Finishing Hardwood Floors

Finishing hardwood floors can be confusing because there are so many products and styles to choose from. There aren’t too many holistic wood floor finishes yet, but there are non-toxic wood floor finish products that are better for the environment than others. Finishing wood floors needs care taken for the best results. Wax wood finishes were the approach used originally as a way of protecting wood, but now you can choose between wood floor stain finishes that penetrate and water and oil based wood floor finishes.

You’ve decided to install hardwood flooring in your home which you know, will add warmth and elegance, as well as increase your home’s value. The next decision you have to make is whether you are leaving the wood unfinished or to put a finishing and protecting seal on it.

Unfinished hardwood flooring is an excellent choice when it comes to hardwood flooring and some of the benefits include:

  • Unique finish
  • Natural characteristics show

Some of the disadvantages of choosing unfinished hardwood flooring, versus prefinished, include:

  • Long installation time
  • Health risk due to finishing dust and fumes
  • Initial off gassing

Unfinished hardwood flooring, although time consuming to install and finish, is the most rewarding when it comes to hardwood flooring. There are two main reasons that finishes are applied to hardwood flooring are:

  1. to protect the wood from damage
  2. to accentuate the wood’s natural color and beauty.

There are also two wood floor finishes that are most commonly used:

  1. penetrating sealer wood floor finishes
  2. surface wood floor finishes.

Applied correctly, either of these finishes will give a satisfactory result.
When finishing hardwood flooring, penetrating sealers are the most commonly used wood floor finishes for residential flooring. As the name suggests, these sealers penetrate into the wood pores. Since sealers are thinned varnishes, they produce a low gloss or satin finish. One coat is of these wood floor finishes is enough but two and three coats will give even better protection. Sealers can be bought as slow drying or fast drying. Fast drying sealers are more difficult to use; brush marks and splotchy finishes can be a problem, consequently these finishes are recommended for expert use only. Slow drying sealers can be used by anyone and produce a high quality finish.
Surface wood floor finishes are easy to apply and include polyurethane, urethane, aluminum oxide finishes, epoxy, wax, varnish, lacquer, and shellac. Polyurethane wood floor finishes are the most popular and have a high resistance to moisture, stains and spills, and wear and tear. Polyurethane wood floor finishes can be purchased as a high gloss or matte finish, and are either moisture cured or oil modified.
Urethane finishes come in two styles; Swedish finish (or acid cure) and water-based. Acid cure urethane is non-yellowing but has a strong odor, but should be applied by an experienced and skilled professional. Water-based urethane is also non-yellowing, dries quickly, and the mild odors go away quickly after the urethane dries in a few hours.
Aluminum oxide finishes are the latest in wood floor finishes. They offer durability and are longer lasting than traditional finishes. The finish is durable enough that it carries a 20 years warranty, but so far is available on prefinished wood floors only.
Epoxy sealant is a strong and durable flooring finish made of polymers. Hiring a skilled professional to apply this finish is advisable because it takes proper mixing and application for optimal success.
Wax is probably the oldest, and possible easiest to apply, wood floor finish. Wax over a penetrating stain gives you a beautiful finish, but you wear the wood rather than the finish, so more effort is required to maintain this style of finish. Shellac and lacquer wood floor finishes dry very quickly but are not as resistant to moisture or spills.
Varnish tends to be a generic term for floor finishes, though at one time it was a product unto itself. It is now based on alkyd, epoxy, phenolic or polyurethane resins, and is available in both matte and glossy finishes. This flooring sealant family tends to scratch easily, showing wear especially in high traffic areas. Varnishes tend to be more difficult to maintain because it’s harder to re-coat sections without the difference between the old and new finishes being obvious.
Shellac is an alcohol-soluble, clear to orange-colored resin derived from lac, a substance secreted by insects found mostly in India. Lacquer is a synthetic coating made by dissolving nitrocellulose, or other cellulose derivatives, with plasticizers in a mixture of solvents. Shellac and lacquer wood floor finishes dry quickly enough that more than one coat can be applied in the same day and used the next day. The thinner used in these products not only makes them faster drying but also explosive. These finishes are not as resistant to moisture, spills, and daily wear as other finish types. Those drawbacks contribute to these finish types not being used much today.
Now that you know what wood floor finishes are available the next step is actually finishing your hardwood flooring and there are a number of precautions that must be adhered to in order to obtain a perfect finish.
Dirt and dust will cause a rough surface so when applying your first coat of wood floor finishes it is essential that your hardwood flooring be clean. Dirt and dust should also be removed from the cracks in your flooring before you begin. Adequate ventilation is a must to ensure that all fumes are dispersed from the room to avoid affecting the person applying it and potential explosions. Non-toxic wood floor finishes can be purchased. Airing the room also rids the room of moisture so it doesn’t have time to settle and raise the wood grain.
When is comes to wood floor finishes, penetrating sealers can be applied using a clean mop. Generous amounts of this sealer should be used, stroking with the grain. Excess sealer can be wiped away with a clean cloth. Once the first coat has been applied it needs to be buffed using No. 2 steel wool. A second coat can be applied but it is not necessary. This is one of the easiest wood floor finishes to apply.
Polyurethane can also be applied with a brush, working with the wood grain. Once the first coat has been applied and had time to dry thoroughly, buffing with steel wool is required. Your hardwood flooring will then require dusting before the application of the final coat.
Varnishes are applied using a soft brush with an even, smooth flow along the grain. It is possible to thin the first coat so it will penetrate the wood. Once applied, the first coat should be sanded using fine sandpaper. Dusting is required before applying the next coat.
Wax wood floor finishes can also be applied. Liquid buffing wax wood floor finishes and wax paste can be used, but you must ensure that the wax you choose has been designed for hardwood floors. The wax wood floor finishes should only be applied after the finish coat has thoroughly dried and should be polished using a machine buffer. Applying wax wood floor finishes will give your hardwood flooring a beautiful shine and a protective film that will prevent dirt from penetrating the finish.
Finishing hardwood floors on site allows you to create your own unique finish and can allow for better uniformity. Finishing hardwood floor on site also makes it easier to match your hardwood flooring and finish with your existing hardwood flooring. You can choose the finish that suits you, and if you want to alter the appearance of your hardwood flooring, wood floor stain finishes can be applied before sealing the wood. Wood floor stain finishes can be purchased as water-based products.
Finishing hardwood floors on site can take on average a week to complete, due to the sanding and finishing process so many people may have to vacate their homes during application. Finishing hardwood floors on site can also cause health hazards if proper safety measures aren’t adhered to. Large volumes of dust are created during the sanding process and proper ventilation is required to prevent allergies or health problems caused by dust and fume inhalation. Non-toxic wood floor finishes can also be used to minimize any allergic reactions.
Although time consuming, finishing hardwood floors on site is a very rewarding process that allows you to create the desired effect for your home. Let’s face it, when it comes to your home, you want the best — don’t you?

