How to Refinish Hardwood Floors the Easy Way

Refinish hardwood floors with ease

The finish on even the best types of wooden flooring is sacrificial and in time will need to be refinished to bring back that new floor shine. Modern, pre-finished hardwood flooring is coated at the factory and can look new for 10 to 30 years. But the coating on traditional flooring ideas that are site-finished won’t last nearly as long. Grime, dirt, shoes, kids, and pets can beat up a floor’s protective polyurethane finish and show signs of wear in just a few years. Left unprotected, the wood below will start to get damaged too.


Safety Considerations

Large upright sanders make a lot of noise and throw up a lot of dust. Make sure to wear a protective mask, eye protection, and hearing protectors when using this tool. Where possible, open windows and ventilate with fans during the procedure. Mask off vent duct openings and passage doorways to prevent dust from traveling throughout your house.

Upright floor sanders are powerful tools. If used incorrectly, it is easy to create deep gouges or dips that ruin the floor's appearance. Take your time when sanding, making sure to use sanding belts or pads with the proper abrasive grit. Avoid tilting or rocking the sander, as this is guaranteed to gouge the floor.

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Prepping hardwood floors for refinishing

Before getting started, be sure to:

  1. clear the room of all furniture and any other homeless items that always end up “stored” in spare space.

Anything, and seriously anything extra will just make the chance of getting a good finish that much harder. The tiniest hidden dust particles will ruin your effort and create more work. 

Luckily, my kid brother had just moved out of this room so it was empty. Prime time!

You need the room as clear and bare as possible. And if there isn’t a door barricading the room, I would seriously consider creating one with a plastic drop cloth and some heavy duty tape or staples.

Since we only did one bedroom, we were able to close the door and keep it safe from the dog, baby, and additional debris while the sealant dried.

2. remove any baseboards (you want to see any gaps between the floors and the wall). It won’t be pretty.

The pry bar is only for removing baseboards or anything else nailed to or around the hardwood. Remember, you need those floors bare. The entire room was surrounded by the small gap between the wall and the installed floors. I wanted to make sure I could sand to the absolute edges.

3. take a before picture! (see above)

4. patch imperfections/gaps with wood filler

Wood filler is addictive, and not in the permanent marker smell way (yay). Who knew how satisfying “filling wood” could be? This stuff covers cracks, dents, holes, etc. You can buy different colors to match your wood, but I’m pretty sure the “natural” color will stain with the floors. The one we bought starts pink and dries beige, so there’s no wondering if it’s ready or not.

On top of that, it’s cheap and easy to use. Just shmear it into any nook and cranny with a putty knife. Also verrrrrry satisfying ?

We didn’t bother renting the sander until the wood was all filled and patched and ready to go. That part took up about 3 hours in total. There were a LOT of cracks.

This was the nastiest gap we had from severe water
This was the nastiest gap we had from severe water damage.
5. sweep, vacuum, and mop with water

5. sweep, vacuum, and mop with water

While that dried, we bought the remaining supplies and rented a sander from Home Depot for 24 hours (1pm to 1pm). They required a $200 deposit, but the rental cost was $64.95.

Side note: these things are stupid heavy… Getting it in and out of the car was terrible… for my husband lol. I was told to get away and I wasn’t about to argue.

At this point we turned the hardwood floors into w

At this point we turned the hardwood floors into wood-filler floors so it was time!

Step 3: Sand the Floors 


Tools: drum sander

It’s a good idea to do a rough sand of your floors after the wood putty dries. A drum sander works best, and you may have to rent this piece of equipment if you don’t already have one. 

Make sure you replace the abrasive belt on the drum sander every 250 square feet.

You should begin by using a 36-40 grit sandpaper belt. Next slowing work your way to a 60 grit, then an 80 grit and lastly 100 grit sand. You must start with coarse sandpaper and move your way up to fine sandpaper for the best results. 

This process will help you eliminate scratches and stains. 


Is it cheaper to refinish or replace hardwood floors?

You can almost always bet that refinishing is cheaper than replacing hardwood floors. With the latter, you’d be paying not only for the new wood but also for the labor of ripping out the old wood and toting it away.

Step 5: Screen the floor

  1. Vacuum the floor again then wheel the drum and edger out of the room.
  2. Roll in the buffer, fitted with a 120-grit sanding screen. This screen’s job is to blend the entire floor together so the drum and edger sander’s marks are indistinguishable. It can take some getting used to when running the buffer; it’s more of a dance than trying to muscle the machine so ask for tips when you rent it. Run the buffer over the entire room along the wood’s grain, overlapping the previous course by a few boards.
  3. Once you’re done buffing, leave the room and let the dust settle for about 15 minutes.
  4. It might be helpful to bring in a battery-powered or plug-in electric leaf blower to force the settled dust out of baseboard heat registers – with the room clear now is the time to clean and vacuum those too.
  5. If you had the window open to expel dust, close it now to avoid any debris blowing into the room and onto the finish.
  6. Vacuum the floor again.

