Did you know that hardwood floors can increase a home’s value by 3-5%?

If you’re looking to spruce up your home, not only do hardwood floors add value, but they’re an attractive investment.

Over time, hardwood flooring can begin to look worn-looking—scratched and dull from everyday wear and tear. If you have recently removed other flooring to expose hardwood, or if your floor looks as if it has seen better days, you can refinish it.

If you’re wondering how to refinish old hardwood floors, you should know that hardwood floor refinishing is a tough job. You may wish to leave it to the professionals.

Keep reading to learn whether your floors can be refinished, and the steps of hardwood refinishing.

Can My Floors Be Refinished?

Before beginning the refinishing process, you must determine whether your floors are hardwood or engineered.

Thick engineered flooring can be refinished 3-5 times because the top layer is between 4 and 6mm in thickness. If the top layer is 2mm or less, the engineered flooring cannot be fully sanded down. However, you can lightly buff it and then refinish.

If you don’t know which type of flooring you have, take a look at where vents are located and remove the grille. You can also perform this test by looking at an exterior doorway where the metal saddle meets the floor. By looking at the cross-section of wood, you can tell if the board has layers of plywood. If it does, it’s engineered hardwood.

Hardwood floor at 3/4 of an inch thickness can withstand 6-10 refinishings in its lifetime. Older floors that are only 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch thick can only handle it 2-3 times.

If your floors are older and have been refinished a few times already, they typically cannot be fully refinished because they’re too thin.

Once you’ve determined that your floors can be refinished, take these steps to get the job done.

1. Prepare the Room

Before refinishing, you’ll want to prepare the room and the floor for the job. Take the following steps before beginning the refinishing process:

  • Remove all furniture and rugs
  • Find protruding nails and hammer them down
  • Secure loose or squeaky floorboards with finishing nails
  • Remove any debris on the floor
  • Prevent dust from getting into your ductwork by sealing air vent covers
  • Cover doors with plastic sheeting

2. Pull Up Shoe Base Molding

It would help if you pulled up any shoe base molding along the wall before using a sander.

To do so, use a piece of scrap wood to protect the baseboard, then lift the molding with a pry bar. As you remove each piece, label it somehow to make it easier to put it back after you refinish.

If your room doesn’t have shoe base molding, remove base molding, or be careful not to damage it as you sand.

3. Rough-Sand the Floor

Next, use a drum or belt sander on with the grain along the length of the floorboards. Sanding will eliminate scratches and stains from your floor. However, it may not address deep gouges or discolored patches.

To rough-sand, perform the following steps:

  • Use safety goggles, a dust mask, and ear protection
  • Work the drum sander back and forth across the floor (over 3-4-foot lengths)
  • Start with a coarse grit, move to medium grit, then finish with a finer 100 grit
  • Replace the abrasive belt every 250 square feet
  • Remove dust and debris by sweeping and vacuuming the floor between sanding

Using a drum sander isn’t as easy as it looks. If you’re doing this work yourself, practice on a sheet of plywood before using it on your flooring.

4. Sand Corners, Edges, and Small Areas

Sand corners, edges, and other small others with an edger sander.

As you should with a drum sander, practice your sanding technique on scrap wood before you begin using an edger. Always start with coarse-grit paper and move to a finer grit.

If there are areas too small for an edger to reach, manually remove old finish by hand with some 80- and 100-grit sandpaper.

5. Screen-Sand and Clean

Next, screen-sand the flooring using a floor buffer with a fine-grit screening.

Screening smooths out the floors while providing an abrasive surface for the polyurethane to adhere to. Don’t skip this step, as it levels minor unevenness left by other methods of sanding.

Depending on how you position the handle, the buffer will swing to the left or right. After buffing, sweep and vacuum the floor, following up with a tack cloth to remove all of the dust.

Careful not to leave any dust behind, as it can leave flaws in the floor’s finish.

6. Apply Stain

To improve or change the color of your floor, apply an interior wood stain based on the type of flooring you have. To apply stain:

  • Use a foam applicator pad in the direction of the grain
  • Work in small, manageable areas
  • Remove excess stain with clean cloths or paper towels a few minutes after application in each area
  • Allow it to dry according to the stain’s directions

You don’t have to stain. However, if you don’t, use a sealer before applying a finish.

7. Apply Finish

Finally, you can apply a protective coat of flooring finish. Choose your finish:

  • Lacquers or water-based polyurethane finishes dry quickly, which can pose challenges for beginners
  • Oil-based poly wood finish dries slower but produces more fumes
  • Popular wood oils such as teak oil, tung oil, Danish oil, pipe oil, cedar oil, or mineral oil

To apply the finish, follow these steps:

  • Use a lamb’s wool applicator in even lines, avoiding drips
  • Sand lightly between each coat (many finishes can take up to 24 hours to dry)
  • Vacuum any dust before you apply another coat
  • Reattach the shoe guard molding when the last coat dries

When to Hire a Professional

Now that you’re aware of the work refinishing hardwood floors requires, consider whether it’s worth it to do it yourself or hire a professional.

Keep in mind that doing the work yourself requires you to rent sanding tools, which professionals have at their disposal. If you’re not familiar with using these tools, you can cause irreparable damage to your floors, calling for a complete reinstallation.

Incorrectly sanding can cause divots and dips in your floor that a professional cannot fix. You may also sand the floor too deep, shortening the lifespan of your flooring.