136 thoughts on “Finishing Hardwood Floors

  1. Do you have any idea why a polyurethane sealer over a new pine wood floor (unfinished when laid)would fail to cure in four weeks? We’re in rural Texas.
    Would be grateful for suggestions on how to get it to cure so the smell will go away. It was AFM Polyureseal BP, allegedly low VOC, low odor.

  2. I don’t know why that would be. It doesn’t sound normal. Contact the manufacturer and ask them for help. The comment about it smelling makes me wonder what you really got — my low VOC water-based polyurethane had minimal smell when wet and essentially none when dry. The oil-based still stinks after four years though.

  3. I have just had a Red Pine Living Room installed and a sealer was not applied before they put am oil finish on the floor. A Light Walnut colour was
    used and the colour is beautiful but when it is dry there are greyish areas around the knots and
    also along some of the wood pieces. It spoils the
    whole look. Should a sealer have been put on first. Can I sand it with a 120 sand paper and a
    square hand sander. If I apply a Varnish now will
    it cover the grey areas. Hope you can help.

  4. Sorry to hear the beautiful color isn’t universal on your new flooring. Knots take stain and varnish/polyurethane differently than any of the other parts of the wood. You were right in not sealing the wood before staining it because the stain needs raw wood to work with.
    In an inconspicuous area of the floor, try putting another coat of stain on the gray area of the knot, and other gray areas, to see if you like the results better. If it’s better, try another coat until you are pleased with the results. When you are happy, do all of the gray areas the same way. When it’s dry you can seal the floor to keep the beautiful look you want. It also protects the wood itself.

  5. Hi Flooring lady,
    I just moved into a new apartment. Not sure if the management installed new hardwood floor or just polished the old one. However, it looks brand spanking new. Problem is, my whole apartment now smells like new paint or burnish or something to that effect. Will the smell ever go away? I’m alergic to the smell and am finding it a little obnoxious. How do I get rid of this smell? Thank you. – Sunandan.

  6. I’m going to guess the owner/manager refinished them for you. Find out what they used so you can determine how long it’s going to last. If the product is oil based it’s going to last a long time.
    Things I’d do to get rid of the smell, or at least greatly reduce it include:
    * close the apartment up tight, cut an onion and place it cut-side up in a bowl of water in each room, turn the heat high and leave it for several days (assuming you have a place to go in the meantime). You may want to return to replace the onions with fresh ones.
    * if you have the luxury of it, open the windows wide and leave them open as much as you can.
    * put an ozone machine in the apartment and let it do its thing — without you being there — for several days.
    Good luck. Those fumes are bad for everyone. You just happen to be one of the canaries who knows they are harmful, and suffer for it.

  7. Hello. I am in the process of selling my house and the hardwood floors are in rough shape. I would like to save money by not sanding and refinishing them. My question is, can I get by with solely waxing and buffing my floors without having to go through the whole ordeal of sanding etc? Thanks, Chris.

  8. Not being able to see your hardwood floors makes answering your question a bit harder than it would otherwise be, but I’ll give it a shot. Waxing and buffing the floors will improve their “curb appeal” – that first impression potential buyers get. That’s probably what you really are after, making the home more showable.
    I see two possible outcomes, as worst-case scenarios:
    1) you may get a little less for your house than you want because of the shape of the floors.
    2) the buyer may ask you to refinish the floors as a condition of closing.
    On the upside I see the buyer may not care what the floors look like because they are going to do their own flooring when they move it. If that’s the case you have attracted the buyer with the effort you put in but not wasted time and money “fixing” something that’s not broken for them.

  9. I have a question. We are pulling carpet and I am interested in installing hardwood floors. I want to know what the correct process would be to
    stain/seal them using wax.
    Thank you for your help…Jeanne

  10. I have hardwood floors which are being being ruined by my puppy dogs. Scratching and going potty on them, a habit I am having a hard time breaking. What would you suggest to seal the floors and get down into the cracks between each piece of wood? If I had my way, I would make them impenetraitable, like a basketball floor.
    Please help me to purchase use the proper product. I would like to do it myself.
    Help, before I either throw the dogs or the floors out the door. Thanks. Karen

  11. Jeanne,
    I don’t have any experience with using wax finishes on floors. After watching my mother wax her breakfast table and being edgy with how it was treated, I have decided wax is too high maintenance for me and my lifestyle.
    However, I’ll do some research and write and article about it for you and others who may think of going this way with their floor finishing.
    Stay tuned…..

  12. Karen,
    I have really liked Varathane’s Diamond Coat Polyurethane. All of my cabinets, door and window trims were sealed with their furniture formula and I hear their flooring formula is just as good.
    I like it because it applies easily, dries quickly and is hard as nails when it’s cured (a short time). It should coat your floor to make it puppy proof.

  13. Dear Flooring Lady,
    I have a similar question to Sunanden who wrote on March 5 regarding the fumes from newly refinished floors in his apartment. We ahve the same problem in a house we just rented. I don’t know what the product is, though I have asked the landlord to find out. The floors were refinished about three weeks ago. Is it safe to live in the house with that odor. We have a young child and I am concerned that the fumes are harming her. Thank you for your help.

