How To Refinish Hardwood Floors Like A Pro

refinishing-hardwoods-diyThe very first project we tackled upon arriving at our new house? Refinishing the floors! Before moving across the country, we actually got a quote to have them finished prior to our arrival… but that would’ve been too easy. I really wish that would’ve been the case, but I had to face the fact that our renovation budget isn’t huge, and the floor money would definitely mean sacrificing something else. We decided to do them ourselves and to my surprise… it was actually pretty simple! If you have the time and are willing to put in a little elbow grease, you can save a ton of money- a significant amount. Our house is 1,200 square feet and it’s pretty much all hardwood… the quote we received was around $4,000 and we spent $600 doing the project ourselves, so we ended up saving $3,400. Pretty insane, right?! Here’s everything you need to know about how to refinish hardwood floors like a pro.

refinishing-hardwood-floors-like-a-proWhat You’ll Need:
Belt Sander (rental from Home Depot)
60, 80, and 120 Grit Sandpaper (the tool rental department will show you what you need!)
Edger Sander (rental from Home Depot)
Shop Vac
Minwax Oil Based Stain (we used Dark Walnut)
Minwax Water Based Oil Modified Polyurethane (we used Clear Satin Finish)
Shop Rags
Stain Application Pads
6″ Smooth Finish Foam Roller
Screen Buffer (rental from Home Depot)
220 Grit Screens (the tool rental department will show you what you need!)
Needle Nose Pliers
Pry Bar


supplies-for-refinishing-hardwood-floorsReady to get started?! I’d recommend setting aside 3 – 4 days to complete this project. It took a little longer than we anticipated, but the results and savings were well worth it.

how-to-refinish-hardwood-floorsStep 1 // Prep your floors for sanding! Remove all carpet tacks, nails, or other objects from the floor. I would also recommend removing all baseboards- this step isn’t necessary, but it makes the project much easier. We’ll be adding new moulding throughout the home, so it totally made sense to trash the existing baseboards prior to the floor project.


how-to-sand-and-refinish-hardwood-floorsStep 2 // Using the belt sander with 60 grit sand paper, begin sanding the floor. Remember to sand with the grain. Next, it’s time to bring out the edge sander. Also using a 60 grit sandpaper, go along the perimeter, edges, and sand the corners of each room adequately. Repeat the process with the belt sander and edge sanders using 80 grit sandpaper, followed by 120 grit sandpaper.


how-to-sand-hardwood-floorsStep 3 // Use the shop vac to clear dust and debris from the floor, then wipe it down.

Step 4 // This step is very important in the staining process… it’s called water popping. It’s the process of wetting the wood to raise the grain, opening the porous surface, allowing the wood to absorb more stain. It will make for a nice, even, saturated color. To do this, soak the scrap rags in water, wring them out, and wipe the floor evenly.

diy-refinishing-hardwoodsStep 5 // It’s time to start staining! Using the Minwax oil based stain, dip an applicator pad into the stain and apply it to the floor with the grain. We started in the corner of each room and worked our way toward the door. After a section is complete, it’s super important to wipe and absorb all excess stain with a clean application pad! I wiped the floor five planks at a time. Don’t be fooled by the roller applicator at the home improvement store. We tried using it for one room and it did not go well. You can control the staining process much easier when done by hand! It’s neater, more even, and takes less time to dry.

staining-hardwood-floorsStep 6 // Allow the single coat of stain to dry at least 24 – 48 hours (this could be more based on humidity or temperature in your location). You can tell from the above image, the floors are still wet.

Step 7 // Apply for the first coat of Poly with a smooth, foam roller. This should be a thin coat! Let it cure for at least 2 hours.


how-to-buff-and-refinish-hardwoodsStep 8 // Buff the floors with the 220 grit screen. After buffing, clean and wipe the floor very well. Now it’s time to apply the second coat of poly! Repeat this process until you have applied 3 or 4 coats of poly. We applied three coats throughout, except for high traffic areas- they received four coats. That’s it! After the application of polyurethane, your floors are complete.

refinishing-hardwood-floors-tutorialThe above image shows my totally finished floors! They might look familiar to you because it’s the exact same color we used in our previous home. A little bit of stain goes a long way and one gallon actually completed both houses! That’s right- we had stain leftover, so to save money we just used the same color.

