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Can I Restain hardwood floors a lighter color?


Yes, it is possible to restain hardwood floors a lighter color. This process involves removing the existing stain or paint, preparing the wood, and applying a new lighter stain. With some time and effort, you can dramatically change the look of your hardwood floors.

Removing Old Stain or Paint

The first step is to remove the existing finish from your hardwood floors. This will require sanding down the floors using coarse grit sandpaper to remove all of the stain or paint. You may need to go over the floors a few times with increasingly finer grit sandpaper to get them smooth and ready for restaining.

Be sure to vacuum and tack cloth the floors in between sanding to remove all dust and debris. Wear a respirator mask when sanding to avoid inhaling dust particles. Work methodically and be careful when sanding near edges and corners. Sand just until you expose raw wood.

If there are areas of your floor that are stained very dark or have paint build up, you may need to use a chemical stripper. Apply the stripper according to the manufacturer’s directions, let it sit for the recommended time, and then scrape off the softened finish. Make sure to neutralize the chemicals and clean the floor thoroughly after stripping.

Preparing the Wood

Once you have sanded down to bare wood, you need to prepare the floors for restaining. First, vacuum and wipe down the floors with a tack cloth. Make repairs to any damaged boards or holes. Use wood filler that matches the color of your floor and sand smooth when dry.

It’s also important to equalize moisture content and sand the floors with increasingly finer grit sandpaper up to at least 150-grit. This smooths the wood so the new stain can properly penetrate. Always vacuum and tack in between sanding.

Before applying the new stain, wipe down the wood with a cloth dampened with mineral spirits. This helps remove any remaining dust, oil or debris. Allow the wood to fully dry. The floor should look uniformly dull with no glossy spots before staining.

Choosing a New Stain

There are a few considerations when selecting a new lighter stain color:

  • Test colors on scrap wood to see how they look.
  • Pick a lighter stain that is close to the natural tone of your wood.
  • Stain a bit lighter than your target color because it will darken slightly.
  • If you have oak, maple, ash or birch, consider a natural or reddish tone.
  • For pine or fir, gravitate towards golden or honey tones.
  • Pick a semi-transparent stain to see more wood grain.

Popular lighter wood stain colors include natural, golden oak, chestnut, birch, maple, pine and driftwood. Talk to your local paint store experts for recommendations. Bring a sample of your flooring to test stain colors.

Applying New Stain

It’s important to carefully apply the new wood stain according to the manufacturer’s directions. Here are some tips for restaining hardwood floors:

  • Wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Use a paint pad, rag, brush or applicator recommended for the stain.
  • Apply stain in the direction of the wood grain.
  • Work on small sections starting at one far corner.
  • Smooth out any puddles or drips as you go.
  • Overlap sections to blend them together.
  • Maintain a wet edge as you apply the stain.
  • Be extra careful staining near baseboards or trim.
  • Allow the stain to penetrate the wood for 5-15 minutes.
  • Thoroughly wipe off any excess stain from the surface.
  • Let the stain dry for at least 24 hours before applying a protective finish.

It usually takes 2-3 coats of stain to fully change the color of the floor. Allow each coat to dry overnight before applying the next one.

Sealing and Protecting

Once the floors are stained, you need to apply a protective sealant. This not only safeguards the wood but also provides some scratch and scuff resistance. Polyurethane is a popular water-based finish that resists yellowing. Apply 2-3 coats following the manufacturer’s directions, lightly sanding with 220 grit sandpaper and vacuuming between coats.

Other options include water-based or oil-modified water-based polyurethane, varnish, shellac or lacquer. Your local home improvement store can recommend the best protective finish for a hardwood floor.


To keep your newly lightened floors looking their best:

  • Use floor mats at entrances to reduce dirt and grit.
  • Immediately clean up any spills.
  • Sweep regularly and damp mop with hardwood floor cleaner.
  • Avoid excessive water and harsh cleaners.
  • Rearrange area rugs and furniture periodically to even out UV exposure.
  • Reapply protective finishes per the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Consider re-staining eventually when finishes wear and floors start looking dull.

With proper prep and application, you can successfully stain your hardwood floors a lighter, refreshed color. Take your time, follow directions and work carefully. With some elbow grease, you’ll achieve beautiful lightened floors.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I stain directly over existing stain or paint?

No, you need to remove existing finishes before applying a new stain. The wood must be sanded down to bare wood first.

How long does it take to refinish hardwood floors?

It typically takes 2-4 days depending on the size of the area. Time is needed for sanding, stain application and drying time between coats.

Can I stain just one room?

Yes, you can stain and finish hardwood floors one room at a time. Be sure to feather out the new stain in the doorway to blend it with other rooms.

What grit sandpaper do I need?

Start with coarse 40-60 grit to remove existing finish. Progress up through increasingly finer grits 80, 100, 120, 150 for smoothing wood before restaining.

Can I apply water-based polyurethane over stain?

Yes, water-based polyurethanes are compatible with most stains and provide excellent protection for hardwood floors.

How many coats of stain should I apply?

Typically 2-3 coats of stain are needed to fully change the color of the wood. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended number of coats.

How do I match new stain color to existing floors?

Bring a floor sample to the paint store. Test stains on scraps of flooring to match old and new. Apply finish to sample boards to see the true stained color.

What maintenance is needed for stained floors?

Sweep and damp mop regularly. Immediately clean spills. Use floor mats at entrances. Reapply protective finishes when they show wear. Consider re-staining after several years.


Restaining hardwood floors lighter is definitely achievable with some time and DIY skills. The process involves completely removing existing stain or paint, prepping the bare wood, applying new lighter stain, and protecting with polyurethane or another finish. Maintain the freshly stained floors by sweeping regularly, mopping carefully and reapplying protective coatings when needed. With care and patience, you can revive and transform the look of your hardwood floors.