  14. You have just asked the million dollar question: is it safe to live in areas with high VOCs (the odor you smell)? I wish I had a million dollar answer for you.
    As a kid and younger adult I have lived through paint, and carpet and floor sealant fumes with seemingly no damage. But then the houses I lived in with those fumes weren’t as tightly built as today’s home are, or in a world as filled with toxic chemicals as we have today. The future will ultimately tell us how bad this has been for us.
    If any of you are having obvious reactions to the smell, then it’s at least not good for you. Obvious reactions would be stuffy noses or sinuses, sneezing or watering eyes, or even itchiness.
    There may be things your landlord can do to help, if it’s an issue for you. It would be for me too. Let me know if you want suggestions for your landlord.

  15. Dear Flooring Lady,
    We just purchased a 25yr old home and move in June 26. The house is all carpet and has no air conditioning and the original furnace. We are planning to make a lot of changes to the house, first being pulling up the carpet and putting down solid white oak prefinished hardwood in the bedrooms, living room, dining room and family room (approx.1200sqft).
    The problem is we are not planning on installing air conditioning until we replace the furnace which won’t be until August/September.
    We have had people tell us NOT to install in the summer and wait until we get the a/c. Others have told us if we can control the humidity with a dehumidifier it would be okay.
    What is your opinion? Are we risking it by installing this hardwood with no a/c in the dead of summer in southern Ontario (pretty humid)?

  16. You are asking a woman who lives in a high dessert area to talk about humidity? LOL! Well, that’s fair enough.
    I live in a very dry area and have had a bad experience with installing flooring without proper — or at least adequate — acclimatization. The first flooring (cork floating panels) were “acclimated” by opening the boxes of plastic-wrapped panels by slitting the top edge and letting them sit for a few days in the rooms they’d be installed in. We refloored within two years because the panels had started shrinking. The bamboo floors we replaced the cork with sat in our garage for a month or two before being moved into our dining room for four to five months so we could install them without having them shrink.
    You may be facing the opposite problem, but maybe not. Winter and summer humidity conditions vary dramatically, so it seems to me if the flooring sits in your house, room by room, for awhile before getting installed, maybe it’ll be fine regardless of the season. Your flooring should acclimate for as long as you are willing to deal with it in the house before putting it on the floors. You’ll grow to love plywood flooring! Well, maybe not.
    It seems you’ll want to wait one way or another to actually lay the flooring. Humidity and temperatures are the controlling factors of flooring shrinking and expanding. The more seasons it sits through before getting attached to the subfloor the better it will endure what you throw at it.
    Does any of this help you think through what you “need” to do? If not, let’s keep talking.

  17. Hi Flooring Lady,
    I am about to purchase a wood floor that has about 8 coats of plastic finishes on it. The last couple are aluminum oxide. When scratched it turns white and seems to be impossible to get out. I’ve asked around many places and they suggest different things….none of them work. Do you know of anything that does?
    Thanks, Kim

  18. I think I’d pass on this flooring and perhaps consider unfinished hardwood flooring that you finish yourself. Why put yourself through the extra work (and expense!) of stripping it, cleaning it up and refinishing it? You’d actually be saving time because you won’t be having to go thru as many steps to get the results you want. You’d most likely have to sand the floor to get the finish off, even if you used a chemical solvent to strip it, you’re looking at the cost for the chemicals, dealing with the fumes, having to be extra careful to keep the chemicals on the flooring only – not on walls, trim, or YOU! You’d still have to sand afterwards, and to remove ALL of the finish, that’s going to mean you’ll have to sand into the wood to make sure you get all of the sealers off. I don’t know what sealer you’d be using at the end of the process, but some sealers won’t adhere well to other types of sealers and then you’d be back at square one again and very unhappy! Be sure to read thru the other pages here to learn about different kinds of sealers you could use, and if you have more questions, please ask.

  19. hi flooring lady,
    our neighbours recently moved out and our landlord had their floors re-varnished. we share a wall with this apartment in every room of our home, and the fumes are TERRIBLE. we asked our landlord to get us a hotel room for the first night and he refused. after sleeping in the living room with our windows open all night, the smell is still unbearable. i have a lot of allergies and some kidney problems and i’m worried about what this is doing to my body!
    how long will this be off-gassing? what should we do? i’m also worried that the smell will be impossible to get out of our clothes (it’s coming in mostly through the closets.) any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

  20. Good grief Erica! This must be horrible for you and could last for weeks! Here are some suggestions:
    The landlord can do his part to help by closing all the windows and turning the heat high, leaving it that way for several days. Yeah, I know you said he wouldn’t even spring for a one night stay at a hotel…….
    I wonder if your local board of health would have any suggestions? They might even do something!
    Supposedly, placing half of a cut onion, cut side up in a bowl of water will absorb some of the odors. Place one of these in each room and each closet if the closet doors are closed (which I’m guessing they are!).
    An air purifier WILL help. Check out
    http://www.TheGoodAirLady.com to read more about this issue.
    I do hope the off-gassing doesn’t last very long! Feel free to post back about what happens.

  21. Hi! Almost 3 years ago we built our dream vacation house in the NE Georgia mountains. I designed it and acted as general contractor, and our cypress log home exceeded our hopes! (Plus I learned a lot!) The only ‘fly-in-the-ointment’ (other than the budget over-run) were the floors. In the kitchen, baths, foyer we put down Italian porcelain tile ourselves, and everything else is hickory. The young flooring contractor I used did a great job on finding us solid, unfinished hickory, but the problem came with the finish. I wanted the understated, soft glow of antique wood to fit in with the logs and decor, so he suggested finishing with Swedish oil. The floor looks as though it has no finish at all, and EVERYTHING leaves a stain. Any suggestions on what and how to get the look we want with better protection. Thanks for your help, and this great website!
    Connie

  22. Hi Connie,
    Dirty wood floors that don’t come clean is usually because of one of two things: Either the finish (in this case Swedish oil) has not been stripped in too long a period, or the surface finish has worn off and is missing entirely (usually in high traffic areas).
    Are the stains only in the high traffic areas or pretty much everywhere? The finish might just need stripped and re-applied (be sure to use a product that will strip the Swedish oil finish). If the finish is just *gone*, you need to re-finish it. Either way, just to make sure, I’d strip the finish, then see how your stains look. If the stains aren’t too bad, you can consider trying different methods to remove or at least diminish them somewhat (covered at this site too!) or decide to just live with it if you can and finish the floor with the finish of your choice. Do some homework here, I suspect there will be different options that you’ll be happier with.
    Feel free to post back here and let everybody know what you did/didn’t do and how your floors turned out! Wishing you the best of luck…….

