How To Refinish Wood Floors

published Aug 24, 2012
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Do you have some gorgeous wood floors that have seen a bit of abuse? Have they been hiding under carpet for years? Getting them professionally refinished is the easiest way to give them a facelift, but you will pay a pretty penny to do so. If you are handy and willing to take on a bit of a project, you can actually go about doing this yourself for just a couple hundred dollars.

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What You Need:

  • Dust Mask

  • Protective Eyewear

  • Respirator

  • Earplugs

  • Terrycloth Mop and Hardwood Floor Cleaner

  • Plastic Sheeting

  • Prybar

  • Paint Roller and Stick

  • 20-60 grit, 120 grit and 220 grit Sandpaper (for your tools)

  • Drum or Orbital Sander and a detail hand sander (rent at hardware store)

  • Sandpaper

  • Shop Vac

  • Interior Stain

  • Polyurehane


1. Begin by removing everything out of the room and taping up outlets, vents, windows and doorways to prevent wood dust from getting everywhere.
2. Remove moldings like quarter rounds so you can work underneath them. No need to remove baseboards unless you will be replacing them anyway.
3. If the wood had carpet over it, you will need to clean up the carpet pad adhesive with an adhesive remover and scraper. At this time, remove all staples from the floor and sink any nails below the floor surface. This will prevent damage to your sanding tools.
4. If your floor has been previously painted, get it tested for lead paint before you start this project. You cannot sand lead paint and may need to just replace the floor at that point.
5. Vacuum the floor.
6. Rent a sander that connects to a shop vac (so it is dustless) from your hardware store or tool rental and buy sandpaper for it. You will need 20-60 grit depending on the damage to your floors (the smaller the grit number, the rougher the paper). You will also need 120 grit for the smoothing process at the end.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

7. The sander will remove a lot of surface from your floor, so the best scenario is if your floors are 3/4″ thick to start. If they are thinner than 1/4″, you shouldn’t refinish them or you will gouge holes in your floor and hit the subfloor. Plank floors are thicker and can be sanded more times than tongue and groove.
8. Sanders are heavy, loud, and awkward, so you will want to practice your movements on some plywood before you get going on your floor. The biggest mistake in DIY floor renovation is gouging the wood. You want to always keep the sander moving (never stay in the same place!) and move forward and backward at a smooth and even pace. So put on all your protective gear and start practicing.
9. Now you are ready to get started. Begin sanding in the center of the room. With your rough grit paper on the sander, sand with the grain from one end of the room to the other, overlapping passes by an inch or two.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

10. Since the sander can’t get around the very edge of the room and into corners, you will need to hand sand those areas. Remember to use the same grit paper.
11. When you have gone over the whole floor, vacuum and repeat with a smaller grit paper, like 60. If you are happy with the floor after the first pass, then go straight to 120 grit paper for the final smoothing process.
12. After the sanding is finished, vacuum and mop up with a dry cloth. Unseal the window coverings.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

13. Open up the windows to get some ventilation, and you are ready for your stain. If you are staining the floor a new color, first use a wood conditioner to help even out the stain. Going with the grain, use a paint roller to roll it on in even strokes. Apply a second coat for a darker color.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

14. Once you are happy with your color, finish up by sealing the floor. You will want to turn your heater on to 70 degrees in order to heat the floor and allow it to take the sealer better and dry correctly. You will coat the polyurethane in the same fashion you did the stain.
15. Let it dry for 24hours, and then lightly hand sand the entire floor with a 220 grit paper. Dry mop the floor and apply your second coat of poly. Let dry another 24 hours and you are DONE!
16. Last but certainly not least, you need a glass of wine for a major job well done.

(Images: 1. Marcia Prentice/Samer’s Streamline Moderne Apartment, 2. Shutterstock, 3. Shutterstock, 4. Kissa on flickr, licensed under Creative Commons, 5. Mattbatt0 on flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)