How to Sand Wooden Floors: OMG I Did It and Here is What You Need to Know!

sanding hardwood floors

DIY Sanding Wood Floors: How to Guide

I spent February break sanding my hardwood floors and whew! What an accomplishment! It was a way bigger project than I thought it would be, but absolutely worth it. Here is what you should know about refinishing wooden floors.


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.


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, avoid the mistakes, and get lasting results you are proud of.

  1. How to finish hardwood floors (the final step!)
  2. Unexpected ways to make sanding wood floors more enjoyable
  3. DIY refinishing hardwood floors MISTAKES and how to avoid them
  4. Money saving tips when refinishing wood floors yourself
  5. How to stain wood floors (coming soon!)

Refinish Vs. Replace Wooden Floors

sanding hardwood floors

My wood floors were in absolutely terrible shape. I’m talking the previous owner did not take care of the house and she also had a dog that liked to scratch and pee. If you’re new here, then here is where you can get caught up on my current renovation of this cottage cape house!

I knew refinishing these wood floors would only be so good based on their original condition, but the cost saving was worth it. Honestly, the imperfections help my OCD, ha! Because it’s not new and not supposed to be perfect, I don’t hyper-focus on all the flaws. It also lowers my stress about the kids being so rough.

sanded hardwood floors

Another thing that worked in my favor was the “bad spots”; although large, they fell in places where I knew I would have a rug. Perfect!

So, if you’re on the fence about sanding vs. replacing old wood floors, the cost difference is substantial! I’ll go over exactly what it cost me to refinish my floors, but we’re talking at least a 10K difference.

Needless to say, I’m beyond thrilled with the outcome of my floors! Was it a lot of work? Uhhh yeah! They don’t call it sweat equity for nothing 🙂

Wood Floor Sander

old hardwood floors with floor sander pictured to the side

After researching DIY floor refinishing, I found a specific sander that I could handle as a petite female. I rented the Clarke American Random Orbital Sander from Home Depot for this project and needed it for a week. 

This worked great, but because my main living room area was in such rough shape, it would have been a lot faster and easier had I used a drum sander. But I’ve been told enough horror stories about operating that thing not to take the risk.

At one point, I had to go back to the store to get more sandpaper, and the guy at the store confirmed my suspicion by letting me know if I couldn’t get the surface off using this sander and 24 grit, then I needed to use a stronger sander.

Luckily, it worked, but getting the first layer off in the living room took me 9 hours. Thank goodness the rest of the house was not this bad! I’ll get more into how much sandpaper, time, and cost, so keep reading.

Sandpaper to Sand Wooden Flooring

random orbital floor sander bottom showing the three sandpaper pads

This sander eats sandpaper, especially since it has three heads. Each pass takes three sheets of sandpaper. They said that each sheet lasts about 100 square feet, give or take, obviously based on the condition of your floors.

So, if you’re doing that math, you need three sheets per 100 square feet. Plus, you must progress through the grades, which means you do this four times! I did 24 grit, 36 grit, 80 grit, and finally 100 grit.

Yeah, that’s a lot of sandpaper! I did about 1,000 square feet. Sandpaper is one area where I made a mistake. In this post, I detail my (almost) disastrous DIY refinishing hardwood floors mistakes.

How to Sand Floors with a Random Orbital Floor Sander

I started at one end of the room and worked my way (slowly) to the other end. Sanding with the grain, I went one way, spun around, and went back. On my way back, I moved over one board. So, technically, each board had multiple passes, but I was board-by-board working through the room.

Does that make sense? Once you get going, it will. I centered the nose of the sander on the board I was working on. I found it helpful to look ahead at my next board and find something distinct about it so that I knew which one I was on when I got down there. It’s really easy to get mixed up!

I spent more time in areas where the old finish didn’t want to come off or where there was a stain. I went diagonally, forward, and backward in these spots several times in a row.

I was diligent about that first pass. I tried to remove as much of the original finish as possible with the 24 grit. Above, on the left, is an example of what it looks like where the finish didn’t quite come off the first run-over.