  23. Doggoneit! I meant to elaborate on *why* you’d probably find another finish you’d be happier with! (ooh, I need some more coffee!) Swedish oil is formaldehyde based and emits large amounts of formaldehyde and other gases during application and for weeks after causing serious IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) problems. These products usually have very high VOC emission rates and should not be used or specified where IAQ is a concern.
    There’s even natural Walnut oil that’s used to finish wood! It does tend to attract dust, but I thought I’d throw that in since you have walnut floors. :~)

  24. Thanks, TFL. Having been involved in construction/remodeling/house moving (my Dad) since I was a child, I’ve never seen anything like these floors. I LOVE the hickory, but the finish doesn’t do the wood justice. I think the Varathane would be a good alternative. Thanks for mentioning it in other posts. I’ve researched it and like what I’ve read. We have 4 dogs from 8 pounds to 140, so I wanted hickory for its scratch resistance, and I need a comparable finish. I think I was the flooring contractor’s ‘guinea pig’ since he said he’d never used the oil before, and understood immediately it was a mistake. Will sanding and applying Varathane be enough, or is there another step we need to make. I don’t want to change the color of this beautiful wood, just seal and protect it. Thanks again for your invaluable info!
    Connie

  25. Hi, have white berber carpeting down in small condo on the water. want to do hardwood, something dramatic, any suggetions. Condo is only 1,000 sq. ft. lots of windows.

  26. Hi Barbara,
    A friend of mine saw your post and suggested that for drama you could use a couple of wood types and shades to create a pattern. Bamboo is lovely, and she suggested that you could go with the natural, non-carbonized to keep the feeling the white Berber has going.
    On the other hand, I like things to be more contrasting and would opt for something darker to contrast and show off the whiteness of the Berber. I’m a sucker for patterned floors too.
    So there you have it, two totally different views from two people. Hopefully we’ve given you some ideas. Remember though, it’s not what somebody else likes, it’s all about what YOU like.

  27. Hi! I have an older home with some rather ugly vinyl tiles in the kitchen. My initial thought was to lay less ugly vinyl tiles (keeping costs down) and then I decided that laminate wood flooring would be better (I have a 6 year old, 3 cats, and a rather unhandy husband so laminate seems to provide us with an easy option).
    Today I pulled up one of the existing vinyl tiles and found that underneath was painted hardwood. I am assuming it is the same hardwood that runs throughout the rest of the house. The paint seems to peel off easily and the wood seems to be in good condition. I am wondering now if it would make sense to refinish the existing hardwood that is in the kitchen under the tiles. However, my biggest concern is the use of chemicals and the need to keep both children and pets out of the room for several days. Are there natural alternatives for use on hardwood floors in the kitchen or is my best option to just install the laminate?

  28. Hi Julia,
    First things first………. how old is your home? The reason why I’m asking is because you mentioned that the hardwood flooring was painted over and it’s peeling off, making me wonder about the possibility of lead paint. IF you are seriously considering the idea of stripping the paint, you need to have a piece of the peeling paint tested for lead before you do anything else.
    IF it tests positive for lead, then you will need to cover it, not try to get it up (Well, you can, but it’s very costly, should only be done by a professional and you’ll most likely have to evacuate your house while it’s being done – it’s all a headache!) I’m sure you’re aware of the dangers of lead poisoning, especially in children.
    There’s not much point in figuring out which way to go with your floors until you find out if the old paint contains lead……….

  29. Thanks Flooring Lady!
    I can’t believe I didn’t even think of lead paint! I should know better! I think we are leaning toward the laminate wood flooring – it requires no chemicals or dry time and the finished product looks so good. Thanks again for your help!
    Julia

  30. Hello, I am considering having my hardwood floors refinished but am concerned whether the polyurethane finishing process and lingering smell would have any negative health effects on my two cats who will have to be in the basement for the duration of the project.

  31. I am looking for a single or multiple part high gloss clear epoxy finish for wood flooring. A stained matte would also be ok. O have tried water and oil based polyurethanes but have no luck in the very high traffic areas. I have 4 very large dogs that play roughly leaving scuffs and scratches. Do you have a recommendation for an epoxy clear high gloss as I feel it is more durable?

  32. Hi Chris,
    I don’t have a personal recommendation as to what brand of epoxy finish to use because I’ve never needed to go that route. I can suggest though, that you try something that’s more of a commercial grade, something geared more for commercial flooring, and also using your favorite search engine to find some product manufacturers and then investigating to see if any of these products are what you may want.

  33. Hi, am having hardwood floors white oak in my condo…lots of light in rooms, we are on the water. Am thinking of doing a dramatic ebony color…with lots of white furnishings..no kids, no pets, what do you think!! thanks

  34. Hi, thanks for your quick response…any suggestions as too the mixture for the stain…the guys is coming next week to start installation…I would like to see some grain in the wood, not a solid color! Alittle nervous..have never done hardwood floors before!! But I am rather daring!!! Your advice is appreciated thanks!

  35. I have what I think is latex painted pine flooring in the master bath. It’s part of an addition the former owners of the house did a few years back. I would like to get that flooring to match the original oak floors in the house. would it be worth it to strip and stain the pine to match the oak or put in new flooring?

  36. Hi Hunter!
    Yes, I think it’d be worth it to take on that task. The worst that could happen is that there was a very real reason the previous owners painted the wood floor and then you would still have the option of tearing it out and laying down a new floor.

  37. I’m moving into a home with dark Brazilian maple flooring installed in living room and kitchen approx 2 years ago. Not sure if the floor has polyurethane finish and I’m concerned about water drop stains. Can I apply anything over the existing floor to seal for sure?

