How to Refinish Hardwood Floors

Revive a wood floor—without sanding and staining. Refinishing hardwood floors will be easy for you with this guide!

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Renew a wood floor in half the time and at half the expense of sanding and staining. The secret is to screen the old finish.

Tools Required

  • Bucket
  • Dust mask
  • Knee pads
  • Paintbrush
  • Putty knife
  • Rags
  • Roller tray
  • Shop vacuum

Materials Required

  • Liquid floor cleaner
  • Mineral spirits
  • Painter's tape
  • Polyurethane floor finish
  • Sanding screen (for drywall)
  • Synthetic steel wool pads

When a wood floor loses its luster, the usual solution is to sand it down to raw wood and completely refinish it. But often, that’s the wrong solution. Refinishing hardwood floors is the right solution.

All wood floors are protected by a clear coating that eventually becomes scratched, scuffed and dull. Hardwood floor refinishing can help you get rid of those unsightly scratches and marks. But as long as the damage is shallow—in the coating and not in the wood itself—you can renew the hardwood floor by adding a new coat of polyurethane right over the old finish.

This how-to refinish wood floors article will show you how to do just that. As with any wood floor refinishing project, 90 percent of this job is preparation. You have to thoroughly clean the floor, touch up any deep scratches and roughen the existing finish with sanding screens so the new finish will adhere well. Expect to spend at least one full day on this prep work for refinishing hardwood floors. The recoating itself usually takes less than an hour.

Recoating takes a lot less time, skill and money than full-scale sanding and refinishing. And although roughing up the existing finish creates plenty of dust, it’s still much less messy than sanding down to bare wood. There’s another advantage you need to know when learning how to sand hardwood floors: Every time you sand a floor down to bare wood, you remove some of the wood. A solid wood floor can be sanded several times before that’s a problem. But laminated floors (glue-down or floating floors) have only a thin layer of good-looking wood veneer over a plywood-like base. The veneer can be sanded once or twice—after that, sanding will expose the plywood core beneath.

Project step-by-step (9)

Step 1

Prepare Test Areas

  • Pick two test areas on the floor: one in a high-traffic zone, the other along a wall or in a closet.
  • Clean each area with a wood floor cleaner and roughen a 6 x 6-inch area with a sanding screen.
  • Wipe away the sanding residue.
  • Mask around the test area.
  • Apply a coat of polyurethane in the masked area.

Prepare Test AreasFamily Handyman

Step 2

Check for Adhesion

  • After the polyurethane has dried 24 hours, scrape a coin across the test areas.
    • Note: If no residue scrapes up, you can refinish with screening instead of sanding. If the finish flakes easily, is cracked or has an orange-peel look, you’ll need to sand before refinishing hardwood floors.

Check for AdhesionFamily HandymanCheck for AdhesionFamily Handyman