How to Refinish Hardwood Floors

Lead Image
  • 4-6 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 100-250
What You'll Need
White vinegar
Spray bottle
Towel or cloth mop
180-grit sandpaper
Electric buffer
Dust mask and/or respirator
Microfiber cloth
Wood finish
Paint rollers
Paint brushes

Whether it's from old age or overuse, it doesn't take long before hardwood floors show signs of wear. Depending on the condition, however, you may be able to refinish those hardwood floors without the hassle of sanding down to the bare wood. Hardwood floors are typically coated with a protective layer. If the scratches are on the surface and do not penetrate through the coating, then you do not need to sand to bare wood. Here's a quick guide on how to refinish hardwood floors in five simple steps.

Step 1 - Floor Cleaning

Begin by clearing the floor of all furniture and combining a 10:1 mixture of water to vinegar in a spray bottle. Using a towel or cloth mop, clean the surface of the floor with the mixture. Close all the windows and doors of the house to prevent dust from moving around. You need to get the floor as clean as possible, so you may want to make several passes before proceeding to the next step. This is also a good time to examine the floor and take note of any deep scratches that penetrate through the outer hardwood coating.

Step 2 - Perimeter Work

A hand sanding a wood floor.

Sanding the perimeter will help get those hard-to-reach locations that a buffer can't reach. Work 180-grit sandpaper along the perimeter of the floor, stopping about six inches away from the wall. Try to sand with the grain whenever possible and stop when you notice powder starting to form on top of the hardwood. Avoid using a sanding block on this step because it might not hit uneven spots along the wood.

WARNING: You don't want to get whatever chemicals are inside the floor's protective coating inside your body, so wear a face mask and safety glasses if sanding with a machine sander. Sanding by hand should be fine, as long as you avoid touching your face while working and clean up thoroughly afterward.

Step 3 - Scuffing the Outer Coating

With the perimeter finished, use an electric buffer to scuff up the rest of the hardwood. Wearing a proper dust mask is recommended for this step. Like the sandpaper, run the buffer in the direction of the grain and overlap each pass by around six inches. You should be able to easily tell which sections of the wood are done as the finish will turn into a white powder once you run over it. It's a good idea to stop the buffer in five-minute intervals in order to clean the pad. You can accomplish this step with sandpaper, but you will save a lot of time and energy renting a proper buffer.

Step 4 - Clean and Tack Floor

A hand polishing a wood floor with a microfiber cloth.

Allow the floor to rest for 15 minutes before vacuuming the powder. After vacuuming, use a felt attachment and sweep the floor in all directions to get the last remaining bits of powder. Once the powder has been removed, push a microfiber cloth across the hardwood. This helps tack the floor and enable the new finish to stick better and smoothly.

Step 5 - Apply Finish

Start applying the finish by cutting along the edges of the hardwood floor. You should apply a 3-inch border along the wall as this will cover the area that the roller will not reach. Once that is done, cover your shoes with booties and put on a respirator. Using a roller, pour out the finish directly onto the surface of the wood and roll in the direction of the grain before going across it. Overlap with each new row and continue until the entire floor is finished.


The final coating usually starts to set within 10 minutes, so only pour out as much as you can roll or edge within that time frame. You need to wait at least three house before applying another coat to the surface. The new finish will be fully dry after one week. Depending on the situation, you may need to remove the wall trim before starting this project. If you are unsure how the new finish will look, you can always test it on a small portion of the hardwood floor. If the finish scratches easily, then you probably need to take everything down to the bare wood. Of course, don't forget to check the finish's container for safety instructions, such as whether you need to wear a respirator mask and gloves while applying it.