Hardwood Floor Sanding; Cost, Pros + Cons Review

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Sanding hardwood floor

Hardwood floor sanding is an important part of hardwood floor refinishing that should never be overlooked. Before applying a new layer of paint finish over your hardwood flooring to restore its look, you should first off sand the surface to get rid of old layers of paint and floor sealant.

Hardwood floor sanding can be done effectively with a palm sander, orbital sander, and hand sander. Remove the furniture and other items from the room, determine how much to sand, pick the sander, and sand your hardwood floor. Clean and seal your floor. Sanding hardwood floor has its own benefits and drawbacks.

However, you may not know how to properly go about the sanding process, which is where we come in! In this guideline, I’ve detailed all there is to hardwood floor sanding, including the cost, advantages, and disadvantages.

Hardwood Floor Sanding;  How to sand, Cost, Pros  and Cons Review

How to Sand Hardwood Floors

It’s a worthy undertaking to sand and refinishes old dull-looking hardwood floors to restore their natural allure and shine. However, you need to do it effectively to avoid repeating the same project or damaging your planks that may lead to a waste of resources.

Here is a step by step procedure to sand your hardwood floor:

i. Prep the floor.

Start by emptying the room of all items, including furniture and décor pieces. You don’t want the dust from the sanding process to get onto your precious household items.

Finally, ensure proper ventilation/ air circulation by opening all windows to effectively disperse the dust and debris from the sanding process.

ii. Wear the appropriate PPE gear.

Sanding releases lots of dust and debris into the air, which could potentially leave you with health issues from inhaling toxic pollutants. Remember, while real hardwood flooring is natural and non-toxic, some types of stains and sealers used during the finishing process are high in VOC content, and can be dangerous if inhaled.

To prevent this, wear the necessary PPE apparel, including goggles, a face mask, and a pair of hand gloves. Since sanding is also a noisy process, consider wearing earmuffs. Meanwhile, overalls and knee pads will protect your body and joints against the gruesome sanding process, which is typically slower when done using an orbital sander (can take anywhere between 2-4 days depending on the size of the room).

iii. Factor in the floor thickness

If you have an older hardwood floor that has been refinished multiple times in the past, it could be that the planks have become too thin to be sanded anymore. It’s generally considered unsafe to sand wood surfaces that are any thinner than 0.75 inches.

Thin flooring planks could compromise the structural integrity of the flooring. If you have very thin planks, replacement may be a better alternative to refinishing.

iv. Pick the appropriate sandpaper.

You’ll need coarse-grit, medium-grit, and fine-grit sandpaper for the different stages of sanding. Coarse-grit sandpaper will smoothen out the larger, more noticeable blemishes; while removing multiple layers of old paint finishes at once. As you get towards the final stages of sanding, you’ll need to switch to the medium-grit and fine-grit sandpapers for an even smoother finish.

v. Sand the hardwood floor.

With the sander unplugged, attach coarse-grit sandpaper into its sanding pads and lock it into place. Next, plug in the sander and run it across the floor in parallel strips. After a few sweeps, switch to finer grit sandpaper, making sure to wipe away dust and debris in between the switches. Continue sanding until the finish is as smooth as you desire.

Remember, you want to slowly upgrade from coarse-grit (40-grit) sandpaper to medium grit and finally fine grit (100-grit) sandpaper. Skipping directly from 40-grit to 100-grit sandpaper may cause scratch marks on your hardwood surface.

vi. Clean the Hardwood surface.

After sanding, get rid of dust and debris by vacuuming then wet-mopping the hardwood floor. Leftover particles from the sanding process can cause scratch marks during subsequent passes as you switch to finer grits. What’s more, these specks of dust may be visible once you apply your polyurethane coating.

That’s why it’s important to vacuum clean your hardwood surface after every sanding pass. What’s more, it’s important to vacuum the spaces in between the hardwood planks to get rid of residual wood dust lodged in there.

vii. Reseal the hardwood surface.

