How to Sand Hardwood Floors

Drum sander passing over hardwood floor with orange cord hanging across floor

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

If you have solid hardwood floors and they're looking a little tired, there's no reason you cannot sand them instead of replacing them. Sanding hardwood floors can be an immensely satisfying do-it-yourself experience. With the right preparation, hardwood floor sanding for an average-sized house may be no more than a weekend project.

Things to Know

  • Labor-Intense: Compared to replacing your hardwood floors, which entails significant labor and materials costs, sanding your hardwood floors is relatively cheap; it's primarily labor you're paying for.
  • DIY sanding: Another great aspect of floor-sanding is that anyone with enough motivation and a credit card can rent a professional-quality drum or orbital sander from a local rental yard.
  • Solid hardwood vs. engineered flooring: Keep in mind that if you have engineered wood flooring, you can easily sand all the way through the veneer. With solid hardwood, you likely will not have this problem.
  • Multiple sandings: Solid hardwood flooring can be sanded multiple times but not forever. Depending on the number of sandings and the intensity of the sanding, you can begin to jeopardize the structural integrity of the boards.
  • Hiring Pros: Floor sanding—drum-sanding in particular—is tricky business. Set the rotating drum down on your floor for a fraction of a second too long and you run the risk of gouging deep, irreparable valleys on your beautiful floor. That's why a lot of potential DIY floor sanders end up calling in professional floor refinishers.
  • Orbital vs. drum sander: Orbital floor sanders are simple to operate and handle, compared to drum sanders. Drum sanders are difficult to handle properly and can easily gouge the floor. 

Using a Drum Sander

Sanding your hardwood floor? Think you might need a drum sander? Ask yourself these questions before you go out and rent a drum sander:

  • Is my floor thick enough?: If a floor has been sanded down quite thoroughly in the past, it may not have enough thickness for yet another drum sanding. Check the thickness of the floor surreptitiously in places where pipes may go through the floor—radiator pipes are good locations for this. Keep in mind that edge-sanding may not have been done with as much force as sanding in the center of the floor.
  • Does my floor have major imperfections?: One reason homeowners will drum-sand is that their flooring is discolored or severely gouged or scratched. If this does not describe your flooring, you may not need to drum-sand your hardwood floor.
  • Am I experienced?: Drum-sanding by DIYers is recommended only if you already have experience. The chances are good that you will ruin your first floor with drum-sanding.
  • Am I strong?: You can get a rental yard employee to help you get the drum sander into your vehicle, but what about at the other end? In most cases, you will need a friend to help you haul the drum-sander out of your vehicle.
drum sander to sand wood floors
BanksPhotos/Getty Images

Using an Orbital Sander

When your project doesn't call for heavy-duty equipment, such as a drum sander, you may want to consider sanding your hardwood floors with an orbital sander.

If you're picturing an orbital sander to involve a large, rotating sheet of sandpaper, you may be mistakenly thinking of a floor polisher or buffer. An orbital floor sander does not move in circles. Rather, it's more like a vibrating sander, making short orbits as frequent as 3,450 orbits per minute.

Orbital floor sanders are heavy to pick up. But once they are switched on, they glide effortlessly across your floor.

You won't be able to plane down imperfections in your hardwood floor, as you might do with a drum sander. Then again, you cannot accidentally gouge deep valleys into your flooring, as drum sanders can do.

orbital floor sander
BanksPhotos/Getty Images