How To Refinish a Wooden Floor Without Sanding

   | | Floor Sanding Blog | 49 comments

Many people would like to revive and give a fresh new look to their floor without actually sanding the floor. This is ideal for floors that are not significantly damaged. This means there are no deep scratches or dents, things that can only be removed by taking off a millimetre or 2 from the surface of the wood.

You may otherwise be on a budget and just want to spruce up your floor. If either of these are true then read on!

1. Clean your floor. You need to either use a pH neutral floor cleaner or just warm water! Personally I would opt for the warm water and get on my hands and knees and scrub. Be sure to not drench the floor, its important that you only use a damp mop or rag so as to not cause any water damage.

2. Identify whether your floor has been finished with an oil or a lacquer based product. It can be difficult to distinguish between an oiled floor or a lacquered floor for the non professional. Ideally you would know from when the floor was fitted. Here are some differences that can help you tell the difference. Oiled or Hardwax Oiled floors tend to wear faster on the surface. They also tend to be slightly more of an orange color and slightly darker. Oiled floors also get stained very eaily, if you spill a drink on it, it usually leaves a mark.
Lacquered floors tend to be lighter in terms of color. The surface doesn’t wear quite so quickly and easily. The surface is usually shinier. More here.

If the floor you have has an oil based finish, I recommend using a ‘Hardwax Oil.’

If your floor is lacquer based, I recommend using a Polyurethane lacquer (not acrylic or part acrylic).

To find out what lacquers and hardwax oils I use (as well as recommendations for US readers) click here.

3. Lightly abrade (sand) the surface of your floor. You can either do this with a buffing machine using a 120 grit mesh (or a few 120 grit disks under the pad) or with just a 120 bit of sand paper by hand. You don’t need a buffing machine, I often use 120 paper by hand myself (when buffing before the final coat on a floor that has been stained for example).

You need to rub the floor down going with the grain of the wood(as seen in the video above). Make sure you do this methodically so as to not leave any areas unabraded. Don’t put too much pressure down and don’t do it too thoroughly. The purpose of this is to key the surface to allow the new coat to bond to the floor and prevent the new coat peeling off.

4. Vacuum the floor. Again make sure you do this slowly and methodically, going around the edge of the floor with the pipe of the hoover to ensure the floor is free of dust.

5. Lacquer or oil the floor. You can learn how to lacquer or oil a floor here. If you are lacquering you should use a medium pile roller for correct coverage, whereas if you are oiling I recommend using a short pile roller.

That’s it! Be sure to check the instructions on the product for drying times before walking on the floor or replacing furniture.

This is a great, cheap and easy solution for people that want to refinish their floors without sanding. It returns that new appearance to the floor.

If you have done this please let me know how you got on, or if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below.

Telling the difference between lacquer and oil.

 

I get countless emails and comments on my youtube videos from people wanting to know the difference between a floor that has been oiled and a floor that has been lacquered.

Firstly I would like to clear up on definitions. Americans can call alcohol or other acid/solvent based products ‘oil based’, whereas in the UK we call it solvent based.

When I say oil I mean hardwax oil which contains no polyurethane or acrylic. Examples are Osmo Hardwax Oil, Treatex Hardwax Oil and Blanchon Hardwax Oil. Many wood floors are finished with hardwax oil.

This is an oiled floor that has darkened, though this is darker than usual, its just to illustrate.
This is an oiled oak floor that has harkened, though this is darker than usual, its just to illustrate.

So lets say you want to refinish your floor using the method outlines in How To Refinish a Wood Floor Without Sanding. Ideally you really want to identify whether or not the floor has been finished with a wax/oil based product or a polyurethane/acrylic based product.

This is an oak floor with a factory lacquer finish, this is lighter than usual, but again it's just to illustrate
This is an oak floor with a factory lacquer finish, this is lighter than usual, but again it’s just to illustrate

If the floor is anything other than pine, beech, maple, oak or any other light wood my colour descriptions aren’t going to mean much.

But generally oiled floors tend to go a lot darker and orangey. Even when they are first finished they are darker and more orange than floors that are lacquered.

Oil based finishes tend to matt down a lot more in high traffic areas whereas lacquered floors just have individual scratches. So in a doorway for example, on an oiled floor, there appears to be no ‘sheen’ or reflective surface at all, its all matted down from wear and tear.