You can then complete the process by resealing the floor using a non-toxic sealer. Sealers protect hardwood floor surfaces from stains and scratches/ scuff marks due to heavy traffic and pets. For hardwood surfaces, oil-based polyurethane sealants are recommended over water-based sealants.

The sealant should be uniformly spread. Afterward, you should let the sealant cure for a period of 48-72 hours before resuming the use of the room.

How to sand hardwood floors with orbital sander

Orbital sanders are a cheaper alternative to drum sanders. What’s more, they’re also easier to use as you can sand in the direction of the grain or against it.

This is unlike when using a drum sander, where you usually have to sand in the direction of the grain to avoid an unsightly finish. To properly attach sandpaper onto an orbital sander,

Sanding hardwood floor with palm sander

Palm sanders boast a square edge, making them great for sanding into corners. However, being as it’s not as powerful or aggressive as an orbital or drum sander, lots of physical energy is required by the user to get the job done. Nevertheless, since they’re less aggressive, palm sanders are great for attaining a smooth, even finish.

How to Sand floors by Hand Sander Yourself

Unlike using heavy-duty sanding equipment that is simply rolled across the floor- like drum sanders and orbital sanders- sanding by hand is quite slow and labor-intensive. Hand sanding involves the use of a hand-held sanding machine, which is usually not as advanced as drum and orbital sanders. Still, some hardwood flooring experts consider hand sanding to be the purest form of craftsmanship, as the user has more control over the whole process.

How to sand floors by hand sander yourself

Since sanding by hand requires a significant amount of elbow grease, you should have a steady hold and great control. Some of the best hand sanders on the market include the Delta sander, the handheld belt sander, and the Festool Rotex. Apart from the heavy-duty orbital sander, there are also handheld orbital sanders that come in electric-powered and air-powered versions. Here’s a brief review of each of the aforementioned handheld sanders:

  1. The Delta sander– this handheld sander is designed to reach hidden corners that a standard sander can’t reach. Its lightweight design makes it great for detailing.
  2. The handheld belt sander– despite being slower than heavy-duty sanders, this handheld sanding tool works at a faster rate than the rest of the handheld sanders on this list. This is largely due to the fact that you don’t have to sand with the grain when using this type of sander. You can achieve a smooth finish whether you sand in a circular motion, side to side, or front to back.
  3. The Festool Rotex- when looking to achieve a more detailed finish during the latter stages of sanding whereby you’re using fine-grit sandpaper, the Festool Rolex is the handheld sander to go for. You can adjust between its various settings to achieve a smooth hardwood surface.
  4. The handheld orbital sander– known for its power and aggression, this handheld tool is great for removing layers of old finishes on hardwood surfaces.

Cost of sanding hardwood floor

The cost of sanding your hardwood flooring will depend on whether you’re looking to hire a flooring contractor, or you’re looking to undertake it as a DIY project. Flooring contractors typically charge anywhere from $0.50-$3.00 per square foot. The prices will also vary depending on the number of sanding passes the professional has to make. For instance, if the old layer of paint finish is thick and several passes are needed to get rid of it, you’ll have to pay more than one normally would.

For DIY sanding projects, you’ll need to factor in the cost of sanding tools as well as other equipment required for the process. Expect to part with $50-$80 per day to rent heavy-duty, rolling sanders like a drum sander or an orbital sander. Meanwhile, renting such sanders for a whole weekend should cost about $100. Handheld sanders- on the other hand- can be rented for about half as much.

Apart from sander rental costs, the other DIY costs that you may incur include the following:

  1. Sandpaper pieces- $60
  2. PPE- including face mask, hand gloves, ear plugs, overalls, and knee pads- total of $100

Remember, sanding is usually done as part of home refinishing projects. Therefore- when hiring a flooring professional, the sanding costs may not be standalone. More often, the costs of sanding are included within the total refinishing costs. Other costs include the costs of staining and coating the hardwood surface, or the cost of replacing worn-out planks.

