How to Sand and Refinish a Hardwood 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. Find local pros ++


Choose a Finish

The best floor finish for a do-it-yourselfer is polyurethane. Other floor finishes are either less durable or much more difficult to work with. You’ll find two types of polyurethane at home centers:

The oil-based polyurethanes (or “oil-modified urethanes”) are easier to apply because they dry slowly, giving you more time to spread and smooth the finish. They have a yellowish hue and slowly darken with time, which may be good or bad for staining hardwood floors depending on the look you want as you’re refinishing hardwood floors. The big drawback to oil-based products is the nasty vapor they give off. You must open windows and wear a respirator.

Water-based polyurethanes (or “water-borne urethanes”) are generally a bit more durable than oil-based versions. They have a milky color when wet, but they dry crystal clear and remain clear. The milky color makes them easy to see, so you’re less likely to miss spots while refinishing hardwood floors. Still, water-based products are harder to apply because they dry fast.

NOTE: With either type of polyurethane, be sure it’s recommended for refinishing wood floors before you buy.

Things You’ll Need

  • Stripping agent from a hardware store. Inquire which product will be best for stripping wood floors.
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Steel wool
  • Putty knife
  • Rubber gloves that will not damage when used with stripper.
  • sandpaper
  • Buffing paper
  • Wood stain (color of your choice)
  • Stain spreader (looks like a squeegee)
  • Polyurethane
  • Varnish or oil
  • Dust mask
  • Hammer and nail set (small finish carpenter’s punch)


Vacuum the floor. If chemicals fail to remove all of the varnish, your next step should be to try sanding. For best results, prepare a belt, disk or drum sander with a coarse sandpaper. Put on protective eyewear, as you will experience a lot of dust in your face.

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.

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.

How to Refinish Hardwood Floors Step#5: Sand Lightly

Sand the floor after the first coat is dry using a 220-grit abrasive in a quarter-sheet finishing sander to remove raised grain. You probably won’t feel like doing any more sanding at this stage, but this step is absolutely key. Do not skip it! As the urethane dries it causes microscopic wood fibres to swell, stand up, and harden in the upright position. That’s why your floor will feel rougher after the first coat dries than it did before application. The good news is that this finish sanding doesn’t take long. Just push the sander back and forth along the wood grain as if you were giving a couple of wipes in any given spot and you’re done. Stop and run your hand over the sanded areas and you’ll immediately feel the difference.

Clean the Floor

  • Scrape away any hardened-on dirt with a dull putty knife.
  • Use a scouring pad dampened with mineral spirits for tough areas. If that fails, try a sanding screen.
    • Pro tip: As you clean, use pieces of masking tape to mark any deep scratches, ridges or areas where the finish has worn away. You’ll have to give these trouble spots special attention (see “Problems Areas” below).

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

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