And last of all, oiled floors tend to feel a little more rubbery or waxy. This is subtle. This distinction, along with the other descriptions are pretty subjective and may mean nothing without seeing lots of different floors. I’m just doing the best I can to answer a common question.

If for any reason you just cannot identify what is on your floor, it is possible to go ahead with polyurethane, its just not idea. I have seen oiled floors that have been lacquered and generally its not too much of a problem. Just make sure you key it thoroughly with the 120grit so you don’t get delamination.

Thanks,

Ben


Comments

  1. What hard wax oil would you recommend?

    My oak strip floor is hard wax oiled but I’m not sure which make to refinish it?

    Any help is much appreciated!

    Rob

    1. We took up our carpet and realized we had a beautiful wooden floor underneath. Yet, in a few spots we had darkness like maybe some water damage. We have a budget. So we’re thinking about varnishing in a cherry wood color, varniishing to cover up a few dark spots Is this possible without sanding?

  2. Most hardwax oil’s are very similar (if not actually manufactured by the same company). Osmo, Treatex, Blancheon, these are all good brands. Google search for a floor sanding supplies place near you, ring them and ask them which is best.

    Hope that helps

  3. My wood floors are in the same condition and that looks really easy! I bet there’s a knack to it but I will give it a go, thank you

  4. When applying a second coat of lacquer, or oil should I just repeat the sanding at 120 grit or should I use a higher grit like 220?

    thanks,

  5. Great videos… Very helpful.

    I have parquet floors which have been diminished while we were doing additonal work a year ago. The floors were in pretty good conditon, however when we were working a lot of plaster dust fell on the floor and has removed the existing oil.

    Do you think your buff and coat technique applies to parquet flooring that has had surface damage?

    All the best.

  6. So for this technique, would it be impossible to use a nice lacquer on a previously oiled floor. I have an old property (which leads me to believe it was most likely done with an oil base a long time ago) that has seen a lot of wear and tear. I would prefer to use the buff and coat technique and finish with a lacquer coat, being that this area gets a considerable amount of foot traffic. Would this be a good idea, or is oil the only way to go for the finish coat?

    Cheers!

    1. Generally speaking they are incompatible, it sounds to me the floor needs a good sanding down, but if you really don’t want to take that route, then buff it and put a coat of hardwax oil down, its not quite as hard wearing, but atleast you know its not going to cause problems.

      1. Hi Ben, hope I get a response given the age of of this thread. Above you stated “I have seen oiled floors that have been lacquered and generally its not too much of a problem. Just make sure you key it thoroughly with the 120grit so you don’t get delamination”

        Given this statement, why would Ezra’s idea cause any problem

        1. Im replying to this question without reading the previous, I think it was an instance where someone had applied lacquer to oil before coming here. It can work without failing but its bad practice, theres no guarantees and I don’t recommend it. Maybe I was being compulsively positive. If you have an oiled floor, just put hardwax oil over it and don’t risk it

  7. Interesting website! I used 3 coats of Blanchon Original Wood Environment to protect my new engineered oak floor 18 months ago, however it seems to have let dirt into the grain especially in the high traffic areas such as the hall and kitchen. It was applied using the manufacturers instructions but doesn’t seem to protect the floor that well. I’ve tried Blanchon cleaning products but none of them remove the in-grained dirt. I don’t really want to sand the entire floor again after only 18 months – is it worth trying the method you describe above or is the floor past that stage? Thanks.

  8. Hi,
    Thanks for the information. My floors have a coat of clear oil based polyurethane. Do the same application instructio ns apply? The professional floor guy used a brush, my neighbor used a soft rag, is it best to use a brush, roller or a rag? Thanks.

    1. I think rag is dead last, i don’t even know how that would work, i have heard of people using brushes, but not really for polyurethane. The problem is a brush has a relatively small surface area in contact with the floor, so its sort of sweeping it across the floor. Poly should usually be put down at a rate of about 1 litre per 110 square feet per coat. So that’s fairly thick. That allows the poly to settle and flatten out before it dries. In my experience the roller is best for that. But hey, check the manufacturers specs, search for a demonstration on youtube of what they recommend by all means.

