Hardwood floors are a classic showstopper in the flooring world. Unfortunately, they're not as maintenance-free as we wish they may be. Hardwood floors typically need to be refinished every 7-10 years, and most hardwood floors are refinished 4-6 times over the course of their lives.
Signs that it may be time to refinish your hardwood can come from their condition: if your flooring is starting to look dull, gray, or hold excessive scratches, you should consider refinishing. Refinishing your hardwood flooring prevents water damage and color loss, and is far more cost-effective than replacing your hardwood flooring. Here's how you can do it.
Step 1: Time to Clean
The first step to nearly any major restoration process is always the same, and cleaning your hardwood floors is no different. After your floors have been cleared of any furniture, sweep them to remove any visible debris or crumbs. Then, clean them with a hardwood floor cleaner and a terry-cloth mop.
Make your own hardwood floor cleaner by mixing a 1/2 cup of white vinegar with a gallon of water. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to cut the harsh smell of the vinegar.
Step 2: Perfect Your Prep
Before you dive into refinishing your flooring, put in the prep work first. Pull up any molding along the floor and set it aside to reinstall once you've finished refinishing. Then, use an orbital sander to sand away corners, edges, or any other tricky spaces where a larger buffer or drum sander wouldn't fit.
Step 3: Let the Sanding Begin
Time to bring out the big guns. Use a floor buffer or drum sander to slowly and evenly sand away the top layer of your hardwood floors. It's important that this is done carefully to avoid uneven patches on the flooring.
"It’s essential to properly sand hardwood floors as the first step in the refinishing process, and it’s where many DIYers go wrong," Melanie Musson, a home restoration expert at Clearsurance, says.
These machines, which can be rented from your local home improvement store, are often bulky and hard to maneuver, so consider practicing on some extra plywood or out-of-the-way flooring before beginning.
Step 4: Go Slow and Steady
Take your time with sanding and make sure you get every last corner.
"Even after plenty of sanding, you will probably see some seemingly insignificant remnants of the floor that once was," Chris Alexakis, certified building contractor and co-founder of Cabinet Select, says. "Don't stop there. Forge ahead with the sanding until the floorboards look spotless. You will notice the difference in the final result."
But, if you do make a mistake in your sanding, or there's a large nick or scratch that you can't sand out, use wood putty to fill in the gouge. Let it dry for 24 hours, then sand to smooth.
Step 5: Vacuum It Up
After sanding, leave the room for 10-20 minutes to let the dust settle. When you return, begin vacuuming away all the excess dust. Even if your sander had a vacuum attachment to suck up dust as you went along, it's important to do it again, as this will make sure all of the dust is gone as is possible. If any dust is left behind, it can leave imperfections in the hardwood floor refinishing.
Don't skimp out on cleaning up—another common problem when refinishing the floors is rushing the cleaning, according to Musson. After you spend hours sanding the floor, it’s easy to rush through the next step, but if you don’t clean thoroughly, you’ll waste your time staining.
Once you've vacuumed, use a slightly damp microfiber cloth pushed against the grain to remove any dust hiding in the wood.
Step 6: Treat the Edges
Once your hardwood floor has been cleaned and dried, it's time to give edges, corners, and other tricky spaces special attention again. If you're staining the floor, go ahead and apply the stain to these spots, working quickly but carefully.
If you're not staining the floor, apply a sealer using the same guidelines.
Step 7: Apply a Stain
You may choose to stain a floor to give it a unique look or change its color. If you are staining your hardwood, use an interior wood stain and follow the manufacturer's directions to apply a few thin and even coats to your flooring. Make sure to apply the stain in the direction of the grain and wipe up excess stain as you go along.
Step 8: Apply a Sealer
A good sealer or finish makes sure all the hard work you've spent refinishing your floors doesn't go to waste. Providing durability and protection against spills and stains, your finish is an important final step in the hardwood refinishing process. Follow the manufacturer's directions for the best effect, and make sure not to let the finish pool or sit too long. You may need to apply multiple coats.
Step 9: Let It Dry
You're nearly done—you may need to wait anywhere from 24 hours to a week to put back your furniture, but the wait is worth it. Once your floors are fully dried and cured, you'll be left with hardwood floors that look new for a portion of the price.
Refinishing your hardwood floors is can be a tricky and lengthy task for any DIYer. "If you don't have a lot of time, hire a professional," Alexakis says. But, there are serious risks that come alongside major sanding and staining projects. Follow these guidelines to stay safe.
- Wear a respirator mask to prevent inhalation of dust and harmful chemicals during the entire process—especially during sanding and staining.
- When using the drum sander or buffer, use eye, and ear protection.
- During the staining process, make sure your space has proper ventilation—this will help with drying times, too.
If You Don't Want to DIY
Don't think you have the time or skills to refinish your hardwood floors yourself? Consider hiring a professional. They'll do all the steps for you, from prep work to sanding to staining.
"If you’re unsure of your floor’s integrity, you may want to hire professionals so you don’t ruin the floor," Musson says. It'll cost you about $3 to $6 a square foot for professionally finished hardwood floors, with the average total cost coming in at $1,780.
The cost to DIY your hardwood floors comes in closer to $500-$1000. The biggest costs involved are renting a sander and purchasing stain and finish.