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What to expect when sanding and refinishing your floors

Refinishing hardwood floors – What to expect

Refinishing hardwood floors - what to expectSanding and refinishing your flooring is like getting a facelift for your floors.  It’s amazing the impact that refurbishing your floors can have. 


The floors look clean, fresh and smooth, and you even have the ability to change the color.  Many of our customers tell us that they feel like they’ve moved into a whole new home and they feel refreshed and rejuvenated.


I thought it would be helpful to help customers understand what to expect when refinishing their floors – both the process and the end result.

Please note that this article may contain affiliate links.  You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.


Wood is a natural product; do not expect perfection; be realistic

what to expect when you are refinishing hardwood floorsSanding and refinishing can do wonders for your floors.  But, do bear in mind that hardwood is a natural product and therefore, it will not be perfect.  Hardwood has color and graining variation, as well as knots and this is part of its natural beauty. 


If  your floors are very old, or if they aren’t installed well, or if there are water or pet stains, sanding and refinishing will make them look much better, but not perfect (note: there are options for repair – see below). 


If there are gaps in the floor, refinishing the floors will not solve this,(although it may make it slightly better). Just like when you give your face a face lift or a chemical peel, it will refresh your look and rejuvenate your skin, but your skin will never look the same as it did when you were a baby or a little kid.


If your floors are extremely old (e.g. 100+ years) and/or have old pine, these floors may have more imperfections. This is part of the character of the wood (and home) and most people celebrate the natural beauty of the wood (in fact, nowadays many will pay big bucks for new floors that have an antique or even hand-scraped look. 


It’s important to be realistic with your expectations.  And, feel free to ask your local flooring expert about what to expect.


Do expect dust

What to expect when sanding and refinishing your floors?Yes, when you are sanding the floors, dust is created. That is just part of the process and there is no way around it.  However, there are some ways to minimize it. 


We always put plastic around the areas not being done, and our machines are good at collecting a lot of the dust. 


We also vacuum the floors between each coat.  In addition, we do offer a “dustless” machine.  This contains a dust containment center that is placed outside the home, and a vacuum suction tube that syphons it directly to the containment system.  You can read more here:  Dustless sanding vs sandless refinishing.


Please bear in mind that “dustless” sanding is not 100% dustless; nothing is.  It takes care of most of the dust, but you will still need to dust (using either method).  The particles are so fine and released into the air. 


They tend to settle later in the day (or next day) on the window ledges, base molding, chair rails and tops of doors as well as a bit on the wall.  Do plan to do some dusting afterwards.  This is especially important if you are going to be painting, as the surface needs to be clear.  Thankfully, the dust comes off easily with a feather duster and/or swiffer-type dusters.

Timeline – time to do the work, drying time, curing time

gray hardwood oak shawThis can vary based on scope of work (e.g. size of job), type of poly used, whether a stain is used, number of coats of poly, and humidity.  It’s important to plan ahead on your timeline so that you are properly prepared. 


Often, this refinishing hardwood floors may be scheduled before you move into your home or while you are on vacation.  Discuss the specifics with your flooring contractor as things can vary pending on the scope of work.


Generally, it may take about 1 day to sand 1.000 square feet.  So, if you have 2,500-3000 square feet, that would take 3 days.  If there is carpet, vinyl, laminate or tile rip up, this can also add to the timeline (perhaps an extra day or two, but this can vary based on the scope of work). 


Then, it may take anywhere from 2-5 days for the stain and coats of poly to be applied and dry.  (please note that if it’s humid, it could take an extra day or two for drying).  So, based on the scope of work, it could potentially take anywhere from 2 days to 10 days to do the work (the latter end of this assumes 3000 sf, stain w/ 3 coats of poly, and a lot of rip up).  The majority of jobs take 3-6 days, but as I said, this can vary.


After the last coat is applied, you should allow 4 days before you move furniture back and/or put drop cloths on the floor (for painting) or cardboard or masonite boards on the floor.


Please bear in mind that the floors continue to cure and the polyurethane can take up to around 30 days to fully cure.


You can read the full detail about it here:  How long does it take to refinish hardwood floors?


