Hardwood floors can add a touch of elegance to any home. However, scratches and stains can take a toll on their appearance. Refinishing hardwood floors can breathe new life into your living space. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to refinish hardwood floors. 


Table of Contents:

  • Why Refinish Hardwood Floors? 
  • How to Know if My Hardwood Floor Needs Refinishing or Replacing
  • Tools Needed
  • Steps to Refinish Hardwood Floors
  • Common Mistakes To Avoid
  • FAQs
  • The Final Word

Why Refinish Hardwood Floors?

Refinishing hardwood floors has various benefits, such as:


  • Improve appearance: Scratches and daily wear can affect the appearance of hardwood floors. Refinishing helps you restore the original luster and color of the wood, enhancing your home’s overall appearance. 
  • Fix damage: From high heels to pet claws, floors bear the brunt of daily life. Refinishing helps fix scratches, dents, and minor imperfections in hardwood floors. 
  • Extend lifespan: Hardwood floors are an investment, and refinishing helps protect that investment. It significantly extends the lifespan of your hardwood floors by making them more resilient to daily wear and tear. 
  • Increase property value: Refinishing hardwood floors can increase your home’s resale value by at least 5%. 
  • Easier maintenance: Refinished hardwood floors are easier to clean. It also prevents dirt and dust from accumulating in crevices. 

How to Know if My Hardwood Floor Needs Refinishing or Replacing

Here’s when your hardwood floor needs refinishing:


  • Visible scratches, dents, and gouges
  • Dull and faded appearance
  • Discoloration
  • Uneven surface
  • Noisy board


Pro tip: A quick water splash test can let you know whether your floor needs refinishing. Splash some water on the floor. If the water gets soaked immediately, the floor needs refinishing. If the droplet beads, you’re good to go with polishing. 


If your hardwood floors are severely damaged, such as multiple cracks, warps, or widespread water damage, you should replace them. You may also have to replace them if the subfloor beneath the hardwood is uneven or damaged.

Tools Needed

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Plastic tarp
  • Painter’s tape
  • Utility knife
  • Pry bar
  • Drum sander (rent from your local home improvement store)
  • Orbital sander (rent)
  • 36-, 60-, and 100-grit sanding sleeve 
  • 36-, 60-, and 100-grit round sandpaper
  • 36-, 60-, and 100-grit sandpaper
  • Pole sander
  • 120-grit sanding screen
  • Adjustable wall mop 
  • Tack cloth
  • Sanding sealer or oil-based interior wood stain
  • Foam roller or pad
  • Water- or oil-based polyurethane sealer 
  • 220-grit sandpaper


Safety gear:

  • Respirator mask 
  • Safety glasses

Steps to Refinish Hardwood Floors

1. Prep the Room  

  • Move furniture and remove all rugs in the room. 
  • Vacuum the floor. 
  • Cover fixtures and appliances with a plastic tarp. If possible, move them to another room. 
  • Cover air vents to prevent dust from getting inside ducts. 
  • Cover electrical outlets with painter’s tape. 
  • If you’re working in only one room, be sure to seal the door with a plastic tarp to prevent dust from spreading to other areas.
  • Open windows for ventilation. 

2. Remove the Baseboard

  • Cut through along the top edges of the baseboard with a utility knife. 
  • Gently pry the baseboard away from the wall by applying even pressure. Start at one end and work your way along the other. 
  • Label the baseboard according to their location so it’s easier to put them back. 

3. Sanding

Sand the Floor

Sanding the entire floor by hand can be difficult and time-consuming. So, we highly recommend renting a drum sander for the job. You can rent it from your local home improvement store. 


To install a sanding sleeve on the drum sander, lift the front cover and slide the sleeve inside. 


Note: If you’re using a drum sander for the first time, practice on something like an old piece of plywood before working on the actual project.


  • Wear a respirator mask and safety glasses. 
  • Turn on the motor and sand along the wood grain. Keep the sander moving to prevent uneven spots. Start with a 36-grit sandpaper, then move to a 60-grit sandpaper, and finish with a 100-grit sandpaper. 
  • Work in 3-foot sections. 
  • Overlap each pass by about 2 inches to remove scratches and for a consistent finish. 
  • Vacuum the floor. 