  38. Hi Karen,
    I’m not so sure I’d worry about sealing it with another product at this point until you find out if the floor repels water ok or not. I would presume the flooring is also under the appliances? Find an inconspicuous spot (like under one of the appliances), place a couple drops of water on the floor and see what happens. Chances are the previous owners used a product that will hold up to being in a kitchen – where spills are very likely to happen. I would think that the agent could check with the previous owners as well.

  39. Hi Louis,
    I don’t know which floor stain you’re referring to. If you’re wondering about floor stains in general, you can always check Lowe’s, Home Depot, True Value, etc.
    If you’re wondering about a specific brand, please post back and I’ll try to help further.

  40. Where can I find a urethane that is not fast drying? I have looked at the box stores and the local paint stores, all have fast drying urethane.

  41. We have red oak flooring in our home. Most of the finish has worn off and the bare wood is exposed. I am interested in sanding the remaining finish off then cleaning the floor and using a paste wax finish. I have not been able to find any articles on this so I am not sure if it will ruin the floor. We will eventually have a professional company come in to refinish the floors but would like something that looks nice in the meantime. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks very much for any help!

  42. Hi Christine,
    Actually, you might want to try it yourself using a product like Diamond Coat Varathane Polyurethane — they even have a floor refinishing kit (on the 2nd page of their products). Think about it, it’s not really anything different than what a ‘professional’ would do. If you still really want to pay somebody to refinish your floors, they’re going to have to strip off the paste wax or whatever else you’ve used on your floor.

  43. Thank you for the product link, I am going to look for it tonight. There are a couple of water spots along with some chips in the entry way. Will this prduct still work? I like the look of worn floors so I dont mind the chips and variations in color. Most people advised me to sand before refinishing and thats why I was looking into just waxing the floors as a temporary solution. Thanks again for the help!

  44. Hi, I am refinishing hardwood floors. I have already sanded and I am now ready to put on a finish.
    I am using a water base, swedish formula. Do I need to seal the floors before I put on the finish?
    Thank you
    Cheryl

  45. Different products have different recommendations. Since I don’t know what product you are using, it’d be best for you to call the product’s manufacturer and ask them. There’s most likely a toll-free phone number on the container and they most likely have a website with the information you seek.

  46. We recently had the hardwood floors in our house professionally re-sanded and re-finished . Although the fumes from the varnish have decreased over the last week, they are still very noticeable. We leave the windows open when we can. Is there anything that we can do to hasten the removal of these fumes from the house? We would prefer to use a natural product.
    Thanks ever so much for your help,
    Ruth

  47. Hi Ruth,
    It sounds like they didn’t use a low VOC product, what a shame.
    About the only thing I can suggest is putting about a 1/2 of a sliced onion in each room and changing them once or twice a day. Onions absorb the odor. Baking soda removes odors too, but it always seemed like onions work better on paint/varnish fumes.

  48. Hello Flooring Lady, I hope you be able to help me out with my problem. Thanks for such a great website and a wealth of great knowledge!
    We have bought a new home that we will be remodeling over the next 6-8 months. The first step (before we move in) is the refinishing the wood floors. The house was built in 1956 and the entire house (minus the bathrooms and kitchen) are white oak. A previous owner (probably in the 70s) installed carpet over the floors. Well about a week ago my brother and I have pulled up all the carpet and carpet pads, removed all the tackboards, pulled up all the staples, and filled in all the holes with wood putty. We also pulled off the baseboards, to allow us to get up the edge of the sheet rock. We basically got the floors ready for the next steps.
    The floors are lightly stained (maybe a natural stain) and then have some type of polyurethane finish over them. I’m not sure what type it is, just its pretty heavy duty. For the last couple of days I’ve rented a drum sander to sand through the finish. With the drum sander I took the finish off in the living room and the hall ways. I didn’t run the sander in the 3 bedrooms, as I ran out of sanding belts. The finish over the wood ruins the belts pretty fast. It “melts” and adheres to the sanding belts and they lose their grinding power pretty fast.
    So for the three bedrooms I want to try a different route to remove the finish. I want to use a stripper to remove the finish in the bedrooms. What do you recommend? I prefer to use one of the safer products (something like SoyGreen PolyStripper) but I have no experience with them and I’m concerned they they won’t work very well. What do you recommend me to use, to remove the finish down to the wood?
    After I’m able to remove all the finish off the wood, I’ll rent another sander (not a drum sander this time) and sand the floors to a nice finish.
    We are thinking about not even staining the floors and just putting a new gloss finish directly over the wood. Do you have any thoughts on doing that? I like the unfinished look of the wood, so that’s why I don’t want a stain on the wood. Do I need to put on a sealer first?
    And here’s my last question. I know that you recommend Varathane Polyurethane Diamond Gloss, and I may go with that brand. But I have already bought 2 gallons of Zinsser Bulls Eye Urethane (water based). Do you have any experience with that brand? I went with the Bulls Eye because it was about $12 cheaper per gallon. With all the work we are putting in I want the floors to look nice, so I could exchange them for the Varathane Diamond, if the Bulls Eye isn’t as quality.
    Thanks so much for the help!!!

  49. Hi Neal,
    Sounds like you have a good plan – that’s the most important first step! The stripper you have should be good, most of the regular strippers these days have lower VOCs these days – manufacturers are listening to what the consumer wants!
    There’s nothing unusual about NOT wanting to stain your wood floors, just sealing them is fine. You’re not alone…. ;~)
    I’m not familiar with Bull’s Eye, so I’m not going to be much help there. Have you tried searching at google.com to see if you can find any user opinions?
    Varathane’s Sanding Sealer is a good product to seal before you use the Poly. It doesn’t matter if you water or oil-based poly afterwards.
    Good luck with your project! It sounds like you’re doing a very thorough job of researching every step first!

  50. Hi there. we have recently stripped our hardwood floors by sanding. The floors were completely bare, dry and looked clean. we put the first layer of stain on today and now we can see foot prints and what looks like drops of water (perhaps from cleaning the dust off the walls prior to staining). what can we do now to remove the footprints and water marks before we continue on to the Varathane… or are we out of luck?