      1. Hi Ben,

        We have recently polyurethaned our floors and we aren’t happy with the result. I think this is because we hadn’t used enough polyurethane so parts of it look flat and dull even though we have done 3 coats. I see in the above comment that you recommend doing 1 litre per 110 square feet per coat. Do we need to resand it all back down and re varnish it so that it’s fairly thick or can we just go over the top of it do it as a fourth coat? Really hoping not to sand it back down again as we have already done this twice..

        Thank you, really need help!

  9. Any more idea on telling if a floor has been done with oil or lacquer? We are purchasing an old house and I want to redo the floors without sanding if possible and put hardwax oil on them but am worried about incompatibility between products.

  10. Hello.

    Can you tell me what is the main difference, between using a chemical stripper and a sanding machine, to clean a 100 years old pine floor that i have in my apartment?

    Last year my 15 year dog passed away and i decided that this summer i will have to clean the entire floor of the apartment. It is very dirty!
    I noticed that the old dark brown varnish?/oil? that protected the entire floor(i think the floor was stained) is almost gone, and now wath is left is the wood with dirtiness.

    1. A chemical stripper will only remove old varnish or oil. It won’t remove any wood. It means the floor won’t be flattened (which may be desirable if you want to keep it rustic) and no dents or scratches will be remove. Usually when using a stripper you are also using a scraper to remove the softened substance, the scraper takes off a very thin layer of wood that reveals unaged wood. But really its not ideal because it takes a very long time, its very hard and its pretty unsatisfactory!

  11. Great site and videos.You’re making it look easy! I have alot of solid oak parquet I need to restore.I made the huge mistake of finishing mine with WATER-based Polyurethane. I want to get some nice heavy OIL-based poly on it this time. I want to do it without a full sanding but have a few spots that need sanded really good to bare wood. I’m pretty sure I can match the “golden oak” stain color. If I can match the stain I think it will go ok. I’m going to be doing something between a full sand & this video. Any tips on matching & blending in a stain before finishing? Thanks

    1. Do not try this, I can’t say it gravely enough. You cannot just sand a patch through to wood. you will never get it looking nice again until its completely resanded.

      What was wrong with the waterbased? Waterbased poly is good if you are using the right stuff. What is it that you are unhappy about with the poly?

  12. The hardwood floors at my place have a coat of paint around the borders. Would you recommend trying to take it of with just a buffer? or would it make more sense to sand down the whole floor and start from scratch? The paint takes about around 20% of the floor

    1. Just sand the whole lot, if you try to do just one area it won’t look very good, you can never refinish patches of the floor.

  13. Hi Ben thanks for posting your video on how to spruce up a wooden floor without sanding. Does the buffing technique cause a lot of dust throughout the house?
    Thanks

    1. if you do it by hand like i demonstrate in the video, almost non at all, but you definitely have to hoover the floor. My buffer has a dust extractor so virtually no dust. But even if there was no dust extractor, it doesn’t create that much dust

  14. Hi, I have a wooden floor that is light oak and appears to be oiled. It is good condition, just the usual wear from foot traffic, no scratches. I’d like to just do the sanding by hand for cost/time reasons, but then want to Apple treatex colour tone oil to change the colour of the floor to a lighter shade, so it is not as similar in appearance to my oak furniture. Can I apply treatex colour tone oil to then after a coat of clear to seal after just a light sanding? Or do I need to fully sand the floor for this? Thanks, Dan.

    1. to be honest daniel, I would speak to the supplier and if they know nothing, contact treatex or google that particular product. I have used treatex before its good stuff, but i don’t know about their colouring products, if its just the hardwax oil with some colour in it then its probably fine to go over the top without fully sanding, but again, check with the source

  15. hi if you remove the hardwax oil with the mech buffer is it possible to to re stain the floor to a slightly darker colour?

    1. You can’t remove hardwax oil with a mesh buffer, you need to use the proper tools and sand the floor. You could just buff it as i do in the video and maybe put a coloured hardwax oil over the top

  16. hi, we have an old victorian floor in our new house that has been under carpet for a long time. we actually want to keep the old warts and all look of the floor (it has a dark stain all around the outside and a big gap in the middle where the rug used to be put) and all we want to do is add a protective layer on top. We don’t want to have to sand the floor at all if possible but keep it exactly as it is. I have been looking at osmo polyx oil as it seems to have a good reputation but I don’t know if the cost of it is worth it as it is not like we are going to be obsessing about damage as the floor is extremely marked already. We just want it to be more water proof to protect the wood. We need to get it done asap so quick drying is important., do you have any tips on the best way to do it?.. I am wondering if I can just use one coat of the osmo oil?… we have 55sqm of floor to cover..many thanks Nina

