Refinishing hardwood floors – What to expect
Sanding 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
Sanding 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
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
This 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?
If you are ripping up the carpet, you may have a few unexpected minor surprises
Often, 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.”
Refinishing 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
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.
Customers 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
Sanding & 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.
Things you should avoid when refinishing floor
- Avoid 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.)
- 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:
- Oil vs. Water based polyurethane
- Should you refinish the floors first or paint first – which is best?
- Can you refinish pine floors?
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’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