  51. Hi Mandy,
    I’d call the stain manufacturer and ask them for sure. I would think you could bleach out the stain, but without knowing what you’ve used I really don’t know how to advise you. Now you know how important it is to not let anything come in contact with bare flooring before it’s stained and sealed. I’m so sorry you had to learn the hard way. Hopefully, you won’t have to go sand everything off all over again, that would really be a bummer. I hope you’re not out of luck, call the stain manufacturer to find out for 100% sure.

  52. Hi, I need to refinish my hardwood floors, but half of my house is stained and finished, while the other half is unfinished and had some glue left from linoleum tiles that were removed when i bought the house. I want to do the whole house the same, but after sanding, is there any finish i can do without staining? I know I would have to stain it all in one shot, and i think that’s impossible without moving everything i own outside. Something i could do in a room by room way?

  53. Hi Joe,
    All you need to finish your floors is a good poly water-based sealer. You might need to kind of ‘feather’ where you leave off on one room and begin another, but you should get satisfactory results. You don’t ‘have’ to stain your floors.

  54. Hello, we have sanded all the wood floors in our house and are getting ready to varnish with a poly urathane. what i want to know is, what is the best way to clean these floors prior to applying the varnish. I know that i need to get all the dirt and dust by vacuuming, but was curious if i should just lightly water mop after that…or..? any help would be greatly appreciated!!

  55. First thing, you need to make sure to get the dust off of anything else in the room as well – tops of doorways, tops of windows and window sills, light fixtures, etc.
    Don’t use water on the bare floor, it will raise the grain and you’ll have to sand again. The only thing you need to do is vacuum and use a tack cloth.

  56. Can you please urgently let me know the well known , easily available brands of penetrative sealers/stains (oil or water based) in India for application on a ‘sheesham’ wood flooring I am installing in my house.

  57. Do you have to use the same brand of water based
    sanding sealer and floor coat? Can you use one brand of water based floor coat for the first coat and change to another brand for the top coat?
    Lisa

  58. Hi!
    I live in an 1915 house with beautiful white oak, maple, and birch floors. I refinished the floors twenty years ago using Glitsa penetrating oil products.
    Obviously, the floors are in need of refinishing, and I have some questions.
    1. What do you think is the most beautiful finish to use? I read your comments above, and I was thinking about two or three coats of penetrating oil finish with wax on top. Is that protective enough? I’d like to never have to go back to the bare wood level again.
    2. Do you think I could be successful staining the birch or maple floors to a darker color? Would that require much deeper sanding?
    Best regards,
    Lenny

  59. Hi Lenny,
    I don’t know whether you’d have to sand deeper in order to stain – I also have no idea how long it’s been since you last refinished the floors. It’s more of an ‘experimental’ type thing – once you think you’ve probably sanded far enough, clean off a small spot in an inconspicuous area (closets are great, or where you know you’ll always have a piece of furniture) and see if the stain will penetrate.
    I would really recommend using a polyurethane for durability – you can stain first.

  60. I need help….I have installed nuce travertine on the entry way and now the color of the entry does not match my hard wood floors. My hard wood floor is red oak butter-scutch and I need to make it much lighter. more like Scandia Light…. can i refinish what I have to a lighter color and not change the flooring????? any help would be great

  61. Please help; I haven’t found anything online…. we finished our pine wood doors, windowsills and baseboards with a wood stain (minwax) followed with a wax coating about a year ago. The doors and baseboards are now drying out and show water stains so I would like to refinish with something more durable. My husband says not to put anything over the wax, it won’t stick. Do I just keep waxing the wood every year or can I put a shellac or varnish coat on them? Any help is appreciated!

  62. Hi Maryann,
    The answer to that varied and depends upon what product(s) are used on the flooring. Most manufacturers are as concerned about VOCs as you are – mainly because their consumers are. Consequently, most manufacturers now have products that are low VOC. Depending on what will be used on your flooring, you may only have to stay away for a few hours.

  63. I’ve got an unfinished wood floor that uses metal (bronze?) pegs to affix the random-width boards. Is wax a better option than polyurethane?

  64. Do you know any cotractors who will refinish a hard wood floor and use a water based non-toxic poyurathane like finish in New York City?
    Thanks

  65. My husband and I have just discovered that our kitchen floor is hard wood. We are in the process of taking tar paper off the floor now. What is the best stain and shellac for us to put on the floor. Once we have gotten it prepared.
    Thr floor will have to be very well used.Lots of traffic. Would like it to be water and greasy resisitant.
    Thank You for your help.

  66. Hi Judith,
    Diamond Coat Varathane Polyurethane is a favorite of mine for wood, you might also want to consider BioShield which is more environmentally friendly. Either way, just make sure that the product is applied correctly and that it’s compatible with the stain you choose. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but make sure the wood is ready to accept the stain. There are great DIY sites on this and chances are the products you choose will also have very good, detailed instructions and tips on their web sites as well.

  67. We currently have red oad floors with a water lox sealer. we have noticed it scratches very easily and any drop of liquid leavs a mark. So we are thinking about resealing them. Can we apply a different sealer on top of the existing one? how does an epoxy sealer compare? will an epoxy sealer scratch less?
    thanks

  68. Hi Mo,
    Epoxy sealers are wonderful, but they too will get dull and scratched – it just takes longer. All you usually have to do is buff them. You would have to strip the old sealer first so the epoxy can adhere properly. Epoxy is also more of a committment since it is more difficult to remove.
    I’m guessing your flooring now has a water-based sealer. You might want to strip that and think about a chemical based sealer. Take a look at Diamond Coat Varathane Polyurethane and see what you think of their products.

  69. I have removed tar paper from my hardwood floor and I’m in the process of sanding this area, how do I know when I have sanded enough to go on to the next step?
    Thank You

  70. When the tar paper and residue is gone…. I’m not sure what you are thinking is the ‘next step’ is though. I’m presuming you’re rough sanding the paper off, then you have to smooth sand it, clean up all the dust, stain it (if that’s what you want) and then seal/finish it.

  71. My husband and I just put down multiply enginered hardwood flooring and it was already finished with a aluminum oxide but the wood looked very dull still so we coated it with a high gloss urethane fortified floor finish that was supposed to resist against scratching. But it seems to scratch even more easily now than before and it is driving me insane. Should we strip it and put something else down or could we just buff it and put a stronger urethane down?

