How to Test if Your Hardwood is Ready for a Refinish

By HomeAdvisor

Updated August 30, 2017

Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Hardwood is perhaps the most practical of all flooring materials. But over time, the protective finish may wear off, most noticeably in heavy traffic areas. This is the prime reason for refinishing hardwood floors. Applying a modern new finish can even make hardwood floors much easier to maintain than when they were originally installed.

Another good reason to refinish your hardwood floor is to freshen up the finish of a wood floor that’s dulled from being hidden under carpet for years.

Anyone who’s tackled a hardwood refinishing job can tell you it’s a mess, starting with the removal of the previous finish. Hardwood flooring professionals have the knowledge and experience to give your wood floors a quality new finish. They also have the proper equipment to handle the job efficiently, including power sanders to remove the existing finish and to prepare the wood to accept new stain. Unless you have experience in this area, it is not advisable to take on a project of this magnitude by yourself. Even then, the potential cost savings may not outweigh the stress over a job well done.

Hardwood Flooring Refinish Test

To determine whether your hardwood flooring’s finish is shot or simply dirty, try this simple test.

  • Go to a high-traffic area where the finish takes the most abuse. Pour a tablespoon of water onto the floor. If the water forms beads, the floor is properly sealed. At most, cleaning and stain removal is needed.
  • If the water takes a few minutes to seep in and only darkens the floor slightly, the finish is partially worn. Don’t wait too long to refinish the floor.
  • If the water soaks right in and leaves a dark spot, it’s definitely time to refinish.

Hardwood Flooring Stain Options

There are many different stain shades available. Although color charts are helpful, what looks right printed on paper will always look different on its intended surface. Also, different types of hardwood floors can look different with the same stain, so consider the species.

Stain will also look a little different on refinished flooring than on newly installed wood, but proper sanding will help it accept the stain better. Try several different stain colors on a sample of the same kind of wood as your flooring to get a good idea of the final result.

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Hardwood flooring can come in a variety of different shades and colors. The most popular stain options include:

  • Natural looks like bare wood.
  • Light is a very popular shade of stain because it darkens the grain and adds a subtle tone to the wood. It often has a slight tan hue to it.
  • Medium is another popular choice. It’s darker than the light, so both the grain and the wood will have an obviously darker pigment, commonly a medium-brown hue.
  • Dark is usually a very dark brown and has a very rich feel.
  • A custom color refers to any color besides tan/brown/sand. Many homeowners have chosen a bright red or deep green stain with striking results. Often it is best to choose a vibrant color for smaller areas or rooms as too much of a non-neutral color can prove to be overwhelming.

Once you think you have found the stain you want, take some home and try it in an inconspicuous place, such as inside a closet, if possible.

Be sure to wait until the stain is dry before you make any decisions. Keep in mind that while paint often dries darker than it looks at first when it’s wet, but stain will usually dry lighter.


  1. June Herman, October 7:

    Are there any refinishing of wood floors contractors in the 11803 area. The website does not show any.

  2. HomeAdvisor, October 12:

    Hi June,

    Here are some Wood Refinishing Contractors and reviews for those businesses in your area –

  3. Richard Carafoli, June 4:

    Judy and John from East Coast Floors just refinished all of the wood floors in our home. Their price was competative. They moved furniture, cleaned up as much as possible and most of all, the floors look brand new! We would highly recommend this local and very professional business. Thank you, Home Advisor for helping us to find East Coast Floors!

    Richard & Karen Carafoli

  4. Dorothy and Mario Forte, May 17:

    Do you have a recommendation for refinishing wood floors? Should I call a flooring place?

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