- Verify that you have true hardwood floors and not engineered hardwoods. If it’s an older house and you’re fairly certain the floors are original, this shouldn’t be an issue. Some newer hardwoods have a laminate coating and cannot be refinished, if you are unsure at all, ask a flooring professional to take a look. Saving money is great, but if you ruin your floors, you have saved nothing.
- Verify you don’t have nails coming up through the gaps in the floors, in many cases it may not be possible to refinish these floors unless they only need a very light sanding.
Nail Gun (optional) Only buy if you have other projects you can use it for.
Random Orbit floor sander
Orbital hand sander
Stain (optional) Use stain if you want to change the color of the floor
Stain applicator Needed only if you are staining and white t-shirts work just as well
Personal protective equipment: Safety glasses, gloves, respirator, ear plugs
Warning: Vinyl floors may contain asbestos. If you’re unsure or know you have asbestos, seek help from a professional. Your health is not worth saving a few bucks!
- You’ll first need to remove any quarter round or trim from around the edges of the floor. This is where you nail bar will come in handy. If the trim is in good shape, you can reuse it, so remove it carefully. I’m not very good at gently removing the quarter round, so we usually just end up replacing it.
- If there’s flooring over the hardwoods, you’ll have to remove it. If a glue was used on the old flooring, you’ll want to use an adhesive remover and scrape it up with a putty knife.
- Check for any raised nail heads and use a nail set to countersink the nail heads below the surface.
- Clean the floors thoroughly with the shop vac.
- Turn off the HVAC, close doors, and tape up sheet plastic over hallways and doors where you don’t want sawdust to travel.
- Use painters tape to cover up any electrical outlets and vents. Tape up anything else you don’t want to get sawdust on.
I recommend using a Random Orbital floor sander, especially if this is your first time sanding floors. The drum floor sanders can get the job done faster, but have a greater risk of permanently ruining your floors if used improperly. The buffer floor sanders are the safest but will take forever. Random Orbit floor sanders remove a decent amount of material but are simple to use and less risky. The rest of this article assumes you chose to use a random orbit sander.
Sanding the main floor area:
- Rent a random orbital sander from your local Home Depot or Lowes for around $40-50/day. Here’s a link to the Random Orbital sander we used. You will also need a small orbital sander for the edges. Since we planned on using the sander for other things, we went ahead and purchased a cordless ryobi orbital sander from Home Depot for $40. It’s not going to get the job done as fast as renting one of the edge sanders, but it worked fine for us.
- Start with the lowest grit you can find for the first pass, especially if your floors are heavily soiled. The lowest grit available in store for our sander was around 40-grit, but if you can get even lower, it will save time. Make sure to buy extra sanding discs in case you hit a nail.
- Sand the entire floor moving with the grain of the floors. The random orbit is forgiving so you can get away with going against the grain if needed.
- Avoid letting the sander sit in one spot for too long as to avoid creating dents or grooves in the wood. Once again, using the random orbit sander makes this problem less likely.
- This particular sander comes with a dust collecting bag. It’s important to empty this often and never leave the machine alone with sawdust in the bag as it can combust.
Sanding the edges
- After finishing the main area of the rooms, we need to go around all the edges and sand any areas missed by the floor sander. Using the same grit we used with the floor sander, going around the edges and overlap the area previously sanded.
- Using the shop vac, clean up as much saw dust as possible
- Take a sheet of tack cloth and wipe up any remaining saw dust
Repeat the procedure
- Repeat the previous procedure a second time using 60-grit sanding discs to remove blemishes and scratches. Make sure to clean up and use tack cloth between each sanding.
- Repeat a third and final time using 80-grit or 100-grit sanding discs depending on availability.
- Clean up all remaining saw dust with your shop vac.
- As part of the final clean up, remove all the sheet plastic and tape from around the room to make sure all the saw dust gets knocked down.
- Wipe down the entire flooring area with tack cloths to pick up any remaining saw dust. We need the floors as clean as possible before moving to stain and polyurethane.
Finishing the floors
- You only need to stain the floors if you want to change the color or you have some light stains that weren’t fully removed from sanding.
- First wipe down the floors with mineral spirits, this will cause the fibers in the wood to raise and the stain will soak in better.
- Moving with the grain of the floors, take an old white t-shirt or cotton rag and generously apply stain to the floor. Use the stain brush to apply stain to the edges or any hard-to-reach areas.
- Wipe up all excess stain before moving to the next row.
- Be sure to overlap each row when applying stain.
- Once the entire area has been stained, apply a 2nd coat.
- If you want a darker tone or it looks uneven, you can apply a 3rd coat.
- Once the stain has fully dried, you can move on to sealing the floor. This step is extremely important as it will help protect the floors.
- Use a lambs-wool applicator to apply your sealant, and a brush to cut in the edges. As with the stain, move with the grain and apply sealant in rows along the entire length of the room. Try not to stop without going down the entire length of the room, or you will end up with uneven spots.
- If using the Super Fast Drying Polyurethane by Minwax, you can get away with not sanding between coats, but pay special attention to the instructions. If you try to apply the second coat too soon, it will still be too tacky. You may choose to wait longer and apply coats on separate days, if you do this, lightly sand the floors with 200-220 grit sand paper using a pole sander before applying the next coat.
- For rental properties, I recommend applying 3 coats of polyurethane for extra protection.
- You can walk on the floors after 24 hours, but do not put heavy furniture or drag anything across them for at least 2 weeks as the floors will need time to cure.
Refinishing floors is really not difficult, just time-consuming. It’s up to you to decide if you want to take the time to do it yourself or hire a professional. In our case, we saved thousands of dollars and spent only $300-400 to finish our floors.