What’s the difference between sandless refinishing and dustless sanding?
When it comes to sanding and refinishing floors, many customers ask me about “dustless sanding” and “sandless refinishing” and all other combos of these words. Needless to say, many customers in Westchester (and across the country) have these terms mixed up. It’s no wonder given all the latest gimmicks and new companies that keep popping up.
So this is my attempt to set the record straight and explain the terms – dustless sanding vs. sandless refinishing.
Background: Refinishing hardwood floors – the full sand and refinish
Normally, when you refinish the floors, you sand them. You sand them fully which means sanding them 3 times finer and finer grits, and then it looks like raw hardwood again. From there, you have a choice if you want to change the stain color – you can go natural (with no stain) or choose from a broad spectrum of stain colors from light to dark, reds and browns. And, then from there, you will usually apply 2-3 coats of polyurethane. After 2 coats have been applied, you screen the floors (i.e. buff them) which both smooths the floors and scuffs up the top layer so that the poly will stick in better. This is the full shabang, and afterwards, your floors should look good as new.
A full sand and refinish is what most floors need…unless the floors are in very good shape. But, usually by the time someone calls us, it’s usually time for a full sanding.
Dustless sanding and refinishing
Now, the issue is that sanding creates dust, and it’s messy as it takes the wood down to its core. So, many companies, including my own, offer a “dustless” or “dustfree” option. Now, this name is bit misleading because nothing is 100% dustless, but method does take care of most of the dust. While equipment may vary across the country, generally, this is a specialized machine that has a vacuum suction tube and the tube goes straight outside into a dust containment system (rather than in your room). The negative pressure of the machine takes care of most the dust. It’s a great option for those with allergies (especially if it’s a dust allergy) or those with asthma.
Now, “sandless refinishing” is something completely different. As the name implies, the floors are NOT sanded. Rather, you are just screening/buffing the floors and adding a clear coat of polyurethane on top. It’s basically the last step of a full sanding and refinish (see above). It will not allow you change the color of your floor. And, if there are places where the floors are scratched all the way through the color, or places where the floors have turned gray (as they’ve oxidized after the poly has worn off), a screening will not solve these issues. A screening is just like putting on a clear coat of nail polish on your nails. It the base color has chipped or scratched, that will continue to show even after you add another coat of gloss.
Some people are attracted to sandless refinishing…because it sounds good, and it sounds like they can avoid all the dust and hassle. However, many do not realize that these are two different types of jobs, and more often than not, a full sanding is needed. Sometimes, though, if the floors are in good shape, a screening can work to help protect the floors for longer (before a full sand and refinish is needed). I have had some customers where a full sanding was needed on the first floor which has heavier traffic and only a screening was needed on the 2nd floor. But, this does depend on the condition of the floor.
Many do not realize that sandless refinishing will NOT allow them to change the color of the floor. You can not apply stain on top of the polyurethane. It won’t stick. Rather, you have to full sand the floors so that the stain can penetrate the wood. If you want to change the color of the floor and reduce the dust, then go for Dustless Sanding (see above). If you’re not sure about whether you need a full sanding or a light screening, it’s usually best to consult a professional flooring expert for their opinion.
Other useful articles on refinishing hardwood floors:
Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors, whether they are light or dark
Dustless sanding vs sandless refinishing – What is the difference?