  17. Hi,

    We just had our hardwood floor done 2 months ago and it looks awful. We first took the carpet off after maybe 20 years or so and there were some stains from the pets. We hired our local handy man to do the work. It should have taken him 1 day to sand our small living room but it took him 3 long days to sand it with a hand sander. He stained it but darker than our other wood flooring in the house and did a sheen coat. 2 months later it looks like we just took the carpet off. We sweep it, use wood cleaner but marks are still left and even white dog hair is still on it and it’s dull. We can’t afford to have someone redo it and my mom doesn’t want to offend the handy man when he comes to do work. Plus we have couches and a large heavy piano and armoire we can’t move again. What can we do that is cost efficient and easy for a DIY?

  18. Hi, so i recently bought a house that has finished hardwood that is a dark colour and a friend recommended me to lacquer my new hardwood floor to protect it from scratches and scuffs. I cleaned a portion of my floor and applied some to the corner of my floor and realized it seems to be dull and stopped. My question is, did I need to apply any lacquer to hardwood to begin with and can i remove the lacquer without damaging my floor and stain? thank you

    1. if they are new, you probably didnt need to do it. Im not sure what you mean by dull, can you elabourate on that? it could peel off, but im not sure how. Maybe use a scraper gently

  19. My floors have very heavy wear patterns. I’m selling and just want them to look a little better without investing too much. What do you recommend?

  20. Hi. We have just sanded and varnished our pine floorboards with antique pine water based varnish. Our floor is now very orange. We are gutted. Can you suggest any colour’s of varnish that might reduce the ornateness’ without going very dark please. Thanks.

    1. light stains often go very orange on pine floors. Unfortunately, I don’t have any great advice for fixing this without resanding

  21. I have what is possibly a half oiled – but otherwise well finished floor in one room, but there is one dark stain – the old carpet was doubled and the underlay was cardboard and newspaper- I guess I need to sand it? Lots or a little -can I start sanding this from half way along the grit rating as all is well matched and even, or does the half oiled half not nature of the room mean I start from square one?? Also, the reason I was keen to do this floor was allergies and asthma -are some floor finishes better to keep these at bay? I have found this site useful but am now unsure which way to finish it off. I would like it to have a nice shine and to protect the wood while being good to just sweep or mop in the long run but I have a very small budget. The allergy thing is quite important too as I have possibly reacted to oil based paints before when I was doing up the rest of the place.

    1. Sand it all back and start again, you may be able to start with a higher grit, just test it. Use a waterbased lacquer if you are concerned with sensitivities.

  22. Hello there. We have just had most of our downstairs fitted with Wickes Engineered wood floor. We chose a Wickes product, Wickes Floor Wax – low sheen – ‘natural’, to protect the wood, and applied with a floor pad. However, this wax doesn’t seem to protect the floor very well at all. It scratches very easily and flakes off at points. If you touch the surface with anything sticky, like Sellotape, it lifts off the wax! One of our young daughters has just driven a ride-on toy along our hallway, leaving very visible scratches, but I think the scratches are just where the wax has been scratched off, rather than the wood being damaged. Can we re-seal the floor in something that will a) cover the scratches, and b) protect the floor better for family life!? If so, what product do you recommend? (without changing floor colour) and do we need to sand or just buff the current wax off? Thanku.

    1. wax/hardwax oil strikes again! they never protect wood floors! Personally I would sand it back, stain it the colour I want, then coat it with polyurethane. Sorry to hear about this mess.

  23. Hello Ben,

    We recently installed a new kitchen, and a small part (2 foot, maybe) of our floor, which was previously hidden under the old kitchen and was never oiled in the first place, is now visible.
    I tried to oil it, in order to make it slightly more matching, and protect it from kitchen stuff. But somehow it turns out darker, a lot darker, and now looks like a stain! Doh.
    So, I’m lightly sanding, and oiling, and doing it again and again, but I have the feeling I’m going in circles.
    Any tips on getting it to look lighter? I’m not too concerned about the quality, as it is a small patch, at the edge of the kitchen floor. But taking away the attention it now gets, mainly from me! Haha, would be good!

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