How to Refinish Wood Floors (Wood Floor Renewal)

Wood flooring requires occasional refinishing to revive its look and make it more durable. If done well, you will only need to refinish your wood floors about 10 times in a lifetime. If you drop water droplets on the floor and they soak, your floor needs refinishing. If they form beads, your floor only needs cleaning and polishing.

Refinish a wood floor by clearing and preparing the room, then repair, patch, sand, and buff the floor. After that, prepare it for sealing and staining, then stain it if needed. Finally, seal the floor and let it dry for at least 24 hours before using it and 72 hours before placing items on the floor.

Refinishing hardwood floors can be done professionally for about $3-4 per square foot. However, if you’re a daring DIYer with a medium to high level of skills, you can do it for as little as $0.3 per square foot. I’ve done it myself and, though I ran into a few issues, it’s worth the effort.

Vacuuming a wooden floor

How to refinish wood floors

For this procedure, you need the following items:

  • Edge sander
  • Belt or drum floor sander
  • Small leg bar
  • Painter’s tape
  • Wood filler (wood patch or full trowel filler)
  • Respiratory mask
  • Eye protection
  • Sanding pole
  • Shop vacuum
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Stain applicator pads
  • Needle-nosed pliers
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Space knife
  • 40, 60, 80 and 120-grit sandpaper for the sanders
  • 120-grit sanding screen
  • Tack cloth
  • Oil-based stain
  • Smooth foam roller
  • #2 fine steel wool pads
  • Polyurethane sealer
  • Rags

After gathering these supplies, follow these steps:

1. Clear and prepare the room

Start by clearing the room of items such as carpets, rugs, furniture, and electronics. Use painter’s tape to cover electrical boxes to keep out dust. You can also use dedicated socket covers which do a great job. To keep dust and other fumes in one room, use plastic sheeting to cover the doors.

I have an open floor plan and clearing the room is easier since I only have to move items to one side of the house, refinish the empty part, then move them to the empty part to refinish the remaining part.

Remove base molding with the pry bar and staples or nails with the needle-nosed pliers. As you do this, be careful to avoid damaging the base molding or other parts of the floor. Number each piece to avoid confusing them when placing them back.

2. Repair and patch the floor

Depending on the level of damage on your floor, you can use a trowel filler or a wood patch filler. For heavy damage, use the trowel filler applied with a putty knife to cover the whole floor. For mild damage, use a wood patch filler to repair individual spots.

After the filler dries up, wipe the floor with a wet rag to clean it off.

3. Sand the floor

Put on the respiratory mask and eyewear (if you hadn’t already), then bring out the drum sander. If it’s your first time using a drum sander, you’ll need some practice on a piece of plywood since its poor use can damage your floor. It takes about 2 to 3 tries to get the hang of it.

Start with 40-grit sandpaper and sand the floor in slow and steady motions. The 40-grit sandpaper is coarse and removes scratches and other large blemishes on the floor. Each piece of sandpaper should cover about 20 square feet of the floor. Sand the floor to a uniform color.

Since the drum sander does a poor job sanding the edges of the floor, use an edge sander with the same grit of sandpaper to finish the floor. 

Repeat the process with the 60, 80, and 120-grit sandpaper for a finer and finer result on the floor. After that, vacuum the dust and dirt off the floor.

4. Buff the floor

After sanding, its the buffing process which removes the sanding marks and gives you a smooth finish. You can use a floor buffer or a pole sander for this step. In my experience, the pole sander is cheaper and easier to use, although it takes more time.

Buff the floor using a 120-grit sanding screen while moving with the grain in back-and-forth motions.

5. Prepare the floor for a stain or sealer

Finishing a wooden floor is delicate and should be done in the cleanest conditions. Otherwise, you’ll have poor results from small pieces of dirt like dust and hair.

First, wipe the walls to eliminate any dust and debris. Follow up by cleaning the room with a shop vacuum cleaner and then a sticky tack cloth to eliminate all dirt.

Mix 1 part denatured alcohol with 2 parts water, then spray the mix on the floor, covering all parts evenly. This method is called “water popping” and allows for even penetration of the stain in the wood.

After spraying, use a mop to distribute the mixture over the floor evenly. This makes the wood grains rise, ready to accept the stain. Allow 30 minutes for the floor to dry up.

6. Stain or seal the floor

While this is optional, sealing and staining the floor help it last longer. On the one hand, sealing is for keeping the current color and look while keeping off liquids and other substances that may damage the floor. It also makes the floor shiny.

On the other hand, staining is used to change the color of the floor. With this option, you’ll obtain better results with an oil-based stain colored to your choosing.

Use a staining sponge or a lambswool applicator for the best results. Simply dip the sponge in the stain, then wring it of any excess liquid. Apply the stain on the floor with the grains of wood and from the corner farthest from the door. This allows you to leave the room without stepping on the stained floor when you’re done.

Ensure the stain doesn’t pool on the floor. If this occurs, wipe it away. After that, let the floor dry for at least a day. Depending on the quality of the results, you may need to apply a second coat of stain.

To avoid wasting the sealer, always measure your floor before starting the project. After that, check how much of the sealer is needed for your size of the floor then buy just a little extra.

7. Seal the floor

As stated before, sealing protects the floor and makes it shiny. For the best results, use a polyurethane sealer which comes as an oil- or water-based solution. It’s available in different finishes and doesn’t soak into the wood. This makes it a good layer of protection for the wood, as it also needs little maintenance.

To seal the wooden floor, clean it with a shop vacuum and tack cloth, then apply the sealer with a paintbrush and with the grain of the wood. After each coat, let the floor dry up for a few hours, then buff it before applying another coat. Apply the coats until you’re satisfied with the look of the floor. 3 coats are usually enough.

Once you apply the last coat of sealer, let the floor dry for at least 24 hours before stepping on it. Allow at least 72 hours (3 days) before adding furniture and other items into the room.

Besides polyurethane sealers, you can use natural oil finishes and wax to finish a floor. While both are great options, they don’t protect the floor as much as polyurethane does. They also require frequent reapplication, unlike polyurethane.

Conclusion

Since hardwood is one of the best living room flooring, you’ll need to refinish it when it becomes dull. With the steps above, I was able to refinish the floor to my new house which was a bit battered by the previous owner. Looking at it now, you couldn’t tell if it was old and refinished.

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