Note: Make sure to replace the sandpaper at least every 25 feet for a consistent finish. Also, empty the dust bag on the sander when it’s about 75% full for effective performance. 

Sand the Edges

A drum sander is too large for edges and corners. So, use a small orbital sander instead. 


Note: Make sure to practice on an old piece of wood before working on the actual project. 


  • Move the orbital sander along the wood grain and keep it moving to avoid uneven spots. As earlier, start with 36-grit sandpaper, then move to 60-grit, and finish with 100-grit.
  • Avoid tilting the sander to prevent gouging the floor.
  • For areas where the orbital sander can’t reach, like tight corners, sand the surface with your hand. 
  • Vacuum the dust. 

4. Buff the Floor 

Buffing removes sanding scratches and levels out any imperfections on the surface. 


You can use a pole sander for buffing. Attach a 120-grit sanding screen to the pole sander and buff the floor by moving it back and forth along the direction of the wood grain. 

5. Wipe the Walls and Vacuum the Floor

Any dust or debris can affect the finish of the stain. So, make sure to thoroughly clean the walls and vacuum the floor before staining. 


  • Start by wiping the walls with a wall mop so dust won’t fall to the floor when the stain is drying. 
  • Vacuum the floor thoroughly. 
  • Clean the floor with a sticky tack cloth to ensure there’s no dust left behind. 

6. Apply a Sanding Sealer or Wood Stain

If you prefer the look of natural wood, apply a sanding sealer. 


If you’re bored with the color of your floor and want to change it, apply a stain. An oil-based interior wood stain is the best choice for hardwood floors. Here’s how to apply it:


  • Wear a respirator mask and safety glasses. 
  • Use a foam roller or pad to apply the stain. Move the foam roller along the direction of the wood grain. 
  • Work in 3-foot sections. Also, keep the edges wet for a smooth transition from one section to another. 
  • Use a microfiber cloth to wipe excess stain. 
  • Wait 24 hours for the first coat to dry before applying the second coat. 
  • Apply the second coat using the same procedure. 

7. Apply Wood Finish 

Polyurethane sealer is the most popular choice for sealing hardwood floors. It comes in two types:


  • Water-based polyurethane sealer dries quickly and emits little odor. The drawback is that, since it dries quickly, it can be difficult to apply, especially if you’re a beginner. Also, it’s slightly less durable. 
  • Oil-based polyurethane sealer takes longer to dry, which means you get more time to apply. It also provides a better finish and is more durable. However, it emits strong fumes, so proper ventilation is necessary, and don’t forget to wear your respirator mask. 


Follow these steps to apply polyurethane sealer:


  • Vacuum the floor thoroughly and clean it with a tack cloth. 
  • Apply polyurethane sealer with a foam roller. Three coats are necessary. 
  • Let the first coat dry for 24 hours. 
  • Sand the floor lightly with 220-grit sandpaper. 
  • Vacuum the dust. 
  • Repeat the same steps for the remaining two coats. 
  • Reattach the baseboard. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Uneven sanding
  • Using the wrong grit sandpaper
  • Not sanding enough
  • Not cleaning the floor properly before applying the stain
  • Applying stain unevenly
  • Not ventilating the room properly
  • Rushing between coats 



How long does it take to refinish hardwood floors?

Refinishing hardwood floors takes about 6 days, depending on the room size, floor condition, and whether you’re applying the stain.

Can refinishing fix a damaged hardwood floor?

Refinishing can fix scratches, dents, gouges, and other surface damage. However, cracks and structural issues require replacement.

Can I walk on hardwood floors immediately after refinishing?

No. You should wait at least 24 hours before walking and 48 hours before moving the furniture. 

Should I DIY or Hire a Pro to Refinish My Hardwood Floors?

Refinishing hardwood floors is a task that’s best left to the pros. Professionals have the tools and experience to refinish hardwood floors much better and quickly.

If you’re in San Diego county and need help with vinyl plank flooring installation, contact Family Interiors. We can also help you choose the right vinyl plank flooring type and design based on your needs.