What You Need to Know Before Refinishing Old Hardwood Floors

refinished hardwood floors in white painted home

Martin Deja / Getty Images 

Renewing your old hardwood floor may be easier and cheaper than you think. That's because unlocking a sad floor's hidden beauty doesn't always involve messy sanding and staining, particularly if yours aren't damaged. To decide the best solution that works for your home, here are seven things to consider before renewing or refinishing old hardwood floors.

Are Your Wood Floors Dull as Dirt?

Sure, it's a no-brainer that dirt and dust make floors look dingy. But you may be surprised to learn that when tracked, both leave behind superficial scratches that dull the surface. Fortunately, restoring dirty floors that lost their sheen can be relatively straightforward.

Deep Cleaning is as Easy as One-Two-Three

A good deep cleaning may restore your tired floor's former luster. Here's what to do:

  • Begin by thoroughly sweeping floors with a soft bristle broom like this one. So that you know, stiff bristles can scratch the wood's surface.
  • Next, use a vacuum to remove hard to reach dirt in room corners and between floorboards.
  • Afterward, mop using a micro cloth and concentrated cleaner specially made for hardwood floors. Method Squirt and Mop, and Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner are two good ones. Keep in mind steam, water, vinegar and cleaners like Murphy's Oil Soap that produces suds should never be used to clean wood floors. 

Hardwood floors in high-traffic areas in your home may require a deep cleaning by a flooring professional. Experts like these typically use a scrubbing machine designed to remove embedded dirt.

After deep cleaning your floors, here's what you need to do to keep them in tip-top shape:

  • Surface clean three times per week using a vacuum or micro cloth.
  • Deep clean once per month using a concentrated wood floor cleaner.
  • Professionally deep clean once per year.
3 steps to clean your hardwood floors
Illustration: The Spruce / Elnora Turner

DIY a New Finish Without Sanding

If deep cleaning didn't restore your wood floor's glow, you could give it a fresh new finish without sanding or staining using one of the following products:

  • Rust-Oleum Transformations Wood and Laminate Floor Renewal Kit: It includes everything you need to create a fresh, semi-glossy polyurethane finish without changing your floor's color. Once applied it takes 24 hours to dry, and seven to 14 days to cure. FYI, this stuff is not compatible with waxed wood floors.
  • Minwax Hardwood Floor Reviver: Designed to restore a wood floor's existing polyurethane finish. The high-gloss sheen will last up to six months. 
  • Rejuvenate Wood Floor Restorer: This stuff is created to restore previously sealed old hardwood woods. It's available in both satin and glossy finishes.

Another good to know, products like these that were created to refresh floors without sanding, have a thick consistency that will fill light scratches and soften small dings. 

When Refinishing is the Best Option

Unfortunately, some hardwood floors are beyond quick fixes. Dry, grimy floors with deep scratches and wide gaps like this one need refinishing.

Getting the job done is a lengthy and labor-intensive process. Planning to DIY? You should know each step: sanding, patching, staining, and top coating will take a weekend or more to complete if you're refinishing less than 500 square feet. 

If you want your floors professional refinished, you can find local contractors using several online services like Yelp or Angie's List. Average cost depends on your area, but you can expect to pay at least $3 or $4 per square foot.

You'll want to get bids from three or more companies, which will involve a visit to your home to inspect the floors at no charge. Before deciding which contractors to reach out to, do the following:

  • Read all of their online reviews carefully. Got questions? Message the person who left the review for additional information. Concerned about fake reviews? Authentic ones usually provide details about the user's experience.
  • Check the Better Business Bureau for complaints. But if you spot one, don't assume the worst until you read how the consumer's claim was resolved. Even contractors make mistakes from time to time. But a well-intentioned one will settle customer problems in a professional manner where all parties are satisfied. 
  • Confirm that the contractor is bonded, licensed and insured to work in your area. To do ask for each number and certification, then confirm if all are up to date.

Fixing Those Darn Gaps

Trowel filling after sanding is the easiest way to repair deep gashes, dings, and gaps when refinishing your floors. But if done during the wrong time of year, it's not a long-lasting fix.

Why? In a nutshell, wood compresses during the winter and expands in summer.

When you fill gaps between floorboards when it's cold and dry, the material used is often squeezed out during sultry weather. That's why it's best to fill floors when the humidity is higher during the summer.

But even then trowel filling is not a long time fix, especially when used to patch small crevices where filler can easily come loose. What to do? Only fill larger gaps. Leaving the smaller ones unpatched will accommodate wood expansion.

A trowel on hardwood
Deirdre Sullivan/Manhattan Avenue

What You Need to Know About Dark Floor Stains

If you decide to refinish your wood floors, the fun part is picking a new stain color like rich Mahogany, or dark Oak, which are both very popular right now. The problem is, while you may think darker colors would hide dirt, they make dust particles more noticeable.

Satin or Glossy?

Glossy floors do you look lovely, but stain finishes have been growing in popularity, especially in households with small children. The main reason: compared to their shiny counterparts, it's harder to slip on a satin finish.

Here are a few more floor finishing facts:

  • Waxed floors are not only super slippery, but they also aren't as durable as a urethane-based coating.
  • Water-based polyurethane finishes are low VOC, which means they aren't as stinky or hazardous to inhale as their oil-based counterparts.