Deep Cleaning is as Easy as One-Two-Three

A good deep cleaning may restore your tired floor’s former luster. Here’s what to do:

  • Begin by thoroughly sweeping floors with a soft bristle broom. So that you know, stiff bristles can scratch the wood’s surface.
  • Next, use a vacuum to remove hard-to-reach dirt in room corners and between floorboards.
  • Afterward, mop using a micro cloth and concentrated cleaner for hardwood floors. Method Squirt and Mop, and Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner are two good ones. Keep in mind steam, water, vinegar and cleaners like Murphy’s Oil Soap that produces suds should never be used to clean wood floors. 


Hardwood floors in high-traffic areas in your home may require a deep cleaning by a flooring professional. Experts like these typically use a scrubbing machine designed to remove embedded dirt.

After deep cleaning your floors, here's what you need to do to keep them in tip-top shape:

  • Surface clean three times per week using a vacuum or micro cloth.
  • Deep clean once per month using a concentrated wood floor cleaner.
  • Professionally deep clean once per year.

Illustration: The Spruce / Elnora Turner

Tools Materials

  • Microfiber flat mop

    Microfiber flat mop

  • Floor buffer, fitted with maroon buffing pad

    Floor buffer, fitted with maroon buffing pad

  • vacuum fitted with clean filter

    vacuum fitted with clean filter

  • respirator fitted with organic vapor canisters

    respirator fitted with organic vapor canisters

  • Plastic watering can (no sprinkler head)

    Plastic watering can (no sprinkler head)

  • paint brush - 3-inch

    paint brush – 3-inch

  • Paint roller with extension

    Paint roller with extension

Uh Oh! This Job Calls for A Complete Refinishing

Necessary Materials:

  • Molding Bar or Putty Knife

  • Hammer

  • Masking Tape

  • Plastic Sheeting

  • Pencil

  • Drum or Orbital Sander

  • Sand Paper (30-40, Rough Grit)

  • Sand Paper (50-60, Medium Grit)

  • Sand Paper (80+, Fine Grit)

  • Wood Filler

  • Mineral Spirits (optional)

  • Floor Stain

  • Polyurethane Sealer

Step 1: Prepare The Room For Sanding

Step 1: Prepare The Room For Sanding

Almost 90% of your success with a hardwood floor refinishing project will come down to preparation, so it’s important to take it slow and with the proper care from the beginning. Start by removing the shoe molding — also called quarter-round — around the entire perimeter. Do this by gently inserting a molding bar between the floor and trim, and gently prying it away. Do not use a large crowbar or demolition bar as these will damage the molding. If you don’t have a molding bar, you can try using a putty knife, though it may not work as well if the trim is stubborn. Also, remove any doors that will block wood thresholds, and go over the entire floor carefully searching for nails or other objects protruding up from the floor that may tear or damage a sanding pad. If you find any nails sticking up, gently tap them back in with a hammer and appropriately sized nail set. Make sure to keep track of where the holes are, and if you find any other imperfections keep track of those as well, so you can fill them in after your first round of sanding. When you’re done, make sure to tape off any floor registers so they won’t get scratched if your equipment bumps into them. Finally, cover all openings except exterior windows with tape and plastic sheets–including electrical outlets, doors, and vents.

