This comprehensive guide to refinishing hardwood floors is designed to provide a thorough overview of the process, from initial preparation to final maintenance. While this article doesn’t replace the expertise of a professional hardwood flooring specialist, it offers insights into the refinishing process, standard procedures, and post-refinishing care.

Overview of Hardwood Floor Refinishing

Hardwood floor refinishing is a transformative process involving the removal of the old finish and the reveal of the fresh, raw wood beneath. This raw wood is then coated with a new finish, typically adhering to NWFA (National Wood Flooring Association) standards. Refinishing can breathe new life into old or worn floors and even change the floor’s color or finish to better match your interior decor. In this guide, we’ll delve into the refinishing process, tools, materials, and essential tips.

Preparing the Floor

Before the refinishing process begins, it’s vital to clear the floor of any debris, furniture, and decorations. This meticulous cleaning ensures a pristine outcome, as even tiny particles of dust or debris can mar the finished product. Although professional installers will perform a thorough cleaning, prepping the floor in advance is recommended for the best results.

Belt Sanding / Drum Sanding

The first major step in hardwood floor refinishing involves using a drum sander, a robust machine with a rotating sanding drum powered by an electric motor. Here are the key steps for belt sanding:

  1. Choose the right sandpaper: Select the appropriate grit sandpaper based on the floor’s condition and the desired finish level.
  2. Start the sander: Turn on the sander and commence sanding in straight lines, working systematically across the room.
  3. Keep the sander moving: Maintain consistent pressure and motion to prevent unevenness. Multiple passes with progressively finer sandpaper may be necessary for a smooth finish.


Edging is the process of sanding areas around the floor’s edges and in corners inaccessible to the drum sander. After the main floor sanding, use a smaller, hand-held edger sander for these areas. Follow these steps for edging:

  1. Turn on the edger sander: Start the edger sander and sand in straight lines along the room’s perimeter.
  2. Maintain consistent pressure: Avoid creating dips or unevenness by keeping steady pressure and motion.
  3. Sand the corners: Pay special attention to corners, ensuring they are uniformly sanded.
  4. Vacuum and dust the floor: After sanding, thoroughly clean the floor to remove any remaining debris, fill holes or cracks with wood filler, and sand them smooth.

Buffing / Planetary Sanding

Buffing, done after sanding and refinishing, utilizes a floor buffer to polish and enhance the floor. It helps to remove any missed scratches or imperfections during the sanding process. Typically done with 80 to 120 grit sandpaper or screens, buffing is the final step in hardwood floor refinishing.


Vacuuming between each step is advisable to keep the floor debris-free and prepared for the next phase.

Different Refinishing Options


Staining hardwood floors involves applying colored pigments to alter the wood’s appearance. This can give old floors a fresh look or match the floor’s color with your room decor. After staining, apply a clear finish like polyurethane for protection and shine. Staining can be time-consuming and requires specialized tools, but it results in a durable and aesthetically pleasing floor.

Finish Options

  • Water-Based Floor Finish: Environmentally friendly, clear, and non-yellowing.
  • Oil-Based Finish: Durable, long-lasting, but may yellow over time.
  • Penetrating Finish: Absorbs into the wood for natural, matte finish, ideal for maintaining wood’s appearance.

The Imperfections in Hardwood Floors

Natural wood inherently contains variations in color, grain, and other features. Imperfections such as knots, cracks, and blemishes are part of wood’s charm. Over time, wear and tear can result in scratches and dents. These are normal aspects of wood floors and contribute to their unique character and beauty.

Maintaining Refinished Hardwood Floors

To keep your refinished hardwood floor in great condition:

  • Regularly clean it with a broom or vacuum.
  • Use protective mats and rugs in high-traffic areas.
  • Avoid water damage by promptly drying spills.
  • Protect the floor from furniture with pads.

While refinishing won’t make hardwood floors perfect, it significantly improves their appearance, making them look refreshed and polished. Natural wood variations and imperfections are what make hardwood floors truly special and appealing.