for the room's edges. Use the 40-grit sandpaper on the edge sander to sand all the way up to the wall. Keep sanding with the 40-grit sandpaper until the floor color is evenly distributed.

Continue the process by utilizing the 60, 80, and then the 120-grit paper on both the drum sander and the edge sander. As you progress through each round of sanding, the surface will become smoother, effectively concealing any repaired holes or cracks and making them flush with the floor surface.

Remember to meticulously vacuum and wipe off any dust from the floor between each step. By employing the fine-grit paper, you will achieve the desired professional-quality finish.

4. Buff the Floor

Smoothing the floor through buffing will eliminate minor sanding marks and result in a completely even finish. While some people choose to hire an industrial floor buffer for this stage, a pole sander, as depicted, serves as another excellent alternative.

Although using a pole sander may require more time, it is also easier to handle compared to a buffer and more budget-friendly. Utilize a 120-grit sanding screen to buff the floor along each board, moving back and forth following the grain.

5. Prep for Sealer or Stain

Ensure that your floor and room are thoroughly cleaned at this stage. The presence of sand, hair, or small debris can have a negative impact on the final result. It is recommended to wipe down the walls to avoid dust falling onto the floor while the finish is drying.

Utilize a shop vacuum with a brush head for a comprehensive floor cleaning, followed by a sticky tack cloth to eliminate any remaining particles.

To ensure an even penetration of the stain into the wood, employ the method known as "water popping." Create a mixture consisting of one part denatured alcohol and two parts water.

Thoroughly spray the entire floor using a pump sprayer. Next, use a rag or mop to evenly distribute the solution across the floor. This process causes the wood grains to elevate, allowing for better absorption of the stain. It is important to allow the floor to dry for a minimum of 30 minutes.

6. Apply Stain To Floor

The plain exposed floor is prepared for application of either stain or sealer. To alter the wood's color, apply a stain. Choose an oil-based stain in your preferred color.

Properly ventilate your area and wear a respirator mask while working with stain and other finishing products that emit harmful vapors. Use a lambs wool applicator or staining sponge for application.

Since you have removed the molding in the initial step, there is no need to worry about cutting in around the edges of the floor. Dip your sponge or rag in the stain, wring out any excess liquid, and begin working from the far corner of the room towards the door to avoid stepping on the fresh stain. Apply the stain in the same direction as the grain in 3- to 4-foot sections, making sure not to let it pool on the floor.

Wipe away any excess stain before moving on to the next area, paying close attention to blending the edges together.

After staining the entire floor, it is important to allow it to dry completely, typically for a minimum of 24 hours. In order to achieve the desired color, it may be necessary to apply a second coat using the same method.

7. Seal the Floor

When the stain has fully dried or if you choose to skip this step, it is important to seal the floor. Sealing acts as a shield against water damage, impacts, and abrasions, while also providing a glossy finish that accentuates the wood's beauty.

Among the various hardwood sealers, polyurethane sealer stands out as the top choice for many. It is available in water-based and oil-based variants, both of which create a protective layer on the hardwood surface. This layer acts as a shield, providing excellent defense against water and scratches, while also requiring minimal maintenance. Additionally, polyurethane sealer offers a wide range of finishes, allowing you to achieve the desired look, be it glossy or matte.

To ensure safety during application, it is important to work in a well-ventilated area and wear a respirator mask, particularly when using oil-based polyurethane.

Ensure the floor is clean of hair and dust by using a vacuum and tack cloth. Next, utilize a smooth sponge roller to apply the polyurethane.

For the edges of the room, a paintbrush may be necessary. Work in small sections following the grain of the wood. Multiple coats of polyurethane are needed, so allow each coat to dry completely and buff the floor between coats as per the manufacturer's instructions for drying times.  This task can be completed either using a machine buffer or by hand with a #2 fine steel wool pad.

Adding more coats generally provides increased protection. Begin working from the far corner of the room towards the door to prevent being trapped inside. Ensure the sealer dries completely for a full 24 hours before walking on the floor, and wait at least 72 hours before returning rugs or furniture. Allowing ample drying time will guarantee beautiful and resilient floors.

Various finishing options are available besides polyurethane. Here are some of the most commonly chosen ones. A range of natural oil finishes exists,

Natural Oil Finishes: Tung oil as a notable instance. Despite its exceptional environmental friendliness, this finish falls short in terms of providing adequate protection. Furthermore, oil finishes do not enhance the floor's shine and demand meticulous upkeep, necessitating frequent reapplication.

Wax: In the realm of floor finishes, wax has made a notable comeback. It has become a popular selection for homeowners with historic dwellings, as well as those desiring a smooth, natural look. Nevertheless, wax is not without its drawbacks, particularly its limited durability. Additionally, the process of applying wax is labor-intensive, requiring meticulous buffing into the wood.

In order to preserve the allure of your splendid floors, it is imperative to diligently sweep and mop them on a regular basis.

Furthermore, the use of furniture pads and exercising caution when wearing hard-soled shoes will contribute to their long-lasting beauty. Experts suggest that traditional hardwood floors can be refinished up to 8 to 10 times, guaranteeing their durability and timeless elegance.

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