How To Tell If Your Hardwood Floor Will Withstand A Refinish
A solid rule of thumb is that a typical solid hardwood floor can be refinished four or five times before it needs to be replaced, so if you know your floor’s history, you may not need to measure its remaining thickness.
Engineered hardwood floors can be a bit more tricky, as cheaper options will have minimal veneer that can’t even stand up to one round of refinishing, but if you have a receipt, box or model number, you may be able to look up how thick the floors were, to begin with. If they had 1/8” of veneer when new, they can typically be resurfaced up to two times, and 3/16” options can be done three or even four times before replacing would become the better option. When refinishing an engineered wood floor, it is not recommended to machine- or hand-scrape the finish, due to their thinner wear layers.
How Thick Are Your Floorboards?
If you don’t know your floor’s history, the easiest way to find how much material you have left is to look for a floor grate or vent that you can remove to expose the floorboards. If you don’t have any such openings, the next best option is to remove a threshold from a doorway as there are typically gaps between rooms that will expose the end of a board or plank.
Finally, if you still can’t tell, you can remove a piece of baseboard trim from the wall in the room that’s meant to be refinished. The baseboards aren’t typically removed during refinishing, so there will be a bit of a raised area underneath if the floor had been resurfaced previously. This method is a bit risky though; the baseboards may have been replaced when the floor was previously refinished for aesthetic reasons, and you still won’t know the current thickness of the floor.
Should You Recoat Or Refinish Your Floors?
Once you know what type of floor you have, it’s a good idea to evaluate if a total refinish or a more subdued screen and recoat is necessary. A recoat simply involves roughing up your floor with a gentle sanding screen. and applying a new protective covering. This is a lot easier and much more inexpensive than refinishing but only fixes problems in the surface-level protective covering. On the other hand, a refinish will take care of moderate marring and discoloration but will require a lot more time, money and effort.
The best way to know if your floor should be recoated or refinished is to run a simple test. Find two areas on your floor and tape off a square of about 6 by 6 inches The first should be an area that represents the heaviest flaws you have in your floor to see if they’re repairable with a recoat. The second should be in an area that’s regularly exposed to cleaning products, such as window cleaner overspray, oil-based cleaners, or other heavy detergents.
It’s important to test an area that’s exposed to household cleaners as over time the floor will get imbued with those materials and a polyurethane finish coat won’t adhere to the floor properly. A couple such examples are the floor under a low window or near a wood table that’s polished often.
Test for Recoating Your Hardwood Floor
Once you’ve selected two areas and taped them off, get a 120-grit screen and thoroughly sand the area. Then clean it off with a brush or vacuum and damp cloth, and apply polyurethane (see later in this article for a comparison of oil- and water-based polyurethane options). Let it dry, and try gently scraping it with a coin or other metal object. Don’t use anything sharp or pointed or press terribly hard, as you’ll scratch through even a solid coating. If you’re satisfied with the finish and it doesn’t flake off when you gently scrape, go ahead with a recoat. If not, it’s time to start refinishing.
How To: Polish Wood Floors
Give wood floors like-new luster with the proper polish and technique.
Think about the beating your wood floors endure on a daily basis: high heels, pet nails, children’s toys, and shifting furniture, to name a few! Tough as wood floors may be, their finish is still susceptible to scratches and scuffs. Refinishing—the process of sanding floors down entirely to apply a new surface finish—is costly and really only necessary every few decades. But polishing with a product specifically formulated for your floors is an easy, inexpensive way to regain shine, even out imperfections, and extend the life of your handsome hardwood. All it takes is a flat-head mop with a microfiber cleaning pad and commercial wood floor polish, which comes in low- or high-gloss sheens to achieve your desired look.
Whether or not you should polish your floors, however, depends on their finish. Those with a protective surface—a waterproof barrier such as urethane, for example—will benefit from polish, but floors with penetrating finishes like tung oil or unsealed wood require wax instead of polish. Using the wrong product can cause a host of problems, from making floors too slick to dulling the finish, and impair proper refinishing down the road. So it’s important to determine which kind of floor you have (our Step 1 in this guide on how to polish wood floors) before you dive in and cause damage.
STEP 1: Test the finish on your wood floors.
If you’re unsure what type of finish is on your floor, scrape off a tiny bit from an inconspicuous area with a sharp knife blade.
- If the finish is smudged but no clear material is scraped up, your floor probably has a penetrating finish. Stop here, and do not polish these wood floors; these should only be waxed.
- If you see a clear material, your flooring likely has a surface finish. It’s safe to polish these wood floors. Still, be sure to test out the polish in a small hidden or inconspicuous location on the wood before tackling the entire floor.
STEP 2: Clear and clean your wood floors of dust and dirt.
Empty the room, removing as much furniture as possible, then clean the floor thoroughly to remove dust and dirt. Sweep or vacuum, then mop with a commercial wood floor cleaner or solution of a quarter-cup of dish soap and a gallon of warm water to lift any lingering grime. Give the floors a final pass with a clean, water-dampened mop to remove any cleaner residue. Dry completely with a soft, clean towel.
STEP 3: Polish wood floors to a shine.
Begin in a back corner of the room, plotting a path that will have you end up near an exit, pour a small S-shaped amount of wood floor polish onto the floor. Using a flat-surface mop, work the solution back and forth in the direction of the wood grain, smoothing out any air bubbles. Work in small areas (about three to five feet wide in either direction) to best control the amount of polish you’ve applied. While you must make sure to completely coat the floor, thin layers will dry more rapidly than thick ones, and you can always apply another coat if needed.
