11 Tips for Refinishing Hardwood Floors

It’s incredibly satisfying to bring your hardwood floors back to life. Whether it’s beautiful hardwood that has been hiding beneath carpet or hardwood floors you’ve had and enjoyed for years, uncovering and refinishing your floors can revitalize your home. Hardwood flooring has stood the test of time, stylistically and literally, because of its ability to be refinished.

(Credit: patrisyu/Shutterstock)

(Credit: patrisyu/Shutterstock)

Here are 11 aspects of the process you may not have known about.

1. Three Types of Finish

There are three kinds of finishes you can choose from for your floors.

Polyurethane, oil- or water-based. Polyurethane has varying degrees of luster with a plastic-looking finish. It can darken or yellow the wood over time, though some new formulas don’t affect the wood as much. While good for high-moisture or high-traffic areas, it can be extremely difficult to spot-repair if nicked or gouged.

Varnish. Matte-glossy finish. Varnish comes in a variety of lusters, with the higher gloss being most durable. It darkens with age, though more slowly than polyurethane, and is easily spot repaired.

Penetrating sealer. Natural-looking finish that brings out the grain of the wood. Penetrating sealer may also darken over time, but it provides good protection, especially when waxed. It is the least durable of the finishes but the easiest to repair.

(Credit: JaysonPhotography/Shutterstock)

(Credit: JaysonPhotography/Shutterstock)

2. Consider a Professional

Refinishing your hardwood floors yourself may seem like the more economical choice, but it’s labor-intensive. Experience counts, as the slightest blunder can ruin the finish, and you’ll have to start all over. If you buff too hard, you thin the floors. If you buff unevenly, it’ll show, and using excess finish will cause pooling and discoloration.

You certainly can do it yourself, but weigh your options, time and skill level first to determine whether you should hire a professional.

3. Rent Your Equipment

Don’t buy a sander or duster you only use once. Many hardware stores and home improvement centers rent out the equipment you need to cut your costs down. Be sure to buy your own ventilation mask and safety glasses, though! You can always use those again.

(Credit: Twin Design/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Twin Design/Shutterstock)

4. Lifespan of Your Floor

You may not realize it, but hardwood has a lifespan that endures as long as its style. A good wood floor can last 100 years, or about 10 refinishings. A laminate will only endure one refinish.

5. Cost to Refinish

To give you an idea of how much this project will cost, to scuff-sand and recoat a 15×15 room yourself averages $75-$125. To fully sand and refinish averages $125-$150. In the U.S., on average, a professional will charge $310-$330 for a 10×10 room.

6. You May Not Have to Sand

If your wood finish is minimally scratched and the wear doesn’t reach the actual wood, you can get away with just scuff-sanding with a buffer and applying a coat or two of finish to save yourself time and money.

7. 48-Hour Timeline

It’s best to seal floors the same day you sanded them to prevent moisture being absorbed into the wood. Depending on the drying time between finishes, plan on completing your project in one day. Then, give the seal 24 hours to completely dry before putting everything back into the room.

8. Oil Is the Enemy

Unfortunately, you can’t buff a room that has been cleaned or waxed with an oil-based soap. You’ll need to strip it off first with an ammonia and water mixture, or an industrial cleaner. Test a corner of the room for oil by sanding and applying a little finish. If it sets, you’re good to go!

(Credit: Stokkete/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Stokkete/Shutterstock)

9. Keep the Sawdust

If your floor has been gouged or has protruding nails you’ve hammered back in, keep a bag of the sawdust from sanding. You can use this to make a putty to fill in the damage that, once finished, will match the rest of your floor.

10. Use a Sheepskin Applicator

Brushes will streak and rollers will create pools. For the absolute best finish, use a sheepskin applicator so your floors come out smooth and even.

11. Buff and Clean Between Coats

Hardwood floor finishes are different than paint: You can’t keep applying coats. Once a coat dries, gently buff the floor to remove any impurities. Be sure to pick up the dust, preferably with an oil-infused cheesecloth, to keep it out of the finish.

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