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How to Refinish Your Hardwood Floors - A Complete Guide

Make your hardwood floors look beautiful and new again

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Has your floor lost its lustre? Does it have nicks and scratches that make it look weary and worn? Are there dark spots and water damage? Is it just looking dull and faded?  It may be time to refinish those floors. 

If your goal is to get a good finish without bringing in professionals or having to take the floor down to bare wood, this article may give you a solution to your problem. We will look at easy DIY solutions that you can do yourself and bring your floors back to a beautiful glow.

Why should you refinish your hardwood floors?

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Refinishing floors is cheaper, takes less time and requires less skill and know-how than replacing a floor or doing a full-scale restoration.  There will still be some work involved and a little mess from the preparation side of the project, but far less than taking the floor down to bare wood. Taking your floor back to bare wood also removes a layer of wood each time. This is okay if you do it once, but it you sand down your floors a few times you are making them thinner and weaker. If laminate floors are sanded down, the veneer is lost quickly and you are left with plywood underneath.

Steps to prepare and refinish your hardwood floor:

Step 1: Clean the floor

Take out all the furniture and rugs so that the entire floor is exposed. Clean the floor with a hardwood floor cleaner or you can use a mixture of 1-part white vinegar to 10 parts water.

 Spray the floor and wipe it down with a towel or terry-cloth mop. Close up the windows and if possible, add a plastic barrier in the doorway to keep the dust from sanding in the room

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Step 2: Prepare the perimeter

All edges, corners and hard to reach spots will need to be hand sanded with a 180-grit sandpaper. Make sure you rub with the grain of the wood. You do not have to sand deeply. Avoid using a sanding block as it won’t sand evenly if the floor has uneven spots. Sand until the wood looks dull and there is a fine dust on the wood.

Step 3: Sand the floor

Wear a dust mask for this part. Use a buffer to scuff-sand the floor. Stay with the grain and ensure the whole floor is sanded. Vacuum the buffing pad every few minutes to keep it functioning optimally. The whole floor should have a dull look when completed.

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Step 4: Vacuum and dry-tack the floor

Once you have finished sanding, take a 10-minute break so that the dust can settle. Vacuum up all the dust, making sure to get into any small cracks and joins. Use a felt-bottomed vacuum attachment if possible, to avoid making any scratches.  

Dry-tack the floor once you have finished vacuuming. Working with the grain, use a microfiber cloth the clean and remove any further dust.

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Step 5: Start with the edges

Wear booties over your shoes. Make sure your mouth and nose are covered with a respirator using organic vapor canisters if you use oil-based polyurethane. Get your choice of finishing products (varnish/polyurethane or penetrating sealer). A painter tray or similar works well to hold the product. 

Using a brush, do the cutting along the baseboard and other areas the roller will not be able to reach. Start on the part furthest away from the doorway. To avoid the floor drying and causing lap marks, switch between edges and rolling out the finish.

Step 6: Rolling on the finish

Pour out a 25mm stripe of finish on the floor. Use a roller with a long handle to roll the finish out on the floor with the grain. Then run the roller in the opposite direction across the grain. Continue with this, overlapping slightly each time so that the edge remains wet.  

Once you catch up to the edging you haven’t completed, stop and do the edging. Then continue rolling out the finish. Alternate every 10 minutes or so to prevent any of the areas drying and causing lines where they meet.  

Keep doing this until the whole floor is done. Work backwards towards the doorway so you can exit after the first coat is complete.  

Leave the floor to dry for a minimum of 3 hours.  You can then do a second coat.  Let the floor remain bare for about a week before moving furniture and mats back into the room.

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Types of finishes available

When choosing the finish for your floor, the two main concerns are durability and the type of look you are going for. Polyurethane is most commonly used by people going the DIY route. It is easy to apply and comes in a variety of lustres (shininess). The finish may produce a slight yellowing or darkening of the wood, but this is less common in the newer products. It works great in areas where there may be moisture and high traffic. It is durable but does require a full refinish if damaged as spot repairs are unlikely to produce a good finish.  

Polyurethane comes in an oil-based or water-based product. Oil based takes longer to dry and gives off vapours requiring a respirator. Water-based products look milky when wet but dry clear. They do however dry fast, making them harder to work with.


Varnish offers high gloss to matte finishes. These products are not as durable and may scuff easier, but spot repairs are easier to do and less noticeable. Penetrating sealer is less durable than polyurethane and varnish but is the easiest to do spot repairs with. It offers a more natural-looking finish and using wax can extend the life of the finish before it needs refinishing.

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Refinishing your floors is a cheaper option to bring your floors back up to a beautiful shine without nicks, scratches, marks and damage caused by foot traffic. Your floor can look amazing without resorting to bringing in professionals. 

You can do the work yourself and end up with floors you can be proud of. Ensure you prepare the products and other items you will need ahead of time and decide on your finish before you start. You can even try out the product on a small, hidden area to make sure that you will be happy with the finished look before you begin. 

There are tips and tricks available on how to cover up or disguise deeper nicks, gouges and cracks that you can check out before you begin so that you get the best results.

For ‘do it yourselfers’ who want to take the next step now that you have refinished your floor, you may want to look into building your own trim and crown molding. If you have a table saw or bandsaw, the process is as simple as cutting the boards to length, sanding and painting.