How To Refinish Hardwood Floors


Make your flooring look like new again over a weekend with just a few sanding and staining tools

Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floors typically last for the life of a home, but eventually they will need refinishing or refurbishing. If your wood flooring is simply dirty from years of use but not worn through to bare wood, refinishing your floors is a fairly simple do-it-yourself project. To get the job done all you really need is a basic drum sander for floors, stain, and lacquer to make the top of the floor look shiny and new again.

If your floors are in bad shape, they may need refurbishing, which typically involves more than just putting a layer of polish on top.

This guide will show the steps you’ll need to follow to refinish your hardwood floors and return them to their original luster.


Remove the shoe molding
Remove the shoe moulding - Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Remove the shoe molding — the quarter round that runs along the floor —to prevent the floor sander banging against it. Pry it off as shown, protecting the baseboard with a piece of scrap wood. If there is no shoe molding, either remove the base molding or take care not to damage it with the sanders.

Fix squeaks and shore up the floor
Fix squeaks and shore up the floor - Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Check for squeaks and nail loose floorboards. The best approach is to nail into a floor joist, not just the subfloor, with 8d finishing nails. Find protruding nails by sliding the blade of a putty knife across the floor. Set the nails and fill the holes with latex wood putty.

Contain the dust
Contain the dust - Refinishing Hardwood Floors

To prevent dust from spreading throughout the house, close off doorways and ductwork with plastic sheeting. Stick strips of masking tape around the edges of closet doors. If possible, pull the dust out a window with a box fan. Wear a dust mask when sanding.

Rough-sand the floor
Rough-sand the floor - Refinishing Hardwood Floors

If the floor itself is in bad shape, start with a drum sander; if it just needs refinishing, use a vibrating sander (Step 6) instead.

Tip: A drum sander is difficult to maneuver until you get the hang of it. Ask the Home Depot tool rental associate for a demonstration and some operating tips, and practice on an old sheet of plywood before you start on your floor. Start with fine sandpaper, and then switch to coarser grades when you’re more comfortable.  

• If the floor itself is in bad shape, start with a drum sander; if it just needs refinishing, use a vibrating sander (Step 6) instead.

• When drum sanding, start with the coarsest sandpaper grit—typically 36 or 40 grit—then switch to 60 grit. Finish with 80 or 100 grit.

•Move the sander along the length of the boards, with the grain. Work it back and forth over 3-4-foot lengths, overlapping strokes by at least 1/3 the belt width.

Sweep and vacuum
Sweep and vacuum - Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Sweep and vacuum between sandings. Always sweep and vacuum before moving on to the next grit of sandpaper. Doing so not only cleans the floor, it also picks up any debris left by the sandpaper that would scratch the results of the finer-grit paper.

Fine-sand the floor
Fine-sand the floor - Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Fine-sand with a vibrating sander (optional). These sanders level minor unevenness left by drum sanders. If you use both tools, use the drum sander for the two coarse grits (36 and 60) and then use the vibrating sander for the medium and fine grits (80 and 100). If you use only the vibrating sander, start with 60-grit, then sand with 80-grit and, finally, with 100-grit.

Sand the edges and corners
Sand the edges and corners - Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Sand corners and edges with an edge sander. The edge sander usually comes as part of the rental. Use 80-grit paper to reach areas that the large sanders fail to reach like corners, under radiators, in small closets, etc. Edge sanders can be difficult to control; practice on a hidden area, such as the inside of a closet, until you get the hang of it.

Finish-sand the edges
Finish-sand the edges - Refinishing Hardwood Floors

A random-orbit sander is easier to control than an edge sander. Use it to finish tight places such as corners. Random-orbit sanders are less aggressive and less likely to gouge. They do an excellent job, at a slower pace.

Apply stain (optional)
Apply stain (optional) - Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Vacuum up all the dust and follow up with a tack cloth. Apply wood stain with a foam applicator pad. Work one manageable area at a time—4 square feet, for example. Always stain in the direction of the wood grain.

Remove excess stain
Remove excess stain - Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Most manufacturers recommend removing excess stain as you go—usually a few minutes after you apply it. Use clean cotton cloths or paper towels. Some finishers prefer wiping the floor with a cotton cloth wrapped around a dry applicator pad. To keep a lamb’s-wool applicator from drying out overnight, store it in a tightly sealed plastic bag. When it is time for the next coat, unwrap the applicator and you are ready to go.

Safety Tip: Store and dispose of oil-soaked rags properly

The heat generated naturally from oily rags can set the rags on fire, especially if they are bunched together or in a closed container. Hang the rags outside, away from any structures, and allow them to dry thoroughly before disposing of them.

Apply finish
Apply finish - Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Allow the stain to dry as recommended before applying the first coat of varnish. Polyurethane, either oil-base or water-base, is a reliable finish for floors. Apply the finish with a lamb’s-wool applicator. Sand the floor lightly with 220-grit paper or #000 steel wool. Vacuum up the dust. Apply three coats of oil-based finish or four coats of water-base finish, sanding in between.