Debbie Gartner The Flooring GirlAre you about to sand your floors? Not sure how long to wait before using them? Avoid these common pitfalls that can impact your floor’s durability!


If you are ripping up the carpet, you may have a few unexpected minor surprises

Familyroom Trends in WestchesterOften, carpet helps protect the hardwood floors underneath.  But, no one has X ray vision, so you can’t see the condition of the hardwood until after the carpeting is removed.  Below outlines a few items you may discover after the carpets are ripped up.

  • Gaps with base molding
  • Damaged areas e.g. from pet stains or water stains from radiators or air conditioning units (could be from previous owners)
  • Occasionally, there are missing sections where repair work was done or walls removed
  • If ripping up carpet on steps, recognize that you will need to paint the stair risers and stringers (as well as spindles)

Sanding and refinishing will not fix gaps in the floor or other “flaws.”

can you refinish pine flooring - westchester NYRefinishing hardwood basically smooths and finishes the wood that is there.  If there are gaps between the boards before the job starts, there will still be gaps afterwards.  It’s not as if you are installing new hardwood. 


If the gaps are minor often these may decrease a tad.  It is not advisable to put in filler (or much of it), especially if the gaps are wide.  Filler often looks fake and does not absorb the stain or poly the same as real wood does. 


Further, wood expands and contracts throughout the seasons, so often, filler in wide gaps will start to pop out in around 6 months.  When customers ask us to put filler in, we warn them that this will occur and that there is no guarantee on the filler.  In fact, you should expect it to pop out.

Please bear in mind that if you are installing new hardwood, there will be color variation in the boards and some knots.  Often, you can not see these until after the polyurethane is applied.  We have had many customers ask us why some boards are lighter or darker in certain areas, or why certain boards are in certain places.


This is because of natural variation in hardwood and this is part of its beauty an uniqueness.  The installers randomize the boards (and this is the best way to do it so that the floors look real and authentic) and you can not tell what the end product will look like until after it is refinished.


Matching color/different species

What to expect when you're sanding and refinishing your floors?Whenever we put stain on the floor, we test the stain color for our customers (unless they can not be there and have given us direction on the color being used). 


The stain colors do come out different on everyone’s floors given the wood species (e.g red oak vs white oak vs fir vs yellow pine, etc), give the grade of wood (e.g. rift and quarter sawn, select grade, No 1, No 2, cabin grade), age of floor and lighting.  In addition, the stain will come out differently on different pieces of wood, given the color, graining and how the wood absorbs the stain. Again, this is all part of the fact that hardwood is a natural product. 


For all of these reasons, it’s best to test the stain color (and often 3 option) to see which color you prefer on your OWN floor once it’s installed.  (It is not very helpful to pretest stain colors on a board as this does not capture the variations that you will see on several board on your floor, nor the lighting aspects.


Sometimes, customers ask us to match the existing color that they have.  This may be because they are only sanding a couple of areas and want it to match, or they may be adding new hardwood.  Matching the existing color is fairly easy to do.  However, finding an “exact” match will never happen. 


Over time, hardwood darkens and the polyurethane amberizes.  In addition, sometimes cleaning products (and/or wax) can slightly change the color.  So if you use the same color in another section and compare it to a section that was refinished 5-10 years, it will never be exact, but it should be fairly close.  Also recognize that if you install new hardwood floors, and these have aged as much as the existing wood of the house, it may also come out slightly different.


westchester brazilian cherry hardwood species in westchesterCustomers need to understand that if they have different wood species in the house, the stain colors will come out differently in different sections.  (e.g. sometimes people have pine (or Douglas Fir) in some areas, and oak in other areas. 


The reason for this is that the woods start out a different colors, they have different undertones (e.g. pines and firs have more red and gold undertones), the graining is different and the way they absorb the stain is different.  So don’t expect the colors of different species to come out the same.  You can test the stain color on the different species to see which combo you prefer.  You can read more about refinishing pine floors here – Can you refinish pine flooring?


Also bear in mind that when new wood is used to repair damaged areas, these pieces will usually be lighter than the existing hardwood as they haven’t aged as much. 


