Sanding and refinishing an existing hardwood floor might seem like hard work for the average homeowner. All that is needed to get started is the willingness to learn the process and the time to get it done. Often people hire a professional to do the job but might not understand the entire process involved to accomplish what they want. Consider how to refinish hardwood floors and whether this is a task you want to tackle.

Renting Tips

You will need to rent a walk-behind floor sander and a hand-held power edge sander to complete this job. Both of these pieces of equipment should include a vacuum and dust bag system to minimize the amount of dust that is left on the floor. Be sure to wear a protective mask over your eyes and nose, to assure safety. It is also advisable to cover your ears as well. It is best to rent the equipment through a flooring specialty shop rather than a general rental company. That way you can get some expert advice during the process. Be sure to know the dimensions of the room you are refinishing. This will give the rental agent know how many sanding belts and disks you will need to complete the job. Take note that the sandpaper for the walk-behind sander comes in three grades (course, medium, and fine) so make sure you choose the right grade for the wood you are sanding.

Prepping the room

Before you can even begin to think about sanding, you need to get the room ready. Prepping the room goes beyond removing the furniture and covering the doorways with plastic. You also need to cover the air vents, turn off the HVAC system at the thermostat, remove window coverings, remove doors that open into the room, raise low-hanging fixtures so you don’t bump your head and nail down loose boards.

Sanding the floor

Now it’s time to start sanding down the existing finish. Be sure to get into the corners with a paint scraper since the sander won’t be able to reach there.

Fill in nicks

Once the sanding is complete, take a look at the floor. Fill in all nicks and gouges you see. This should be done with wood putty and a broad knife. Follow package directions for allowing an appropriate amount of drying time. Then sand the areas you just filled by hand with a medium or fine grade sandpaper.

Remove dust

Once the sanding of the floor is complete, you need to make sure all of the dust is gone from the floor, molding, and walls. Start by wiping the walls and molding down with a cloth. This way, the dust will fall to the floor and you won’t have to redouble your efforts. Then wipe down the surfaces with a damp rag to remove any residue. To assure no dust falling onto the freshly refinished floors as they’re drying, let the dust settle and then run a vacuum over the floor to pick it all up.


Once the dust is removed, wipe the entire floor with a tack-cloth. You will need to use several of these cloths, as you don’t want to overextend the usefulness of each one.

Choose the finish

There are three types of finish to choose from. Choose based on how durable you need it to be and the final look you want to achieve.

Polyurethane can be either water or oil-based. It comes in a varying degrees of luster and the final look can end up looking like plastic. Polyurethane finishes have a tendency to darken wood, so keep that in mind when making your choice. This finish is ideal for high-traffic and high-moisture areas. This finish is difficult to spot-repair.

Varnish finishes have luster that can range from matte to glossy. As a rule of thumb, the glossier the finish is, the more durable it is. Varnishes will generally darken with age and it is easy to spot-repair.

Penetrating sealer finishes offer a natural-looking finish. This is a great finish for homeowners who are looking to bring out the natural grain of the wood. This finish also darkens with age. This finish is a great sealer, particularly when it is waxed. It is less durable than the other two finishes but it is the easiest to spot-repair.

Sealing the floor

Once you’ve chosen the finish you want, it’s time to get to work. Keep in mind that you’ll want to seal the floor on the same day you do your sanding. Completing both steps on the same day will prevent the surface from absorbing moisture; so be sure to plan your time accordingly. Apply the stain (if you’re using one) and the sealer with a sheepskin applicator. Make sure the application is even, smooth, and not too heavy. Be sure to use a light hand because excess sealer won’t absorb into the wood, rather it will pool on the surface and create a mess.

After sealing the floor

Once the floor is sealed, you’re onto the last few steps. First, buff the floor with steel wool. Be sure to use a fine grade like Number 2. Then vacuum and wipe the floor with a tack-cloth again. Failing to remove all the dust in between coats will make your floor rough and unattractive. Apply the first two coats of finish wax, polyurethane, or varnish. Be sure to precisely follow the package direction regarding drying times between each coat. Apply the final coat of finish. Wait at least 24 hours after the final coat has dried before moving furniture back into the room.

Refinishing hardwood floors is a detailed process and you don’t want to make costly errors. With all the work that goes into refinishing wood floors, it is easy to see why many people choose to hire a professional to get the job done quickly and properly.

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