Pros and Cons of Sanding hardwood floor

Pros and Cons of Sanding hardwood floor

Pros of sanding hardwood flooring

1. Restore the floor’s original look- sanding is a great way to get rid of wear and tear on hardwood surfaces. By sanding to strip off the scratched layer of wood, a smooth and healthy layer will be exposed.

2. Preps the floor for refinishing- sanding removes old finishes, varnish, and penetrative sealants from the hardwood surface. This allows for the fresh stain applied during the refinishing process to stick better to the wood. The new wood coating can be a new color or the same shade as the old one.

As such, sanding is a crucial part of hardwood refinishing that shouldn’t be skipped. Attempting to refinish wood flooring without first getting rid of the old finish typically results in undesirable shades in many parts of the flooring.

3. Gets rid of discoloration- sometimes, your hardwood floor may fade in various parts due to overexposure to the sun’s UV rays. This causes inconsistent color patterns on the floor, which can be unsightly. You can restore discolored wooden surfaces by sanding to reveal a new, healthy layer of wood.

Cons of sanding hardwood flooring

1. Wood dust- when sanding hardwood surfaces, you should expect lots of wood dust. As such, house occupants usually have to leave for the period the sanding project is ongoing. What’s more, furniture and other items within the room that is to be sanded have to be removed. The wood dust may also contain VOCs and other harmful chemicals from the old stain and sealant residue, thus triggering health complications.

2. Can’t be used on all wood surfaces– sanding can be used to restore most types of wooden surfaces, including natural hardwood floors and engineered hardwood floors. However, some types of wooden flooring- including stranded bamboo can’t be sanded. Additionally, it’s not advisable to sand wood surfaces that are significantly lower than 0.75 inches in thickness.

3. Slow and labor-intensive– sanding requires lots of time and elbow grease to do properly. It will typically take between 2-4 days to completely sand an average-sized room measuring 12 by 14 feet. If you’re using a handheld sander, it may take even longer. Sanding also requires lots of physical effort. DIYers are prone to fatigue while undertaking sanding projects.

Is buffing the same as sanding?

The terms buffing and sanding are often used interchangeably when it comes to refinishing hardwood floor surfaces. However, there’s a slight difference between the two.

Sanding is more suited for correcting deep hardwood flooring imperfections such as deep scratches and dents. Apart from removing old polyurethane finish and sealant layers, sanding also removes the top, worn-out layer of wood to unearth a fresh, healthy layer.

Buffing- on the other hand- is only used to get rid of superficial stains and scratches that are visible on the hardwood’s finish/coating but haven’t affected the wood surface itself. The buffing process is less disruptive and doesn’t take off any of the wood material, just the paint coating. Therefore- simply put- buffing is a milder form of sanding.

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Joe McGuinty
I’ve been working with floors for over 12 years. I started as a flooring contractor, primarily in materials selection. Then, I switched careers into accounting, so my wife and I began buying, renovating, and re-selling homes on the side. You’d be surprised how much value you can add to a home simply by adding new floors.

2 thoughts on “Hardwood Floor Sanding; Cost, Pros + Cons Review”

  1. Hello,

    Thank you for the info provided . I am hoping someone could provide some insight on a mistake I made when sanding my own floors.

    I am a new, first time home owner and I am beginning a rehab project on my home. We have hardwood floors that were terribly faded, so we decided to sand the floors down and refinish them ourselves, per the suggestion of my friend’s father. I was under the impression that he has experience doing these type of work but now I am not sure. I do not have any refinishing experience.

    When we started the project last weekend, we did a first sanding using a drum sander and 36 grit paper. That seems to get all of the previous stain up. My friend’s father then put the 80-grit paper on the machine and we did a second sanding. I’ve now read on several sites that that was not a good idea and that we should have done a pass with a 50-60 grit paper before the 80-grit.

  2. Oh my God, thank you very much for mentioning that sanding can prevent the flooring color from fading! My cousin and her wife have been planning to refurbish the patio in their backyard, probably next year. I’ll certainly forward this article to them so they’ll hire the right professional to perform the job later.


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