Sanding vs Buffing Hardwood Floors

Nov 25, 2023

When your hardwood floors lose their glow, two mechanical resurfacing options exist: sanding or buffing. Both revive beauty, but work best under certain circumstances. Understanding their key differences helps choose the ideal method for your floors’ needs and lifestyle.

While sanding performs an intensive complete refinish and buffing lightly revitalizes, combinations also apply. Strategic restoration not only improves aesthetics now but preserves value long-term through durable foundations and protective finishes.

Sanding: A Challenging Yet Transformational Process

Sanding uses abrasives to remove damaged wood and old finish down to solid layers. Multi-step smoothing creates an even base to accept new stain and sealant. The process entails:

1. Initial Sanding – Coarse 24-30 grit paper removes severe finish deterioration

2. Second Sanding – Medium 60-80 grit smooths planks

3. Final Sanding – Fine 100-120 grit polishes boards

4. Edge Sanding – Detailers treat perimeters and tight spots

5. Dust Containment & Elimination – Thorough cleaning preps for restaining

6. Defect Filling – Cracks and holes receive filler compounds

7. Stain Application (optional) – New color if desired

8. 2-3 Fresh Finish Coats – Protective polyurethane sealant

Minimize Dust When Sanding Floors

Pros of Sanding

Fixes Severely Damaged Floors

Sanding removes worn, splintered, stained or uneven boards beyond a basic buffing, providing extreme resurfacing.

Enables Major Color/Style Changes

The raw wood exposure stage permits dramatic staining modifications unavailable with buffing alone.

Lasting Results

Thorough resanding and resealing creates durable, leveled foundations that excel under traffic.

Cons of Sanding

Time Investment

Smoothing, repairs, staining and sealing require a week-plus of work crews shuffling in and out.

Dust and Noise

Coarse abrasion kicks up fine dust demanding extensive containment. Machinery din also challenges households.

Skill Required

Risks of uneven smoothing or penetrating boards’ tongue-and-groove connections make specialty experience a must.

Buffing: Fast Refurbishment With a Delicate Touch

Instead of sanding away finish layers, buffing uses rotating pads to smoothly refine the existing surface. More maintenance than overhaul, buffing wood floors involves:

1. Surface Preparation – Thorough cleaning and degreasing

2. Abrasive Cutting – Textured pads provide initial smoothing

3. Polishing Compounding – Fine grit pads enhance gloss

4. Residual Clean Up – Ensure flawless results

Buffing Hardwood Floors

Pros of Buffing


The conservative resurfacing completes rapidly in just a day or two versus sanding’s week-plus timeframe.


It spares viable finishes that sanding removes, saving homeowners money.

Lower Impact

Contained dust and no harsh chemicals ease the process for residents.

Cons of Buffing

Superficial Results

As a surface glow-up, buffing cannot fix deeply damaged or stained boards needing replacement.

Burn Risk

Excess heat from overworking pads can melt softer wood or scorch finish inconsistently.

Temporary Fix

It restores luster short-term but doesn’t renewal protective seals for lasting flawlessness.

Key Differences Between Methods

Scale + Impact – Sanding constitutes full remodeling while buffing offers a fresh coat of shine.

Application – Sand for heavy damage; buff only minor flaws. Sanding also accommodates major color changes.

Combining – Pros first sand thoroughly then buff gently for an ultra-refined result. Alternate buffing and sanding also works across years.

Expert Input – With improper approach risking floor damage, specialists should evaluate conditions and calibrate plans.

Carefully Weigh Your Unique Restoration Factors

Choosing sanding or buffing requires balancing considerations like:

Floor Condition

  • Damage severity – Surface dullness or deep gouges/stains?
  • Time since last refinish – Beyond 5 years merits intensive renewal

Desired Outcomes

  • Conservative buffing for a quick brightening?
  • Substantial sanding-enabled transformation?

Lifestyle Impact Factors

  • Brief buffing to limit household interruption?
  • Vacate for a week+ for invasive yet lasting sanding?

Budget Goals

  • Lower cost buffing for a temporary revived glow?
  • Invest in sanding’s meticulous re-foundation for decades of flawless wear?

Analyzing unique home needs and priorities help customize suitable hardwood plans.

Know When to Choose Sanding

Vigorous sanding becomes necessary approximately once per decade when floors display:

Severe Finish Damage

Multiple heavy scratches, clouding, chemical corrosion or pet urine staining exceed a surface buffing’s capabilities for the depth of resurfacing needed.

Embedded Grime + Staining

Smokers’ residue, pet mess, and certain food or chemical stains permeate outer finish layers requiring sanding to extract.

Structural Foundation Issues

Moisture damage like cupping or swollen seams, bruises, and cracked boards necessitate abrasive leveling and wood repairs first.

Desired Dramatic Updates

Homeowners seeking extensive stain color departures or distressed trends need sanding’s full refinish access.

Know When Buffing Suffices

Lightly buff refinished hardwood floors whenever they exhibit:

Mild Surface Blemishes

Minor fine scratches, scuffs or cloudy tracks often respond well to basic polishing and rejuvenating chemical treatments.

Early Finish Aging

As floors dull slightly across the years, buffing offers tune-ups between scheduled sanding every 5-7 years.

Isolated High-Wear Areas

Frequently trafficked zones like hallways and entries benefit from gentle maintenance buffing between whole floor refurbishment.

Budget-Conscious Improvements

To balance cost across years, buff less worn rooms first while deferring full intensive sanding until later remodeling.

Which Is Better? – Sanding or Buffering

When your hardwood floors appear faded and worn, you face the choice of an intensive sanding overhaul or a quick maintenance buffing. Sanding, though dusty and disruptive, strips away severely dulled finish and repairs deeper imperfections for dramatic flawless transformations. Buffing offers minor shine refreshment in a day without the mess, conveniently addressing isolated scratches and scuffs. But it can’t fix deep stains or damage. Weigh desired scope and hassle, as many homeowners strategically alternate sanding’s heavy lifting with buffing’s pick-me-ups for floors staying pristine over a lifetime.

Conclusion: Key Takeaways

Assess Damage Scale – Surface dullness vs. substantial flaws?

Consider Process Tradeoffs – Sanding: full renewal yet invasive; buffing: conservative refreshment

Combine Strategically – Light buffing sustains refinished floors; intermittent sanding tackles accumulated damage

Engage Experts – Specialists evaluate needs, engineering combinations ensuring lifelong quality

Hardwood floors represent major yet worthwhile home investments given their marketability, value-boosting potential and enduring charm improving through generations. Though refinishing decisions significantly impact short and long-term outcomes, the options of sanding or buffing along with potential combinations empower homeowners to calibrate treatments to damage degree, desired outcomes and lifestyle.

While seemingly basic methods, slight calibration nuances distinguish temporary facelifts from lasting flawless foundations built to excel through decades of use. Understanding key considerations in selecting approaches assists homeowners in achieving and economically sustaining floor excellence. Trust specialized evaluations and multi-step methodologies from seasoned experts dedicated to wood floor mastery.