Project Guide

How To Refinish Hardwood Floors

Remove the Shoe Base Moulding
An illustration shows shoe moulding being removed from a floor.
  • Remove the shoe base — the piece of quarter-round moulding attached where the floor meets the wall — to prevent the floor sander banging against it.
  • Use a pry bar to pull it out, protecting the baseboard with a piece of scrap wood.
  • Label each piece as you remove them to make it easier to replace them when the floor refinishing is complete.
  • If there is no shoe base moulding, either remove the base moulding or take care not to damage it when operating the sanding machines.
Fix Squeaks and Shore Up the Floor
An illustration shows a nail being driven into a hardwood floor.
  • 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 wood putty.
Contain the Dust
An illustration shows plastic sheeting covering a doorway and a box fan in a window.
  • Sanding hardwood floors generates a lot of dust.
  • To prevent dust from spreading throughout the house, close off doorways and ductwork with plastic sheeting.
  • Wrap any hanging light fixtures with plastic and stick strips of masking tape around the edges of closet doors.
  • Turn off the heating and air to keep dust from blowing around. If possible, set a box fan in an open window to pull the dust outside.
  • Wear a dust mask when sanding.
Rough-Sand the Floor
An illustration shows a drum sander being used to sand a hardwood floor.
  • Use a drum sander along the length of the boards, with the grain. Work it back and forth over 3- to 4-foot lengths, removing scratches with overlapping strokes by at least 1/3 the belt width.
  • Replacing the abrasive belt frequently is part of a good strategy to refinish hardwood floors. A typical belt is effective for about 250 square feet.

Tip: A drum sander can be difficult to maneuver until you get the hang of it. Ask the Home Depot tool rental associate for a demonstration and some operating tips on how to sand hardwood floors, and then practice on an old sheet of plywood before you start on your floors.

  • When drum sanding, start with the coarsest sandpaper — typically 36- or 40-grit — then switch to 60-grit.
  • Follow with 80- and finally 100-grit. Do not skip this progression; jumping ahead to a finer grade will not save you any time needed to refinish hardwood floors.

Tip: Eliminating scratches and stains are among the benefits of refinishing your hardwood floors. Sanding can remove scratches from wear and tear but it's no match for a deep gouge or chip in the hardwood flooring. Sanding can often remove a stain caused by water but staining from pet urine produces dark discoloration deep within the flooring that often does not improve with sanding.

Sweep and Vacuum
An illustration shows dust on a hardwood floor being swept by a broom.
  • Sweep and vacuum between sandings.
  • Always sweep and vacuum the flooring before moving on to the next grit of sanding abrasive.
  • This important step removes any debris left by the sandpaper that could scratch the results of the finer-grit paper.
Sand the Edges and Corners
An illustration shows an edger being used to sand the edge of a hardwood floor.
  • Sand corners, edges and small areas like closet floors, bathrooms or stairs with an edger.
  • An edger can be difficult to control, so practice your technique on scrap wood first.
  • As with the drum sander, start with course-grit paper and then move to finer grades.
  • Each time you’re ready to change grades of on the drum sander, first use the edger using the same grade to keep the entire floor uniform. 
  • If there are small areas of flooring that even the edger cannot reach, removed the old surface with a scraper and some 80- and 100-grit paper by hand to remove the old finish.
Screen Sand the Floor
  • Go over the entire floor with a rented floor buffer fitted with a fine-grit screening pad.
  • This type of sanding will level minor unevenness left by the drum sander and edger and buff away sanding scratches. It might seem like an unnecessary step but this little bit of effort can make your DIY work look like a professional job.
  • The machine will swing to the right or left depending on how you position the handle, making broad arcs across the floor to get a smooth surface.
Remove All Dust
An illustration shows dust on a hardwood floor being swept by a broom.
  • Thoroughly sweep, vacuum and follow up with a tack cloth to remove all dust that you can.
  • Dust and hairs can create imperfections in the finish.
  • You’ve worked hard to refinish hardwood floors up to this point, so be as dust-free as possible while applying the floor finish.
Apply Stain
An illustration shows a person using applying stain to a hardwood floor.
  • Apply wood stain to the flooring with a foam applicator pad.
  • To refinish hardwood floors, work one manageable area at a time — four square feet, for example.
  • Always stain in the direction of the wood grain.
  • Most manufacturers recommend removing excess stain as you go — usually a few minutes after you apply it.
  • Use clean cotton cloths or paper towels to remove excess. Some finishers prefer wiping the floor with a cotton cloth wrapped around a dry applicator pad.
Apply Finish
An illustration shows a finish being applied to a hardwood floor.
  • Allow the stain to dry as recommended before applying the first coat of floor finish.
  • Water-based polyurethane dries fast, which can make it more difficult to work with.
  • Oil-based polyurethane is slower to dry, which gives you more time ensure a smooth coat but the fumes require using of a respirator for organic vapors.
  • Apply the finish with a lamb’s wool applicator.
  • When dry, sand the floor lightly with 220-grit paper or #000 steel wool. Vacuum up the dust.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations; many suggest three coats of oil-based finish or four coats of water-base finish with sanding in between.
  • 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.

Renting the floor sanders increases the cost to refinish hardwood floors but doing it yourself is still less expensive than hiring a flooring contractor or refinishing service. Having a pro do to the job for you is an option if you are unable to devote time for this gratifying DIY project.