Note: Polish can stain drywall and baseboards, so avoid splashing on these areas.
STEP 4: Hold off restoring the room for at least a day.
Wait at least one hour before allowing light traffic through the room and a full day before moving your belongings back in and resuming normal use. To avoid scratching, take care not to drag or slide furniture; pick up each piece up and place them where they belong.
STEP 5: Follow a few precautions to keep wood floors looking great, and you can put off your next polishing job!
Now that your floors look like new, maintain them by placing rugs at entry doors to prevent dirt from being tracked inside. If your kitchen has wood flooring, also place a rug at the sink to catch stray drops of water.
Stick to a regular cleaning routine, vacuuming weekly and giving the floors a deep clean monthly. Skip any homemade cleaning solutions that include diluted vinegar or ammonia on wood floors—all they’ll do is dull a surface-finished floor. Instead, for a better all-natural approach, check out our homemade wood floor cleaner, which features castile soap.
These measures will go a way to make preserve your wood floor’s shine. You may still want to repeat the polishing process a few times annually, as needed, but don’t exceed four applications per year.
How to Revitalize Floors
You can revitalize your hardwood floors in just a day. Here’s how:
- First, give your floor a good cleaning. Move your furniture out-of-the-way if possible, and remove rugs. Clean the floor with a cleaner designed for use on hardwood floors. You want to make sure the floors are free of any dirt, grime and residue as this will help the revitalizer get into all the pores and light scratches. Let the floor dry completely before moving on to step two.
- Next, apply the revitalizer according to the package instructions. Revitalizers are milky white, but don’t worry—it will dry clear. Note that revitalizers work best on hardwood floors that are sealed with polyurethane (which most will be). If you’re unsure, test on a small spot first.
- Use your mop to spread the revitalizer on the floor. Make sure it’s spread evenly to cover every corner. Don’t leave any puddles.
- Once the revitalizer is spread evenly, let it dry fully before you move furniture back in place or allow foot traffic on the floors. Most revitalizers dry within about 45 minutes. You should wait 24 hours before putting rugs back down.
When the revitalizer is dry, your hardwood floors will be shiny, smooth and look like new. The finish should last a couple of years with average wear and tear.
Reasons Wood Floors Look Dull
Now that you’ve figured out what type of finish is on your hardwood floors, there are seven common issues that can cause them to look dull.
- You’re just redistributing the dirt: Using a dirty mop or forgetting to sweep, dust mop, or vacuum the floor before cleaning will simply redistribute the dirt. Imagine all that grit, dust, and dirt getting trapped in the cleaning solution and simply staying on the surface of the floor.
- Cleaner is doing more harm than good: Many acrylic-based liquid waxes that promise to make your wood floors glow can actually make the floors look worse. When they are applied on top of polyurethane finishes or paste wax, the finish can look patchy or turn milky. You can use mineral spirits and elbow grease one small area at a time to remove the milky look of acrylic waxes. To completely restore the shine, you’ll have to strip and reseal the floors. Harsh chemicals such as chlorine bleach, ammonia, undiluted vinegar, or pine oil can damage floor finishes. Read labels and choose a commercial product that is formulated for sealed wood floors and follow manufacturer and expert guidelines on how to keep wood floors shiny.
- Using too much product: Even if you are doing everything correctly, using too much cleaning product or water will leave floors looking worse. More is not always better.
- Leaving the job half done: After damp mopping or waxing a hardwood floor, the job should be finished with a good buffing to prevent streaking. Simply use a dry microfiber mop to buff the finish and ensure a shiny floor.
- Scratches are out of control: If you have pets with Edward Scissorhands toenails, forget to put clean doormats inside and outside entrance areas, or frequently wear stilettos in the house, you’re going to have scratches. Scratches and scuffs equal dull floors. Practice a little prevention.
- Waxy buildup: If the floors were not sealed with a polyurethane finish and rely on a carnauba paste wax to create the shine, the wax can buildup and look dull. The shine will absolutely be gone if you have applied paste wax on top of a polyurethane sealant. Even if you use wax appropriately only once or twice a year, eventually it will buildup and turn dull in low traffic areas. Paste wax can be stripped off using mineral spirits or another commercial wax stripper.
- Floor needs refinishing: No finish on hardwood floors lasts forever if the floor has foot traffic. Solid hardwood floors can be refinished and resealed numerous times. Even engineered hardwood, which has a thinner veneer as the top layer, can be refinished and resealed a couple of times before needing to be replaced.
How to Properly Clean Hardwood Floors
Follow these cleaning tips to keep newly installed or refreshed hardwoods shiny.
Wipe Up Spills
To prevent watermarks, immediately wipe up any wet spills as they happen.
Remove Dirt Daily
Sweep, vacuum or dust mop daily to remove dirt that can cause scratches and wear down the finish of the floor. Don’t forget to look under area rugs that can trap grit which will scratch floors.
Damp Mop When the Seasons Change
Unless you have neglected the floors for weeks and have mud and sticky messes everywhere, there is no need to damp mop more than four times per year.
With a lightly dampened microfiber mop, clean in the direction of the wood grain. Never use a sopping-wet mop because too much water can cause even sealed floors to buckle. If you feel you must use a commercial cleaner, choose one with a spray applicator. Just a heavy mist of about one-half teaspoon of cleaner per two square feet of flooring is adequate for cleaning.
Follow up with a completely dry microfiber mop to prevent streaking.