To make the most of your floors and all the work you put into them, I’d recommend only light use (walking with socks) after 24 hours. In 48 hours, you can move your furniture back onto the floor, but AVOID adding rugs or textiles for at least 7 – 10 days.

how-to-refinish-hardwoodObviously the finished vignettes of my living room are not even close to being done. Next up for the space you’re seeing: paint & restore the fireplace, add a custom built-in, millwork, and moulding! Although the images with Finn may seem like I have my s*** together here… you’re not seeing the other half of the room. It’s a tornado of boxes, bubble wrap, and who knows what else. Either way, Finn has been sliding around on the hardwoods just like he did at our old house and they’re sure to be scratched up soon. They say it adds character? Ha! I’m really happy with how the floors turned out, and am even happier about the room it saved in our budget. You guys can totally do this project! Shoot me questions if you have any.

PS. Find the before images here!

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  1. This is such a great post!! Thanks for sharing. I’ve been curious about the possibility of executing myself, but hadn’t yet researched it. We’re *suppose* to be closing in the next few days on a fixer upper. :)

    1. Yay!! Congratulations! I’m so glad this post could be helpful for your new place. xo

  2. Ann Heltzel says:

    Beautiful! Good job! I love the color. The basket isn’t to shabby either =)

  3. Hi! I love your blog! We have engineering wood on our floors. Do you think we’ll be able to refinish the floors?


    1. Thanks so much, Joyce. Typically with engineered hardwoods, they cannot be refinished because there is only a thin layer of wood. I would check with the manufacturer!

  4. Did you buff the floor after every coat of Polly of just the first coat? Thanks

    1. We just buffed it once after the first coat of polly… but I’m sure if you buffed it more (after every layer), it would only get better!

    2. Are your floors White Oak or Red Oak?

      1. I believe they were red, but we’ve since moved from this house and I can’t remember. Sorry Tracy!

  5. Could you do half a room then finish the other half later? Or would you end up with an overlapping line? I have a hallway that i want to do but we need access to the back of the house so unless we stayed in a hotel for a week (cant afford) theres no way i could do i all at once.

    1. Hi Erin, I would say it’s better to do one full room at a time, but if you can’t make it happen- I’m guessing you could do it in halves. You’d definitely want to be careful about overlapping the stain though, or you would get a dark line in the center. Another option might be to finish the entire room, and put down a roll of carpenters paper to walk on if you had to access that part of the house. Hope this helps! Good luck. xo

  6. Love the floors and your blog! What color is this stain called?

    1. Thanks, Kelly! It’s dark walnut by Minwax. xo

  7. Hi Sarah, thank you for this great tutorial. Do you know if your hardwoods are red oak or white oak? They look like red oak in one of your photos when they are sanded. We have red oak and are hoping to achieve a color like this. We love the color and you did such a fantastic job with the refinishing! Thank you for your help.

    1. Thanks, Lisa! You’re correct- my hardwoods are red oak. Hope this helps! xo

  8. Raleigh Morrison says:

    Ahhhh…these simple step by step instructions are going to help me tremendously! I just completed sanding my hardwood floors and I was not sure what to do next because I just knew sanding them would take away years of wear and tear…Thank You!!!

    1. So happy to help! Good luck staining them, Raleigh. You’ve already completed the hardest part (sanding). xo

  9. Ridley Fitzgerald says:

    It’s great to know the process for refinishing a hardwood floor. I know it doesn’t sound too hard, but there is too much here for me to try and do it myself. I don’t have any of the tools you mentioned either. It looks like I’ll just hire someone to help me with it.

  10. We just bought our first house and are restoring the floors ourselves–your post was so so helpful! Thanks for writing is so clearly :) Did you apply one layer of stain?

    1. Congrats!! So glad you found it helpful. Yes- one layer of stain. xo

  11. Thx-nice post. Does the dark color show up dog prints any more than the gold oak color? I have two 90 lb golden doodles. And, did you spray paint your stone fireplace?

    1. We also have two dogs and I think the color works well to disguise dirt and dog prints. I do mop and vacuum regularly though… if you’re cleaning schedule is different, oak might be a better fit. The stone fireplace is actually no longer there. We demoed it and are building this instead:

  12. Tanya banda says:

    Just wondering about how much did you spend on this project ? I plan to flip a home soon and it’s hardwood throughout, this color is beautiful! You did an awesome job

    1. Thank you so much! We actually had leftover stain from our last home, so we didn’t really pay for anything other than the tool rental. I believe we were under $300. Good luck with your flip home! xo

  13. Thank God for this post! I’m attempting to refinish our hard works floors tomorrow. I’m just curious what is the reason for buffing the floors after the 1st coat of poly?

    1. Nice!! Good luck, Maribeth. The reason for buffing the floors in between coats of poly is to lightly scratch the surface to allow the next coat something to bond to. It also removes any blemishes or debris before applying the next coat.

  14. Also, under the photo under Step 2. I see that your floors have gaps.. and so do ours.. did you fill that with wood filler or no?


