9 Disastrous DIY Refinishing Hardwood Floors Mistakes and How to Avoid Them!

old hardwood floors with floor sander pictured to the side

The 9 Mistakes I Made Refinishing My Hardwood Floors

I certainly know a thing or two when it comes to home improvements. But after DIY refinishing hardwood floors, I can humbly say this project kicked my butt. I made a fair number of mistakes; all I could have avoided had done this before.

That’s why I’m sharing everything I did wrong so you can learn from my mistakes and make your floor refinishing even better than mine!


Everything You Need to Refinish Hardwood Floors DIY

When starting, I had no idea how involved this entire process would be. I learned so much and put together several posts to help you save money and get lasting results you are proud of. 

  1. How to sand wooden floors (start here!)
  2. Unexpected ways to make sanding wood floors more enjoyable
  3. Protecting your work is easy with this how to finish wood floors guide
  4. Money saving tips when refinishing wood floors yourself
  5. How to stain wood floors (coming soon!)

Just a friendly reminder: This tutorial and any opinions or recommendations are genuinely mine, but this is not a substitute for consulting a professional. I also use affiliate links to earn a commission.


refinished hardwood floors

Underestimating Time

Is it even a DIY project if you don’t underestimate its time? Ha! Sanding my old wood floors was no different.

But in this case, I severely underestimated this project, ultimately pushing my move back. In my head, refinishing the floors would take a week. Which, in a sense, it did. That is the sanding.

I didn’t even consider the other steps involved. I was ignorant of the time it takes to clean up after and then apply 3 to 4 layers of a protective finish.

Condition of the Floors

Along those same lines, I was clueless that the condition of your floors affects how long they take to sand. So, the worse the condition, the longer it takes. I figured since my floors were so beat up and a lot of the old finish had been removed (or at least it appeared that way), it would be easier to refinish them.

Wrong!

Included in that is how long it’s been since their last refinishing. I read somewhere that over 20 years makes the process take longer.

sanding hardwood floors

Starting With Too Fine of a Grit

My next mistake was thinking I could get away with starting this process with something other than 24 grit (which was the lowest available). Nope! I spent two hours sanding a fairly small section using 36-grit sandpaper, which took a fraction of the time once I switched to the 24.

What took so long was how slow I had to move the sander, and also how often I had to change the sandpaper. It kept getting clogged after what felt like one board!

Starting with too high of a sandpaper grit when sanding hardwood floors is a common mistake. And I get it! It’s so tempting because one can rationalize how it makes sense. But, as I found, starting with too the wrong grit sandpaper prolongs the sanding process unnecessarily. That’s because the coarser grits (i.e. 24) strip away that really tough top layer.

Additionally, starting with a high grit can result in clogging of the sandpaper, reducing its effectiveness and requiring frequent changes. I found it to be both more time-consuming and expensive.

Leaving Too Much of the Old Finish

sanding hardwood floors with old finish remaining on the wood surface

About halfway through the job, I noticed that the transition between the sandpaper grits was easier and faster when I completely removed the original finish. After thinking about it, this made sense because I also noticed that the new sections where the wood floor had been patched were super easy and very quick to sand.

As you can see in the pic above, I’m showing what the floor looked like after one swipe with 24 grit. Crazy, right?! There is still a lot of the original finish remaining.

To ensure I got the most out of each pass, I went extra slowly and kept a close eye on the results as I moved. If finished remained, then I would make another pass over the same spot from a slightly different angle.

I found this approach effective. Although I spent more time upfront, it definitely helped me on the back end by speeding up the following grits.

Not Changing the Sandpaper Enough

clogged sandpaper disc from sanding old wood floors

When each sandpaper disc cost almost $5 a sheet (more on that fiasco later), I wanted to get the most out of each one. But not changing the sandpaper enough was another error that cost me both time and money.

As sandpaper wears down, it becomes less effective at smoothing the surface and removing imperfections. Also, worn sandpaper is more likely to leave scratches and swirl marks on the wood, which will look terrible, especially if you plan to stain your wood floors.

It’s easy to believe that using the same sandpaper for an extended period saves time and money. Especially when you feel the sandpaper and it’s still quite rough. But the opposite is true. Regularly changing the sandpaper ensures optimal performance and efficiency.

Wait to throw those sheets away! I have a use for these! In this post (coming soon), I’m sharing tips and tricks on saving money when refinishing wood floors.

Skipping Sandpaper Grits

In an effort to speed things along, I tried going from 24 to 60 grit, skipping 36 grit. However, contrary to what I was thinking, skipping grits prolongs the sanding process and requires more time and effort to achieve a smooth finish.

I learned that each grit level has a specific purpose in the sanding sequence. As you progress through the numbers, you gradually refine the surface by each grit having a different and distinct abrasion pattern that removes different aspects of the wood, such as old finish, scratches, imperfections, unevenness, etc.

By skipping grits, I missed an essential step in the smoothing process, resulting in less-than-optimal results. Also, it made the sandpaper wear out more quickly because it had to work harder to remove deeper scratches left behind by the coarser grits.

Not Prepping Properly

dust on an antique hutch after sanding wooden floors

Usually, I’m really good about taking the proper time to prep, but since I didn’t live at home, I just went for it. And that was a huge mistake!

You can’t even imagine the dust produced from sanding old wood floors. It was everywhere! Walls, windows, and anything in the general area where I was working were covered in a thick coat of dust, and it took forever to clean up.

Save yourself this hassle and properly prep your space by sealing doorways, removing everything possible and placing it far away from where you’re working, and then covering anything that cannot be removed, such as cabinets and appliances.

Buying Sandpaper from the Rental Shop

Buyer beware! I figured they would have everything I needed, which they did, but at a price! If I were to do this project again, I would buy all my sandpaper from Amazon at a fraction of the cost.

A few weeks before your project, call the store where you are renting the floor sander and find out the sandpaper type and size.

stack of sandpaper for a random orbital floor sander

Wearing the Wrong Mask

I wore an N95, which, based on my brief reading, was an appropriate style mask. But in reality, it didn’t work for me. The issue was that the N95 was not snug, and that’s the key to this style mask keeping the small particles out.

I tried adding a cloth mask covered by an N95, still a lot of dust got in. I ended up putting a cloth mask over the N95, which significantly reduced the amount of dust that got up my nose. In hindsight, I absolutely should have gone with the respirator.

Door Jams and Trim

This was not necessarily a mistake I made because, by chance, 99% of my trim and door jams were not installed when I sanded. But the few that were made things exponentially more difficult and time-consuming.

The orbital floor sander does not get close enough to these areas, especially around any door jams. So, I had to go back with the mouse sander. Again, it was a small problem for me because I had two doors with jams and one wall with trim. But I’d be pulling my hair out if I had the whole house like this.


There you have it! The DIY refinishing hardwood floors mistakes I made and how to avoid them for your wood floor refinishing project. From using too fine sandpaper to thinking it’ll all be a breeze and underestimating the time needed, I’ve given you practical tips to make your DIY flooring makeover go off without a hitch!


More On Refinishing Hardwood Flooring


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