  72. Hi Angela,
    I would strongly suggest that you call the manufacturer and see what they advise. Keep in mind, that you’ve already voided their warranty by putting urethane on it. It’s possible that the urethane hasn’t bonded well also.
    Actually, just buffing it might do the trick as the heat from the friction can make the urethane stronger. If you want to go with a strong urethane, I recommend Diamond Coat Varathane Polyurethane. Nope, I don’t get a kickback from them, I just think this is a great product line. ;o)

  73. My hardwood is abused, scratched and ho hum looking. Can I refinish this by myself, a small section each day, sand, clean, vacuum, repeat. And then paint the whole thing. I know this sounds odd but why isn’t this done. It seems horrific to move out for a week while experts are brought in. I figure I could buy myself a sander, do only a small area and clean up. Repeat until it is done. Obviously nobody does this. I just don’t know why.,

  74. Hi Madeline, Others have used hot water (then scraping and steel wood) to get up this gunk. Some have used old rags and a steam iron or a damp rag and iron – then scraping, etc. There are chemicals available at hardware/home improvement stores as well. One person even posted that they used nail polish remover [acetone] (not an environmentally friendly choice to say the least!), but it did work. No matter which way you go, it’s going to involve a little bit of elbow grease, but if you want to save the floor then you just gotta do it.

  75. Hi Elaine –
    Yes, you can do this yourself! It will go much faster though if you buy some stripper – there are even environmentally friendly choices available these days that are so much better to use (healthwise) than the old-type chemical strippers. You may even find out that your newly stripped floor is too pretty to cover up – even deep gouges can be thought of as ‘adding character’ for that shabby chic look or can be filled in with wood putty and stained along with your floor.
    If you look over at the right hand side of the page, there is a link for ‘Full Archives’ – you’ll find info on painting floors there.

  76. I’m in the process of purchasing a new hardwood floor. I have a friend that purchased the prefinished with a 20 year warranty, of course that was 15 years ago so maybe the finishes are better now, but it last more than 10 years and it was terrible to refinish. I didn’t see any mention of tung oil in your site. It’s beautiful but does it protect at all.

  77. Sorry about the last comment I sent in,I wrote it incorrectly. What I meant to say was that my friend’s prefinished floor didn’t last more than 10 years before it was a mess and she had to have someone come in and sand it down to the wood and apply something easier to redo which has now lasted 5 years and still looks pretty good.

  78. Hi Denise,
    Yeah, I’m not the biggest fan of prefinished flooring – I’d rather finish it myself with products I know will be durable. Tung oil is good and you’re correct – there’s not a lot of info about it on the site. You can do a search for tung using the search box in the upper right hand corner of the page.
    What I do recommend for a finish is Diamond Coat Varathane Polyurethane – it is a very good product — and no, I don’t get anything for mentioning them. Heh – I wish I did!

  79. Hello. I just had my hard wood floors sanded and finished with Bona seal and Bona Mega water based finish. The floor company didn’t stain the floors and the color is now very blond and does not look too good. I am wondering if there is any kind of water based tint or stain that I can mix in with a bucket of Bona water based finish and put that over my sealed floor to darken the color. I didn’t want to start over and sand the floor again because it is so old the nails are showing and the floor is too thin to take another sanding. I can’t afford to lay down a new hard wood floor so I’m trying to figure out if there are any ways to just add another coat or two of a tinted water based sealer. Thanks Shoshanna

  80. I have sanded an old southern yellow pine floor and am ready to put the finish on it. Question is, there are some stains, some maybe pet, some high traffic where regular cleaning was not done, etc. Is there a way or product to bleach out these stains so they will blend in with the surrounding wood? Or should I try and stain the rest of the floor to the color of the stains? The natural light wood is the prettiest so I hate to stain these areas darker to match the old stains that didn’t sand out. So, what should I do?

  81. Hi Mike,
    There are wood bleaches, found at most hardware/big box home improvement stores. You might also want to try a product called StainSolver – I like it better than OxyClean because it’s got more bleaching action. Obviously, make sure the wood is totally dry before sealing.

  82. Hi Shoshanna,
    That’s a very good question! The only thing that comes to mind is something like MinWax stain with a sealer built in, but it’s not used after the fact. I don’t know if it would work or not – it certainly wouldn’t soak into to the wood. You could give the manufacturers a call and see what they have to say though.

  83. Hi
    I have sanded my original old (close to 100 years)red oak floors. I would like to keep the floors the natural color I have after sanding. Even using a natural stain the floor darkens to a reddish color. If I add only a water based or oil based poly finish it turns reddish. Is there any way to keep it the unfinished lighter color?

  84. My husband and son decided to refinish our hardwood floors themselves. After sanding, they applied stain and waited 24 hours. They then applied the first coat of polyurethane (They used Minwax High Build Polyurethane). It was a humid day so they waited almost 2 days for it to dry. Well, it was the tiniest bit tacky in some areas but they lightly sanded anyway, wiped with a tack cloth and applied a second coat which went on smoothly. Being there were areas that were still a little bit tacky will the floor dry properly? Will it take longer to dry? I am just afraid that maybe they should have waited until it was not tacky at all before applying that second coat.

  85. i put on a oil based sealer and it is after a week still yellowish. has it just not cured yet? will it adventually? please help!

  86. we are building a house currently and its is time to finish the floors. they have been installed for more than a month, but have not been in ac yet. i have heard the floors should be in an ac environment for two weeks before being sanded and finished. is this true or what are your recommendations ? thank you

  87. Hi Landra,
    I really don’t know what you mean – is the sealer yellowish or was it a clear sealer and it made your wood look yellow? If it is the latter, it is not going to go away, the wood is a natural yellow-ish color.

  88. Hi Flooring Lady, my husband and I are considering purchasing an older home with hardwood floors. If we do, we would like to restore them (currently have carpet over them) using nontoxic techniques and products. Could you suggest a sealant that’s safe for children and pets? (We don’t plan to stain the floors after sanding.) Thanks!