Step 2: Start Sanding

Step 2: Start Sanding

After you’ve prepped the room, it’s time to start sanding. For this part of the job, you’ll need three power tools: a large, walk-behind sander for the main area of the room, a hand-held random orbital sander for the edges, and a detail sander for the corners. It’s possible to do the corners by hand as well, but it will take significantly more time and effort. Should You Use a Drum or Orbital Sander? Walk-behind sanders come in two varieties: drum and orbital. When deciding which one to use, first consider your experience level. Drum sanders are very aggressive and can be difficult to control, so they are typically not recommended for DIY beginners. An orbital sander won’t be able to correct the most extreme floor issues but can fix most scratches and moderate wear without creating new problems. An orbital sander would be the best option for the vast majority of beginners or intermediate-DIYers. Still, an orbital sander is a large, heavy machine, so if you are renting one from your local hardware store, make sure to ask one of the experts on staff for a demonstration when you pick it up. It’s often a good idea to practice at home before starting. Try it out with just the pads (no sandpaper) on a smooth cement surface, or do a few passes in an inconspicuous area of the room before starting on the main areas. Floor Sanding Round 1: Rough Sanding Do the first pass over the room using the walk-behind orbital with a rough sandpaper. 36-grit is typical, though you can use anything between 30 and 40 grit. Make sure to move the orbital slowly, smoothly, and evenly, and don’t stop in one area for more than a second or two. Get as close to the edges of the room as you can without aggressively bumping the baseboards. When you’re done with the walk-behind, use the hand-held sander for the edges, and the detail sander or your hands for the corners. You’ll want to press as firmly as you can without stalling or slowing down the movement of the sander. When you’re done, vacuum the room to clean up excess dust before moving onto the next pass. Correct Any Flooring Imperfections Now is the time to fill in any nails holes or gouges with a wood filler that matches your floor. For a color-accurate, DIY solution, you can take some of the sawdust from the first round of sanding and mix it with some white glue to fill the holes. Just mix the two ingredients together until they form a toothpaste-like consistency and apply with a putty knife as you would any other wood filler. Floor Sanding Round 2: Smooth Out Rough Edges Next, sand the floor with a medium-grit sandpaper, such as 50 or 60 grit. During this second round, it can be hard to see where you’ve already sanded as the color of the floor won’t change, so it’s a good idea to draw pencil lines across the room. Then, as the pencil is erased by your sanding, you’ll know where you’ve already been. Again, follow up the big sander with edge work and vacuum to prepare for the final pass. Floor Sanding Round 3: Finish Sanding For the final sanding, use at least 80 grit sandpaper. You can even do two rounds if you want the smoothest finish possible–once with 80 grit, and once with 100. Follow up on the edges, and once again vacuum and clean up. This time, take extra care to clean everything thoroughly, as the next step will be to apply a finishing agent. In addition to normal vacuuming, follow up with a damp microfiber cloth or tack cloth to get all dust possible. You may even want to finish with a rag dampened with mineral spirits. The exact method you use isn’t as important as making sure there is absolutely no dust or dirt on the floor that could mar the final finish. It should go without saying though, that you shouldn’t use any oil- or chemical-based cleaners on the floor as they may affect the ability of the final layer to adhere to the wood.

Step 3: Stain Your Floors

Step 3: Stain Your Floors

Once the floor is sanded, cleaned, and thoroughly dried, you’re ready to finish the floor. This is where you can stain the floor if desired, but properly staining hardwood floors is an art unto itself, so it is probably left for a separate article.

Step 4 (The Final Step): Seal Your Floors

Step 4 (The Final Step): Seal Your Floors

Supreme Sealing: Is Water- or Oil-Based Polyurethane Best? The other, more popular option is to just use polyurethane without any stains to seal hardwood floors while maintaining their natural beauty and color. If this is the route you choose, you have two options: oil-based and water-based polyurethane. Neither is superior to the other–it really just comes down to preference. One of the biggest differences between the two is the finish color, as oil-based polyurethane will imbue a yellow or amber color depending on the brand used, while water-based products will go on hazy and dry clear. Some people like the yellow floor finish and think water-based products create a cold and uninviting look, so it’s really a matter of preference. Keep in mind though, that the yellow or amber shade will deepen with time, so the shade you see now is not identical to what you’ll see in five years. In terms of application, each has pros and cons as well.  Water-based products, for example, are thinner, so they will naturally go on more evenly and dry quickly. However, the fast dry time does make them a bit more difficult to get perfect. Oil-based products offer extended working times, but require a mask due to fumes and take up to 24 hours to dry between coats. IMPORTANT NOTE:If you use an oil-based product, make sure to dry any soiled rags separately, or store them in a can covered with water. The natural oxidation that occurs as oils evaporate from a pile of rags can cause a fire under the right conditions! Finally, cost can be a differentiator. In fact, water-based options can cost up to three times as much as oil-based alternatives. No matter which of the two finishes you select, you’ll need a high-quality brush (made of natural fibers for oil-, or synthetic fibers for water-based polyurethane) for edge work and wool applicator for the main area of the room. Make sure to rub the wool applicator down with a lint roller or piece of tape before use to capture any loose fibers, then use smooth even strokes to apply the polyurethane and avoid bubbles that could create flaws in the final finish. Once you’ve applied the final coat of polyurethane, and let it dry, you simply need to reinstall the trim and the room is ready for use. If you’re using oil-based products, it’s recommended to use at least two coats, and at least three for water-based options.



There are some things you need to keep in mind when making this a DIY project:Time:  Work: MessLack of Experience:
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