Can you lightly sand hardwood floors?
Many of my Westchester customers ask me if they can do a “light” sanding of their hardwood flooring. There are many contexts behind this question, and different reasons for asking, and this context is critical to understand before giving a direct answer.
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Sometimes homeowners ask because their floors aren’t in bad condition, they just need to be touched up, refreshed or buffed (i.e a screen and recoat). They are generally looking for quicker, less invasive and less expensive option. Other times, they ask this question because they are concerned about dust that’s created. For these customers, dustless sanding is often a better option.
So, getting back to the question, “Can you do a light sanding?” the short answer to the question is “no.” You either sand the floors or you don’t sand them. You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) sand the floors partially. In fact, this is probably the worst thing you can do.
To fully understand the reasoning behind this, let me briefly explain the sanding and refinishing process. This is the abridged version. First, you sand the floors 3 times, finer and finer grit so that it looks like raw hardwood again. Then, you apply stain (or a coat of poly if you are going natural), then a coat of poly, then you buff the floors, so that you simultaneously smooth and scuff up the floors so that the next coat of poly will stick better. It’s generally around 24 hrs between each coat. You can read the full detail here: How long does it take to sand & refinish hardwood?
If you don’t fully sand the floors down, neither the stain nor polyurethane will properly adhere to the floors. If you attempt this, your floors will peel.
Now, if your floors are in relatively good condition, there is an alternative called a screen and recoat. Some consumers mistakenly call this a light sanding. But, this is really a buffing as it simply scuffs up/removes the top layer. When you buff or screen the floors, you do not sand through to the wood. Rather, you are removing a thin top layer of poly and then adding on a fresh coat of polyurethane.
When do you need to do a full sand & refinish vs. when can you do a screen & recoat?
- If you want to change the color of your hardwood floors, you must do a full sand and refinish.
- If your floors are in bad condition and have worn down to the bare wood, you must do a full sand and refinish (regardless of whether you want same or different color). If you see sections that are gray and/or dark, this is a good sign that it’s time to refinish your hardwood flooring.
- If your floor has deep scratches or scratches that have worn through the color, you really should do a full sand and refinish (if you don’t, anything you do will still maintain those scratches and discoloration.)
- If your floors are in good condition, with only topical scratches (i.e. the scratches have not gone down to the bare wood nor through the stain, then a screen and recoat is a good option.
- If your floors are in good condition, but the finish looks dull and/or you just want to change the sheen or gloss level, a screen and recoat is good option.
- If you are looking for a maintenance program so that your hardwood floors consistently look good and you would like to avoid the process of going through a full sanding, doing a screen and recoat once every 3-4 years is a great idea.
Other useful flooring articles:
- Can you change the color of your hardwood floors?
- Stain color trends on hardwood flooring
- Water vs oil based polyurethane – which is better?
- FAQ’s for hardwood floor refinishing
Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors
Is it possible to do a light sanding on a hardwood floor?