The dust was impressive. And when I say impressive, I mean there is a lot of it. EVERYWHERE! Up the walls, on the ceiling, piled on the floor, etc. There is a dust collection bag that collects a good amount, but definitely not nearly enough. 

piles of sanding dust on refinished wood floors

I found it helpful to sweep at the same time as when I changed the sandpaper. I also checked the bag by feeling it from the outside to see if it was near the full line. If so, I took the time to shake it out outside. 

I followed this routine for all four grits; 24, 36, 60, 100.

Sanding Wood Floor Tips

The actual sanding process is pretty straightforward. And it’s not hard at all. The machine is easy to operate, but I definitely perfected my technique as I went, so here is what I want to share with you!

By chance, and thank goodness, I started in a smaller room with floors that were in decent shape. This worked in my favor because had I started with the largest room and floors in the worst condition, I would have been sooo discouraged!

refinished hardwood floors

The key is starting with the right grit, the lowest possible. On my first attempt, I used 36 grit, and I had to change the sandpaper every few boards and unclog it. The next day, I went to the store and picked up 24 grit, and wahoo! What a difference. I got through an area in less than half the time.

So, I learned that even though I thought I didn’t need the 24 (because, I mean, it does sound and feel really aggressive!), do it. And don’t skip any grits! Each one works a little differently, but they all work together to give you the best-looking and feeling floors.

The next tip is to let the sander do the work. The best way I can describe it is that with a slight nudge, the sander will work its way forward. If it’s not moving, then it’s likely still working. I’m not saying to just leave the sander in one place, but you shouldn’t push or pull it either. 

Sanding wood floors is not physically challenging. It’s (dare I say) boring and a good way to get a stiff neck (from all the looking down).

Oh, and one more thing about the sandpaper: Change it often! It wears down insanely fast, but it’s not worth trying to extend its life by sanding with used sandpaper longer. It takes longer, and this added time is not worth the few sheets you save.

>>I discovered 5 unexpected things that to make sanding floors way more enjoyable. Before you start your project, find out what those things are here in this have fun sanding wooden floors post.

How Much Sandpaper Do I Need?

A lot, ha! Remember that the sander takes three sanding discs at one time. Here is how many sheets I used:

  • 24 grit: still tallying it all up… check back
  • 36 grit:
  • 60 grit:
  • 100 grit:

How Much Does Sanding Wood Floors Cost?

I rented the sander for one week, which cost me about $380 (with the rental insurance).

Then the sandpaper cost about $500. BUT! There is an easy way to cut this by almost half. Find out how to save even more money when refinishing wood floors yourself.

In total, sanding my old wood floors cost me roughly $880. (UPDATE: It cost more, and you’ll see why in the post I linked)

Now, to seal these beauties!

When Sanding Floors Do I Remove the Baseboards?

No, but it was definitely in my favor that the baseboards were off when I sanded. I was able to get close enough that I didn’t have to go back with an edging sander.

sande hardwood floors

There was one wall in my mudroom (shown in the pic above) that had a baseboard, and I will say it’s possible to get very, very close, like close enough that I am happy with it. But it took much longer to get it that way.

How Long Does Sanding Wood Floors Take?

In total, I spent roughly 55 hours of actual sanding, and that was to do my entire first floor (minus my tiny kitchen because there were too many nails).

Oh yeah, if any of those are sticking up, make sure you get that tool to hammer them down before you start. Or else you’ll destroy the sanding pad, and Home Depot won’t be happy with you 🙂

This time, it does not include the corners! Since I had my baseboards off, I could get close enough to the edge that I didn’t have to edge the entire house. But, this machine does not get into the corners. Once I finish that, I’ll let you know how long it took.

On average, each grit took me 2-2.5 hours per room. And when I say room, I mean a 200-300 square foot area. As you progress through the grits, each pass takes a little less time, especially if you are diligent with your first pass!

Before and After Sanding Wooden Flooring Pics

old hardwood floors unsanded
refinished sanded hardwood floors
hallway of sanded hardwood floors
partially refinished hardwood floors
before and after sanded hardwood floors
refinished hardwood floors
after sanding hardwood floors

I hope sharing my experience of sanding wooden floors helps you somehow!

Am I happy I tackled this DIY home project? Absolutely! Was I sad to see that sander go? Not so much.

But if I had to do it all over again, I would! My freshly refinished red oak floors are gorgeous and ready for the next 20+ years!


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