Prefinished hardwood floors provide a beautiful, durable flooring option for many homes. The boards come with a factory-applied finish, making installation easier than site-finished hardwoods. While prefinished floors offer less customization during initial installation, it is possible to update their color and finish years down the road. However, the process involves completely sanding down the existing finish and is not easy.
The Challenge of Refinishing Prefinished Floors
Unlike unfinished hardwoods, prefinished floors have several layers of finish applied for added protection and durability. This also makes it much more difficult to refinish them. Simply screening and recoating is not an option, as new finish will not adhere properly to the factory finish. The entire floor must be sanded down to bare wood to change the color. This removes the wear layer and exposes raw wood.
The amount of sanding required depends on:
- Thickness of factory finish – Typically 5-7 layers
- Hardwood species – Dense species are more difficult to sand
- Amount of finish buildup in bevels – Requires detail hand sanding
Professionals have the powerful drum sanders needed for the job, but it is still extremely labor intensive. Homeowners can rent sanding equipment, but removing a factory finish is a tough DIY project. There is also the risk of uneven sanding and sanding too aggressively in some areas.
Steps for Refinishing
Refinishing prefinished floors to change their color involves a complete sanding and recoating process. This requires patience but can transform the look of dull, outdated floors. The steps include:
- Cleanup and Floor Protection – Remove all furniture and debris. Protect walls and trim with plastic sheeting.
- Sanding – Use drum sander and edge sander with progressively finer grits of sandpaper to remove all finish. Vacuum between sanding steps.
- Detail Sanding – Hand sand corners, edges, and bevels to ensure even sanding.
- Repairs – Fill any cracks, holes, and gaps with appropriate wood filler.
- Final Sanding – Sand with fine 120-150 grit paper for a smooth surface.
- Staining – Apply desired stain color evenly across boards.
- Sealing – Seal and protect floor with 2-3 coats of water-based polyurethane.
This extensive sanding damages the existing finish and exposes the bare wood underneath. It allows the new stain color and finish to properly penetrate the wood surface on prefinished floors.
The Pros and Cons of Refinishing
Refinishing prefinished floors can update their look, but also comes with drawbacks:
Weigh these advantages and drawbacks when deciding whether to refinish. While doable, it may be less expensive and disruptive to instead install new flooring over top of the existing surface in some cases.
When refinishing prefinished floors, you can choose alternative finishes besides polyurethane:
- Oil-based polyurethane – Most durable and moisture-resistant option
- Water-based polyurethane – Lower odor and faster dry time than oil-based
- Moisture-cured urethane – Provides a warm amber tone
- Wax – Enhances wood grain but requires frequent recoating
- Penetrating oil – Allows wood to better showcase its natural color
Consider traffic, pets, and maintenance preferences when selecting the right finish. Water-based polyurethanes have become a popular choice for their quick dry time, low VOC emissions, and easy cleanup with soap and water.
Professionally refinishing prefinished hardwood floors costs $4-$6 per square foot on average. Expect to pay around $1,500-$3,000 for a 200-500 square foot area. The total depends on:
- Flooring area being refinished
- Location and contractor rates
- Amount of sanding needed
- Chosen finish products
- Specialty stains and distressed effects
- Extent of repairs
DIY refinishing can cut costs but involves a significant time and labor investment. Renting a drum sander costs $100-$200 per day, and you’ll need several sanding discs and paper grits. Finish products also add up quickly for entire rooms.
Hiring a Pro vs. DIY
Refinishing prefinished floors yourself saves on labor fees, but has some disadvantages:
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Consider your skill level and budget when deciding between hiring a pro and DIY. Professionals can provide an efficient, quality refinish, while DIY provides cost savings if done properly.
Maintenance After Refinishing
Once prefinished floors are refinished, continue protecting them by:
- Placing mats at entrances to trap dirt
- Using felt pads under furniture legs
- Avoiding spiked heels or abrasive cleaners
- Cleaning spills immediately
- Mopping with hardwood floor cleaner
- Reapplying polyurethane every 3-5 years in high traffic areas
The new finish will wear over time and require recoating. Follow the finish manufacturer’s recommendations to determine when a fresh coat is needed. Avoid wax or oils which can damage polyurethane finish.
Options Besides Refinishing
If refinishing to change color seems too extensive, consider these alternative options:
- Area rugs – Cover floors in specific spots to introduce color
- New stain over existing finish – Applies new tone but preparation is critical
- Paint – Can apply custom color but requires priming for adhesion
- Floor overlay – Installs new flooring over old, like engineered wood or vinyl
- Replace boards – Swap individual damaged boards for new ones
While refinishing provides the most complete color change, these simpler options may suit your needs. Consider them first before undertaking a full sand and refinish project.
Refinishing prefinished hardwood floors allows you to alter their stain color and finish from the original factory coating. However, it involves completely sanding down to bare wood which is extremely labor intensive. While it can revive and transform the floor’s appearance, the process may be excessive for some homeowners. Consider alternative options for modifying colors like area rugs, overlays, or focused board replacement. If fully committed to a new stain hue, consult refinishing professionals to ensure a smooth process. With extra work, prefinished floors can take on an entirely fresh look.