    1. Definitely don’t fill it with wood filler! You’ll want to refinish the floors as is or replace damaged planks. Hope this helps!

  15. Did you have any issues with bubbling when applying the polyurethane? I’m using a 6″ foam roller and am on the 1st coat and having to follow with a brush due to bubbling

    1. Hi Kelly, no we didn’t have any bubbling issues. Make sure you’re using a high density, quality foam roller. The same goes for the poly itself… make sure you’re using a good product! Hope this helps.

      1. Yeah that’s what we are using and im not sure if we are going to fast or if they will work themselves out. May I ask, did you pour the poly then push with the roller or dip the roller and roll it on? I’ve seen both done we just aren’t having luck with developing a technique! Thanks for the advice

        1. We poured a line of poly and rolled it out. You can also use a sponge or squeegee.

          1. Thank you so much for the advice. This past has been incredibly helpful with refinishing my floors!

          2. No problem, Kelly! I’m so glad it was helpful. I hope your hardwoods turned out amazing. xo

  16. When you applied the 1st coat of poly was it shiny? We bought clear satin but it seems to be pretty shiny. We haven’t sanded it down yet though.

    1. Hi Kalyn! No, it didn’t dry super shiny at all. It will dull a bit once you buff it. I hope this helps! xo

  17. How long should I wait after water popping to stain?

    1. We did it pretty instantaneously… as soon as it was wiped down.

  18. How have the floors held up over the past year? Could you see it lasting the next 5 years or so? Lots of blemishes from the pups?

    1. They’re holding up great! Of course with dogs there will be some scratches, but this is the same exact flooring we had at our previous home… same species and color. It will definitely last past 5 years.

  19. So now I’m confused. I saw two videos that both said that Water based poly doesn’t have to be buffed and you can recoat all in the same day. “Oil” based poly should be buffed so it will adhear properly.

  20. Hi Sarah! Lovely floors! We have wood floors that we should have refinished, but it’s not in the budget… and my husband really isn’t willing to take on this project… I’m wondering if we could stain some of the parts of our floor that have been worn away by years of chair scraping…. also in some places it looks faded…. can I just go get some stain I think will match and restain, and then go over the whole floor with Rejuvenate? I guess if we screw it up, eventually we are going to have it refinished, but it looks terrible right now…. Thanks for any advice!

    1. Hi Jen, I honestly can’t give you great feedback on filling in places with stain. I’m sure it could be done, but you’d probably want to go light at add / blend as you go so it isn’t as noticeable. Sorry I can’t be more helpful in this area! Good luck!

  21. Beautiful!
    I’d like to keep my floor color. Do you know if I can skip the staining step and put the polyurethane right on the wood?

    1. Thanks Megan! It depends if they’ve already been sealed. It would be more durable to complete the entire process.

  22. I just found your blog! As I am picking my hardwood and paint. Love your style. Can I ask what colors you used on your walls. I seem to gravitate towards mid century modern looks with a splash of old/antique here and there and after weeks of swatching, I cant decide on my whites! BM Cloud 9 in kids room and Farrow & Ball Strong white turned out a bit too green and beige respectively. Your colors look amazing! Help?

  23. Great Post! We just purchased a 1910 Craftsman and are fixing to tackle the original wood floors throughout. Did you buff between each coat of poly and if so how long did each coat take to dry before buffing?

    1. Thanks so much! Yes- you’ll need to buff between each coat of poly. It doesn’t take too long to dry, but just to be safe, we waited around 8 hours. Good luck, Keith!

      1. Thanks, just trying to determine how long to rent buffer.

        1. We rented it for one full day… we did the first pass in the morning, and then another in the evening before returning it. Hope this helps!

  24. How did you keep your fur baby off of the floors while you were doing them?! My dogs would be all up in my business 😫

    1. We actually did them before we officially unpacked our boxes and moved in…. therefore we (and the fur babies too) stayed with a friend for a few days. It was sort of perfect timing! That was the very first project we tackled in our house. Our dogs are super nosey too.

  25. I love the color of this stain! Is it possible to do additional coats f stain to darken it? If so do you buff in between each coat? Thanks!

  26. Those floors turned out great! It’s amazing how much time it takes to do a great job, but it’s so worth it!!

    1. Thank you!! Totally agree Jessie.

  27. Hi SARAH,
    This is exactly what I was looking for! Looks fantastic! I’m a huge hardwood flooring fan. Thanks for posting.

    1. Thank you! I’m really happy it was helpful :)

  28. The whitish area above your step 8, is that from using the buffer or is that the polyurethane?

    1. That is from buffing, Annie! Great question.