How to Refinish Hardwood Floors Without Sanding

How to Refinish Hardwood Floors Without Sanding

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If you once had really beautiful hardwood floors that are now worn down, scratched, and in dire need of some rejuvenation, you may be wondering how to go about this. Many people are going to tell you that you first need to sand the floor before you can apply a new finish.

However, this is not necessarily true. Let’s find out exactly how to refinish hardwood floors without sanding them first.

Can (and Should) You Refinish Hardwood Floors Without Sanding?

Yes, in theory, it is totally possible to refinish hardwood floors without sanding them first. That said, it does depend on two main factors, those being the exact type of hardwood flooring, as well as the overall condition of it.

One thing to note is that sanding prefinished wood or laminated wood is not going to work, because sanding those more than twice, or even just once in some circumstances, will expose the material underneath, and that’s no good.

Next, if you have hardwood floors that have a coat of wax on them, unfortunately, you will not be able to sand this. A coat of wax will prevent any new coating or sealant you put on the floor from taking hold.

To test if there is wax on your hardwood floor, choose a discreet corner and pour some mineral spirits on it, leave it for a few minutes, and then wipe it away with a rag. If the rag has a brownish residue on it, your floors have wax on them, you won’t necessarily have to sand them, but you also won’t be able to directly apply a new finish either.

The other thing to consider here is how damaged the floor in question is. If the floor has lots of deep gouges or scratches, if you don’t sand them down first, and just apply a new finish instead, you may end up accentuating that damage. Although it will provide your hardwood floor with continued protection, it definitely won’t look like new.

How to Refinish Hardwood Floors Without Sanding

Seeing as not all hardwood floors are the same, this section is going to have multiple parts. First off, let’s talk about what you need to do to refinish hardwood floors without sanding if they have wax on them.

Case #1: Waxed Floors

As noted above, if your hardwood floors have wax on them, you won’t be able to apply a new finish or sealant without first sanding the old wax off. However, if you want to provide some added protection to a floor that has been waxed, but sanding just is not an option for you, a choice you have is to simply add another coat of wax.

Purchase the proper floor wax, plus you will need a specialized wax buffer for hardwood floors. You can use the buffer to apply a fairly generous amount of wax to the hardwood floor, but first make sure to vacuum the floor, and then mop it. You do not want any sort of debris or dirt to be present when you apply a new layer of wax, or else that dirt will be embedded right into that new coat.

Remember that this is really just a temporary fix. Eventually, you will need to sand off that old wax and refinish the floor from scratch, so it’s honestly not something we would recommend doing. Alright, let’s move on and talk about how to refinish hardwood floors without sanding when they don’t have wax on them.

Refinishing Waxed Floor

Case #2: Non-Waxed Floors

Thankfully, most floors made after roughly 1870 probably won’t have wax on them, in which case this method is what you will use to refinish your hardwood floor without sanding. Here, you will need to purchase a specialized chemical abrasion kit for hardwood floors.

These are designed to prepare hardwood floors, to remove old finishes and to allow new sealants to bond to the existing wood. Follow the steps as outlined below to refinish your hardwood floor using a chemical abrasion kit.

Step 1: Clear and Clean the Area

The first step here is to clear the area of all furniture and belongings. Of course, you can’t refinish a hardwood floor if there are chairs, tables, and sofas on it. You will also want to remove all entry doors and closet doors from their hinges. This might seem like quite the pain in the neck, but those doors will get in the way of you completing this task.

Once you have cleared the area, thoroughly vacuum every square inch of the area, and then follow that up with mopping with warm water (do not use any chemicals). You need to remove any and all dirt, grime, dust, or residue before moving onto the next step.

You will also want to clean off any window sills and shelves because you don’t want dust or dirt falling onto the new finish, because that dirt will dry into the floor. Finally, cover or plug all vents, close the windows, and cover anything else that allows for airflow. You need to limit the flow of dust and airborne particles as much as possible.

Step 2: Apply the Liquid Abrasive and Scrub

In your liquid abrasion kit, you should have a scrubber pad with a wooden block, one that allows you to screw your own broom handle into it. Attach the pad to the block, and then screw the broom handle into it. You can get down on your knees if you don’t have a broom handle, but that’s not going to be easy, or fun. You’ll want knee pads if you are going to do this.

Pour the liquid abrasive into a painter’s tray, dip the block or pad in it, and start scrubbing the floor. Start in one corner, and work in small squares no larger than 3 x 3 or 4 x 4 feet, and make sure to scrub with the grain of the wood, not against it. Make sure not to use an excessive amount of liquid, and don’t let it sit for too long. With the whole floor scrubbed, allow it to dry for about thirty minutes.

Step 3: Reclean the Floor

With the floor dried, mix a bit of gentle dish soap with roughly a gallon of warm water and proceed to mop the floor to clean up any residue left behind by the abrasion liquid. While you do this, wear shoe covers to prevent any dirt or dust from accumulating.

Step 4: Take Care of the Worst Damage

If the floor has some really deep gouges or scratches, you can use a small brush or cotton swab to fill them in with some stain. Make sure the stain you use for this matches the color of the floor. Use a hairdryer to quickly dry the stain.

Step 5: Apply the Finish

We are going to keep this short, because in all honesty, how to apply a new finish to a hardwood floor qualifies as its own full-length article. To keep it short, get the finish of choice and pour it into a painter’s tray, get an appropriate paintbrush, and get to work.

Start in one corner and work in straight lines (most people will cover entire boards and then move onto the next board.

Remember that you have a maximum of 10 minutes before the finish starts to get tacky, so this is a time-sensitive task. All you have to do now is to let it dry, which could take up to 24 hours, depending on the temperature and humidity.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips, & Tricks

Here are some general tips to make your life a bit easier when refinishing your hardwood floors:

  • This can be a tricky process because you need a good deal of ventilation due to the fact that finishes can release nauseating fumes, but you also don’t want dust and dirt to get onto the new finish before it dries. The best approach here is to close windows and wear a respirator.
  • Always wear shoe covers, more or less throughout the entire process, or else you will end up tracking debris over the finish, which is a bad thing, particularly before it has a chance to dry.
  • If you feel as though you need to apply a second coat of the finish, wait at least three hours between the coats. The previous coat does not need to be 100% dry, but it will need to settle and dry partially.


In case this method of refinishing your hardwood floor without sanding doesn’t sound right to you, there are a couple of other options at your disposal. You could buff the floor and then recoat it with polyurethane or you could use a water-based polyurethane revitalization gloss.

If you are working on your floors now, you might also be interested in learning about how to sand hardwood floors and how to fill in nail holes.