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.
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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:
- How long does it take to refinish hardwood floors?
- Can you change the color of your hardwood floors?
- Which is better – oil or water based polyurethane?
- How do you eliminate pet stains in hardwood floors?
- The Top 5 hardwood cleaning products…and the one I recommend to my customers.
If you live in Westchester County NY, I offer color consultations to advise customers on paint colors and stain choices. My designer discount at the paint stores usually more than offsets the cost for the hour consultation. Read more here. I’ve now started to offer phone consultations as well.
Did you find my tips helpful? If so, feel free to buy me a coffee and support my blog
Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors
- Bona hardwood floor cleaner
- Felt pads to protect floors
- Office chair mat
- Doggie Socks
Dustless sanding vs sandless refinishing – What is the difference?
24 thoughts on “Dustless sanding vs sandless refinishing – What is the difference?”
Great explanation of the differences between sandless refinishing and dustless sanding Debbie. I used to work sanding and refinishing floors, and the dust could be pretty bad.
Rich – Thank you so much. Yes, dustless is a wonderful option to reduce the dust.
Debbie, you are the national expert on flooring. I always learn something of value for me or my clients from your blog posts.
Lea – Thank you so much. I really appreciate it, and I’m glad it helps your clients, too.
I think I’m going to wish I’d found this website before we had our floors done. We live in Texas just had a gorgeous Hickory floor installed and it looks fantastic-smooth finish but they only put down two coats of (oil-based) poly. Having been in the house for half a day now, I can see where they where there are rough spots in the poly. Are we going to regret them only having done two coats of poly? Also they said we could move back in after 12 hours, so we did-well we waited 17. But the furniture is all moved in. We at least knew to wear socks! Any words of wisdom?
Hi Laura. Sorry for the delayed response. The good news is that you can always add another coat. It stinks that you already moved the furniture back, because all of it would need to be moved out again…but may be you do this soon, the next time you go on vacation.
Also, I’m not sure why they told you that you can move back so fast. Did they use water based poly? I have a hunch they did (based on the time frame and since it’s thinner you can sometimes see more rough spots. water based doesn’t last as long, so if you only have 2 coats water, I would be even more inclined to add another coat. If it was water, you can do at your convenience. If it was water and you want oil, you may have to wait a bit – a least 1 month but maybe as many as 6 months.
We just purchased a 1893 Colonial with Teak floors. We love the floors but the finish was done in matte. Can we opt for sandless refinish if we love all the imperfections but want a stronger poly?
Hi Philip. Great question. If your floors are in good condition, you can do a screen and recoat and change the gloss level. You can choose a different type of finish. (It depends what you mean by imperfections…if the wood has knots, color variation, those will remain…but if you mean the finish has worn off, you may need to do a full sand & refinish so that you properly protect the floors and the poly adheres.) If it’s the former option, a screen and recoat is not sanding & isn’t messy; if it’s the latter, you still have an option to do dustless sanding.
I would be sure to call a reputable flooring store. Teak is rather challenging to work with (moreso than most other woods).
This is really good information that I will share with my clients. We also do hardwood floors refinishing and its a good thing to learn ideas like these.
Thanks so much.
I live in Wilmington, DE – do you know of a company in Wilmington that provides the dustless method. Thank you.
Hi Ernita. I don’t know about flooring companies in Wilmington. I’d suggest you do a search for dustless sanding in Wilmington DE. Or, try Angieslist.com. I hope that helps.
I have brazilian cherry floors that are in very good condition but made the mistake of using a mop & glo product on them. Now they have collected dirt in the finish. Can the sandless refinishing take care of this?
Carol – You will probably need to do a full sand and refinish. Usually those products have wax and leave a film so you can’t just buff them out as the poly won’t adhere properly. Also, as an FYI, those products wear down the poly faster.
Wondered if you know of a good flooring company in San Diego,Ca.? We have a red oak floor that is about 35 years old, in good shape, and it has some water damage from the heat of the dishwasher. We want to refinish the entire floor. I’m very particular and would like to find a company that is highly recommended. Thank you.
Hi Kathie. Unfortunately, I don’t know installers in your area. I would check out Angieslist and Yelp, and ask your friends and maybe your real estate agent.
We have pre-finished hardwood floors that have indentations from shoe heals, scratches and fading near the windows. What do you recommend to get them looking like new again? Thanks in advance.
Lynda – Yes, often prefinished floors show the dents more. The only way to eliminate the dent is to sand and refinish the floors. The fading is (obviously) due to the sun. Use an oil based poly for better protection and consider getting window treatments. You may also see if there is a way to get UV protection on the windows.
We have refinished floors that were just installed in Dec. in Texas. They did not remove all the glue and we were left with a white film. The installer placed a coat of poly which is not peeling. I’ve had bids for screening, as well as using Mr. Sandless. These floors are hand scraped engineered. I’m being told the screening may negatively impact the scraped areas, as well as not remove the poly in the grooves. So what do you recommend screening or Mr Sandless which is a chemical and a brush buffing machine to remove the poly. Thanks so much I’m so confused.
Charley – I don’t blame you for being confused. Truthfully, I don’t think there’s a good answer for you. The issue is fundamental to the installation and the glue should have been removed and and/or sanded off.
You may want to approach the original installers and see what can be done.
I think you’re safer with screening. I’ve heard some really bad feedback on Mr Sandless, so I would not recommend them. They are generally just screening anyway. You need to use a highly reputable place in your area. Check out Angieslist.com for reviews and ask friends, your realtor, etc.
My kitchen floor had linoleum and paper under it. I removed both. Am now down to the black mastic…..now what to do??? Would love to refinish the hardwood under it all.
Hi Judith. I would advise you to call a local professional. They should be able to sand the mastic off. It will take longer and cost more (and they’ll need to use more sanding sheets, but it can be done. As long as hardwood (or pine) underneath is in good condition, they should be able to sand it down. But, as I said, it will cost a bit more, and some places won’t do this, especially if sanding is not their specialty. I would not attempt to do this yourself as it will be difficult and frustrating and you are likely to ruin the wood while doing this.
Hi, are you familiar with a local NYC company that repairs fading and minor scratches with an eco friendly compound that does not require a machine that produces dust? Seems to good to be true, but his reviews are fantastic and so are the customer pictures. Absolutely dust free. Thanks for your input!
Dora – I don’t know which company you’re referring to, but there are some here that do sound too good to be true, and they are. I’ve had many customers complain about the results. Also, if they aren’t sanding, it’s just a temporary fix and generally the waxes they put on the floor cause the polyurethane to degrade more and faster and prevent you from doing a screen and recoat.
In general, I’d recommend that you do a full sand and refinish if you have fading and/or color issues (e.g. from sun, areas that show where area rugs are). That’s the only way to fix the color. If your floors are not bad, you can try a screen and recoat, but that will not address the color issues. https://theflooringgirl.com/blog/hardwood-floors-what-is-a-screen-and-recoat-what-does-buffing-mean.html