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10 Best Tips on How to Restore Hardwood Floors

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10 Best Tips on How to Restore Hardwood Floors
5 min. read

Image: pixelheadphoto digitalskillet / Shutterstock.com

A house with hardwood floors creates a home with plenty of warmth and bags of character. They fit into many styles and designs, making them an extremely popular choice. However, daily life takes its toll, and your beautiful hardwood floors can soon become worn down and scruffy.

Fortunately, the damage can be repaired, and your hardwood floors can be restored to their former glory! Thinking of tackling this task? Check out our best ten tips on how to restore hardwood floors below.

Check your floor type

The very first thing you need to do before you attempt to restore your floors is to check that they are actually hardwood. If you try to restore laminate flooring you’ll soon damage it, and engineered hardwood won’t do too well either. When you bought your home, you will have been provided with an inspection report which should note the floor type.

Know the level of restoration required

If your hardwood floor only has a few small scuffs here and there, chances are you don’t need to fully restore the entire floor. Small scratches and scuffs can normally be spot-fixed by lightly sanding the area, giving it a good clean, and using floor color markers to finish. Individual deep scratches can be filled with wood filler, dried for two hours, sanded down and colored with the marker.

You only really need to do a full restoration if your floor is badly scratched and the bare wood is showing in places, or you want to change the color. In this case, you’ll need to sand the entire floor down to the bare wood, clean it thoroughly, and apply several coats of finish.

If your floor is only looking a little worn, you can simply recoat it, a much shorter process that involves lightly sanding the floor, cleaning, and recoating the same color. This process should be carried out every three to five years or so, keeping your floors in top condition and avoiding ever having to fully refinish them.

Be careful when sanding

If you have to sand the entire floor, be very careful. It’s all too easy to sand unevenly, causing bumps and divots, which you might not notice until you apply the finish, when it becomes all too apparent. Use the right tools for the job; typical handheld sanders are not very good, you’ll need a drum-sander or buffer instead. These are heavy and cumbersome, and if you’ve never used one before, it can take some getting used to. Again, it’s easy to create bumps if you’re not careful, and for most DIYers, it’s best to concede this task to a professional.

Protect yourself

When sanding, you’ll be making a lot of dust. Wear a high-quality mask or respirator, goggles, and gloves to absorb the shock from the sander. Steel-toe capped boots are another necessity, and ear defenders or earplugs will help keep the noise at bay. Keep the area well ventilated while working by keeping the windows open. Just remember to close them again when you’ve finished to let the dust settle before cleaning up. When cleaning and applying the finish, wear booties and latex gloves.

Always work towards a door

At any stage of the restoration process, it’s a good idea to work from a far wall, back towards an open door. In this way, you won’t end up painting yourself in, and potentially ruining your work.

Clean thoroughly

After sanding the floors, they will be a lot of dust to vacuum up. First, clean the filters and ensure the bag is empty. Next, vacuum along the grain of the wood, until you’ve covered the entire floor, then vacuum horizontally. Attach a soft brush attachment, and go around the edges of the room, the walls, and the gaps between the boards. Finally, use a tack rag with mineral spirits to wipe down the surface of the floor.

Water vs oil-based finishes

When selecting a finish, you’ll come across water-based polyurethane finishes, and oil-based ones. The best advice for DIYers is to use a water-based finish. These are thinner in consistency than oil finishes, and as such are easier to apply evenly. They also dry much faster, and you can normally apply the next coat after just two hours, allowing you to do multiple coats in one day. In comparison, oil-based finishes typically take around eight hours to dry. Water-based finishes also don’t have the pungent smell associated with oil-based finishes.

Lay a base coat first

It’s important to lay a base coat first, especially when using a water-based finish. This is because tannins in the wood can react with the finish, causing discoloration. The base coat will prevent this from happening.

Cut in the edges and spread the middle

Like painting walls, the best way to go about it is to cut in the edges with a thick brush, then use a synthetic roller or applicator to blend in and cover the middle sections evenly. Don’t do the entire edge of the room however, as the edge can begin to dry, leaving a different finish when blended with the middle. Instead, work in smaller sections, doing first the edges, then the middle, then the edges of the next section and so on, until the floor is covered. When brushing, take your time — if you go too fast, you can create bubbles, which will show through in the finish.

Have patience

The hardest part of restoring a hardwood floor is waiting to use it again. Wait at least two hours between coats when using a water-based finish. After the last coat, wait a further 24 to 48 hours before touching the floor at all. In this time the room should be completely sealed off. After that, only wear socks for the first week of a new finish. Furniture should not be put back in until a week has passed since the final coat was applied.

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