  89. Hi Christy,
    Lucky you! There are so many choices these days. Just about all of the flooring finish manufactures have low/no VOC products and there are many nontoxic products too. I would suggest doing a google search as this is changing so fast. I do know of products such as BioShield and EcoProCoat.

  90. HI….we stained hardwood floors that we recently sanded with four different Levels on sandpaper. Then cleaned up very well and stained. The stain is still tacky….its been 3 days. Could humidity be an issue???? Hubby put the stain on pretty thickly, and barely wiped it off. I am thinking several more days will do the trick. Am I right??

  91. Hi Cindy,
    Wile humidity can be an issue, after this long I think it’s safe to figure that it was how thickly it was applied. Might be able to thin it out with a solvent of some sort, but hard to say ‘what’ since I don’t know what product was used. Was it just a stain or a stain with a sealer or polyurethane with it? Either way, thin coats are to be used, letting dry completely in between. Even with stain, it’s supposed to be wiped well – thicker (and leaving it on there!) isn’t better.

  92. Hi
    We are ready to refinishing our woodfloor.
    Could you pls tell me what s the procedure?
    We have to sand it first,then we want to stain.
    Do we need a topcoat after staining?
    Finishing , varnishing or clear coat is a same thing? I am a little confused .What do you think aboput MONOCOAT ?
    Thanks

  93. Help with vinyl flooring. Our 3-year old Congoleum low gloss flooring has several dull spots. The floor inspector sent to our home by Congoleum reported that the surface was worn in these areas; they will pay for a new floor, but we need to pay all labor costs. Any suggestions how to repair these areas. We do not want to replace the floor unless absolutely necessary.

  94. We recently had a hardwood floor installed by one installer who went bankrupt and had to have the sanding, staining and sealing done by another. We asked for an epoxy finish, believing that that product would give us the most durability and scratch resistance. The installer used a “high traffic” sealant that he said was a commercial grade sealant and the best, most durable sealant we could use. The floor is scratched after moving in and living in the house for one month! He claims that we should not wear shoes in the house and put felt on our furniture, and that no product makes a floor that scratch resistant. Is he correct? Please help us.

  95. Hi. We’re having our hardwood floors refinished and and the company we’re using does not want to use “sealer” and wants to use only two coats of polyurethane. He says that sealer if flammable and that he could use his license… Please let me know if sealer is necessary.
    Thanks,
    Pasqua

  96. Smells usually relate to VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which are very harmful to your health. They interfere with the endocrine system and impact health in a variety of ways. If there’s concern an intense Google search should be conducted, after avoiding the product. There are lots of products
    out there for finishing hardwood floors that won’t harm you. Diamond Coat Varathane Polyurethane for floors is a big recommend!

  97. For prefinished hardwood flooring, is it recommended to choose a product that is coated on all sides (not just the top/exposed side of the boards)? I have seen some high end products that have a clear coating on the back and sides of the boards, in addition to the finish on the exposed (top) side. Having a coating on all sides of the boards would make the floor more moisture resistant, wouldn’t it?

  98. Would there be an advantage to glueing hardwood flooring to a plywood base/subfloor, in addition to nailing/stapling? My thinking is that the glue would reduce the likelihood of squeeks/creeks by bonding the hardwood tighter to the subfloor. I presume a good quality construction wood adhesive would be sufficient – correct?

  99. 3 years ago I hired a fellow and his son to sand and finish our hardwood floor in the living room. Original wood under the carpet. So, they came and sanded and I picked a color of stain and it loooked good. Now, I needed the rooms next to the living room done and these same fellows were to busy so I hired these other guys. So they sanded and put a clear product on the floor but didn’t stain the floors? So I complained since I told them I wanted the rooms the same color as the living room 3 years ago. Or at least 90 per cent equal color. So this guy is gonna go out and stain the floors trying to match the same color. If they already put a clear sealant on those floors can they still apply a stain? Onne of the boards has a huge red mark on it? Just the wood itself over time or what is that?
    What a couple of clowns these guys. Lets see what they do today?

  100. JS,
    I don’t think that the stain will work as well over a sealer. The stain may “stain” the sealer. But, the installers should know what they used, and whether it will work well or not.
    I would suggest contacting the first installer and find out the name and manufacturer of the original stain, so that you can match as close as possible.
    I am not sure about the red mark. Do you know if it was there previously? It is possible that it was an old stain on the wood and it is just showing up more now.

  101. I just moved into a rental house & apparently the owners recently refinished (?) the wood floors & the odor in the house is almost unbearable. My clothes & bedding have taken on the odor. I know it would be difficult to say, given I don’t know what sealers / stain, etc. the used, but any idea on how long this might take to go away, or any thoughts on a way to neutralize the odor?

  102. Paul,
    If the stain and sealers they used are giving off that much odor, it is really hard to say how long it will last.
    The best thing to do is to allow plenty of fresh air into the house as often as possible.
    You could also try a spray air neutralizer, spray a little as needed and see if that helps.

  103. Hello: About 20 years ago we installed prefinished hardwood floors in our bedroom. Just recently I noticed a strong chemical odor emanating from the floor boards which I find very unpleasant and may be unhealthy.
    Any thoughts or ideas about this?
    Lee

  104. Lee,
    With the floors being installed that long ago, and the smell just now being noticed, you may want to check on other items in your home.
    Could gas be leaking, or something else causing odor in a crawl space or basement and coming up through the floor?
    I would certainly look into the chemical smell, and determine what the cause is. I would also suggest that regardless of the cause, that the room be allowed plenty of fresh air.

  105. We just installed our unfinished wood flooring and I was reading the instructions about what to do for the coating, I was a bit confused but can you please tell me what is the best sealer that you recommend to buy, and what should I use for the finial coating?
    Thank you so much
    – Larisa

  106. I am renting and have wood floors throught the whole house. However I dont want to spend the money to have them redone. they are very dull. Is it possible for me to polyeurethane the floors with out sanding, i just want to add some sheen to the floors. or do you have another helpful and cost effective suggestion?

  107. I wore a dust mask with ventilater while I shellac floor, I now have burning, stinging in on lips, nostrils and cheeks? Allergy? Chemical Burn? Have not slept in that room for a week now

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