There is a more noticeable color difference in pines (including Douglas Fir) as these wood tend to darken even more than oak, and they have typically been in a house for a longer period of time.  Weaving in of new hardwood often is less noticeable when you use a darker stain.


Please note that we recommend bleaching or using white wash on Douglas Fir or other pine floors.  These floors are naturally more red and goldish in tone, and the resins in these woods do not lend themselves well to a white washed looks.  The resins often cause blotchiness in the floors as they reach with the bleaching agent.


Expect to repaint the base boards AFTER refinishing hardwood

what to expect when you are refinishing floorsSanding & refinishing will scuff up the base boards, and you will get stain (as well as some poly) on the baseboards, so these will need to be painted afterwards. 


Likewise, on the steps, the stair risers (the part you kick) as well as stringers (on the sides where the stair treads fit in) and spindles will need to be painted afterwards. 


If you have removed carpet from the floors, you may also have a gap of where the the paint on the trim is missing. 


In addition, the walls may get scuffed up slightly as the sanders need to use the edgers to get to the ends of floors and occasionally, their elbows can brush up against the walls. If the walls are freshly painted, the paint is more likely to come off.  For these reasons, plan on doing painting or some of the painting touch up AFTER the floors are refinished.

  • And, if you plan to replace the base boards, it’s ideal to remove them BEFORE you refinish the floors, and then install them AFTER you refinish.

top 10 flooring mistakes


Things you should avoid when refinishing floor

  • cost of refinishing hardwood in westchesterAvoid putting tape on the floors.  If you put any sort of tape on the floors, even painter’s tape, it will remove the finish on newly refinished floors.  So don’t do it.  If you are going to put paper on the floor, tape the paper to paper and never to the floor.


  • Wait at least 4 days (after the last coat) before putting either furniture or drop cloths on the floors for oil based poly (for water based poly, wait 2 days)


  • Wait at least 30 days (after last coat) before putting area rugs on floors (2 weeks for water based poly)


  • Avoid having dogs on the floors for at least 2 weeks (1 week for water based poly).  Alternatively, try doggie socks after waiting 48 hours. 
    • Here’s a link to get some Doggie Socks on Amazon.  (While you’re there, you can get some felt pads, too.)

  • Don’t leave the windows open.  This could cause dust or pollen the settle on the floors during the drying process.  And, if it rains, it could potentially lead to water on the floors (as well as slow down the drying process.


  • Avoid having any expensive or delicate paintings or items on the walls that may fall down during the process.  Occasionally these items can fall from the vibrations of the machines, so I think it’s better safe than sorry.


For more information and frequently asked questions about hardwood floor refinishing, check out this article: FAQ – hardwood refinishing.

Other useful articles on Refinishing hardwood floors:


color consultation for paint and stain colorsIf 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’m now offering phone consultations as well.

Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors


What to expect when sanding and refinishing your floors? Westchester County NY


16 thoughts on “What to expect when sanding and refinishing your floors”

  1. Debbie! I’m so pleased to hear the honesty about the dust production.

    Its so funny that you mention about waiting these long periods before furniture or dogs. I use Junckers here in the UK and it says fully cured in 3 days, but i keep getting problems of easy damage within the first 2 weeks of completion.

    Great write up, makes me feel bad about how much info i have on my biz website lol.

    1. Ben – Thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate that! Yes, I so agree…more time is better. The more it cures, the stronger it becomes and I’ve been telling people that more and more.

  2. Most of the people do not give enough time to dry their newly installed floor and it looses their great look very soon. You described every point in details here and I loved it very much. 🙂

  3. I very much appreciate the honesty about the cracks. I just had mine redone and I’m disappointed with the lumps and stray hairs that are stuck in the finish. It def wouldn’t be acceptable in a body shop. I know it’s impossible to be perfect but how much is more than normal?

    1. Tisha – Cracks are normal and natural. You should not have stray hairs and lumps. That sounds like sloppy work. You may need to have them do a screen and recoat to smooth things out.

      1. I recently had our floor done. 3 coats. I have mentioned my concerns of hair, dust and lumps int the surface. Some of the responses I have gotten are; that the industry standard is some hair and dust is normal. Also if I have them buff and do a 4th coat, how long do I have to wait to apply the 4th coat and how much additional time will it take to dry for walking on it and total cure time?

        1. Jackie – Usually do you don’t have this stuff…unless they didn’t vacuum. But, I suppose a tad of dust could settle in the floor from the fine particles that may settle, but usually this is due to poor vacuuming. I’m assuming though that the windows were closed and the fans off and vents closed.

          If it’s not bad, it can usually be solved with a screen & recoat or buffing (same thing). It’s a 1 day process. You can walk on floors (w/ socks) 24 hrs later, furniture can be replaced 4 days later, dogs can go on floor 2 weeks later. Curing will depend on type of poly. Oil based will take 30 days, water borne 2 weeks. You need to wait for area rugs until floors have cured.

  4. Thanks this is all super helpful! 2 questions:

    1) will duraseal oil based polyurethane clear satin finish stain baseboards? We had tape on the baseboards during sanding and staining but it got all messed up so we will have to take it off and vacuum before refinishing. Is it difficult to paint over the finish if it gets on baseboards?

    2) we sleep on a bed without a frame (it goes directly on the hardwood floor). Can we move that in and sleep on it within 4 days of finishing or do we have to wait 30 like with the area rugs?

    1. It’s not hard to paint over the base boards if you get stain or poly on them.

      If your bed goes straight on the floor (so it can’t breathe), you are better off waiting longer. I would guess that 2 weeks would be okay. Make sure almost all odor is gone and use fans more to speed up drying (after 24 hrs) and make sure humidity is low in the area.

  5. Just had my floors done in a house I bought last month. There are a couple spots where you can see the circular sanding marks. I did have them use filler and they had to remove several screws. The holes where the screws were are much lighter and some of them didn’t get filled. Do these things seem normal? They also gouged the paint in the fireplace mantle when they replaced a mirror which I was unhappy about.

    1. Lisa – Sorry to hear this. It doesn’t sound like a very professional job You should not see sand marks. When you do, it’s usually because the installer isn’t very experienced and/or doesn’t have good equipment or both. It also doesn’t sound like the filler was done properly – they should have mixed in some of the saw dust so it matched with the stiain better And, of course if they missed spots, too that’s bad. those spots will prob never match no matter what, but they could have done a better job. And, of course the paint gouging is not the best..but that at least is easy to fix. Regarding the floor, there is really nothing that can be done short of redoing the job of putting area rugs on top of the area (if it works).

  6. We are having our hardwood floors refinished next week. All furniture has been moved into a POD and all household items have been boxed up and stored in basement. Is it necessary to empty hanging clothes from closets? Or can we wrap hanging clothes in plastic? Thanks for any help.

    1. Nancy – Great question. I would definitely remove those clothes. It’ likely some dust will penetrate. You could wrap them and move to basement. Also, here in NY, most closets have hardwood, so they must be removed for the workers so they can properly do their job.

  7. Michelle S Roush

    We recently had to have our floors refinished due to water damage. I don’t know if I’m being unrealistic so here I go. They poly coated late yesterday. The contractor is planning on resetting on Monday and we were told we could move back in tomorrow (@36 he’s after final coat). Coming in to check, I am seeing streaks and lots of dust particles under the poly at the edges. I have also found several pieces of debris in the flooring. On the edges, it looks almost like it’s wet. This is an insurance job so I really don’t know what to expect, but it seems as if this wasn’t a job well done. I won’t even get into the fact that they masked nothing off and removed nothing from the closets except what was on the floors.

    1. Michelle – Regarding time to move furniture back, it depends on poly. 4 full days for oil based, 3 days for water borne. usually you can walk on floors (socks only) after 24 for either, so if you mean to walk on floors to get to bedrooms as move back in, 24 hours is fine.

      All that aside, yes, it does sound like a terrible job, and you’ll need to talk to the contractors today about the problems. They may need to do an extra coat of poly to fix the issues, or if they are too problematic, the floors may need to be redone.

      The quality of the job should not matter if it’s an insurance job or not. it should always be good quality (unless you hire a cheap and incompetent installer.

      If the insurance company recommended them, I would bring it up to them. I would let them know there’s a problem and make sure they will pay extra for your extended hotel stay.

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