A Modern Way to Refinish Old Floors. A Complete Step by Step Guide

Pine floors are notorious for turning orange once you finish them. Their natural desire is to transform into pumpkin orange right before your eyes, but you can temper that tone by updating the way you finish them.

When I first bought my house and had the floors done, the only finishing option was drenching them with a plastic-like orangey goo that smelled very much like premature death.  That toxic finishing option was called Polyurethane.

The only thing this stuff has going for it is the fact that it’s bullet proof. Seriously. You could have an O.K. Corral type shootout in your living room and bullets would just bounce off the floor.

I suppose there were other options for finishing my floors 20 years ago but I didn’t know what they were and neither did the flooring companies. So I had them “Polyurethaned” and have hated my floors for the past 20 years.

Polyurethane, still the most popular finishing option for wood floors, is slippery, unnatural looking, and brings out the orange or yellow tone in any floor.  The product itself also turns more orange as it ages so the floors just get more and more orange as time goes on.  Which is fine if you like orange floors.  I do not.

When I accidentally ripped up all my floors this past fall (as one does) I decided I was going to research everything there was to know about refinishing pine floors until my fingers were numb and my floors weren’t orange.

I ripped up my kitchen floor on a whim as well in 2013 and installed heated floors, VCT tile and levelled it all with self levelling cement myself.

I am now the most knowledgeable person in the galaxy with regard to pine flooring. I know more than anyone. I am the foremost expert.

Actually, I’m not, but I do know more than I did 20 years ago.

And I NOW have pine floors without any hint of pumpkin orange.  Here’s how I did it.


How to Finish Pine Floors (Without the Orange)

Just before delving into my pine floor research I was simply going to leave my pine floors raw after sanding them.  I wanted raw wood (unfinished) floors for two reasons.

  1. Raw wood floors feel beautiful beneath your feet unlike finished floors which feel like plastic.
  2. Raw wood floors would retain their natural colour and not end up looking like a Cheeto.

I decided against the raw floors because I was a bit worried about cleaning them and a bit more worried about not being able to drag my furniture across them like I normally do. (raw wood has NO protection and the pine would gouge easily)

After a couple of weeks of hard core research I decided there were two keys to a natural looking pine floor.

Keys to Natural Looking Pine Floors

A MATTE FINISH A WATER BASED FORMULA

I don’t think either of these things were readily available 10 years ago let alone 20.  There are other ways to achieve that neutral pine finish like waxing or soaping the floors but both of those things require maintenance I wasn’t convinced I would keep up.

After talking to my flooring guy about my concerns we came up with a 3 step plan for my floor finish. I was going to use a water based, low VOC, non toxic, green product from Bona’s professional line.

  1. Bona NaturalSeal
  2. Bona Novia – Satin
  3. Bona Traffic HD – Matte

A lot of people online are using Benjamin Moore’s Stays Clear for their floors, and I’m sure it’s a great product, in fact it’s what I was going to use UNTIL I spoke with a professional floor refinisher. He very gently steered me in the direction of a professional product.  Literally.  Like, he gave me directions to the nearest distributer.

These Bona products aren’t the same ones that can be bought at Home Depot. They’re only available through distributors, or as I recently found out … Amazon (which I’ve linked to above in the product list).

If you’d like to see if you have a distributor in your area you can click Bona’s Distribution Map to find a store near you in the US or Canada.

How to Refinish a Pine Floor

MATERIALS

STEPS

  1. Sand the old finish or staining off –  Two of my rooms needed to be professionally sanded to remove the polyurethane. One room I sanded myself with a palm sander because the wood had no finish on it so I didn’t need the power of a professional sander. Also I wanted to retain the character and staining on the floor and to do that you have to sand by hand. Once your floor is sanded vacuum, vacuum, vacuum.  You only have one shot at making sure you’ve got rid of all the dust around.  After vacuuming, wipe the floor with a damp cloth.

TIP:  If you want your floors to still feel like worn old floors, don’t sand them with too fine of a final grit. This will make the floors feel unnatural and like glass.  End with around a 100  grit.  This post has good information on sanding pine. 

TIP:  A lot of people recommend a tack cloth for this type of job but my sister, a painter, said both she’s found tack cloths can ruin a finish by causing it to fish-eye.  She uses a damp cloth for picking up dust so I did the same. It worked great. 

2. Apply 1 coat of Bona NaturalSeal.  Using a paintbrush cut in around the edges of the room.  Don’t do the whole room, only do about 4′ at a time. You don’t want the edging to dry before you get a chance to roll that section of the floor, or else the edging will show.  You need to always be painting “wet on wet”.

Using a 10 mm roller and a paint roller pan, roll the sealer onto the floor being careful to keep everything smooth the same way you would if you were rolling paint onto a wall.  Repeat the edging and rolling across the room until it’s all done. Allow to dry 3 hours (I left it overnight)  Sanding between the sealer and the finish coats is NOT necessary according to Bona.  But for the smoothest finish, sand the floor VERY lightly with 180-240 grit sandpaper after it has dried.  You barely have to even go over the floor.  Vacuum, then wipe with a damp cloth.

3. Apply 1 coat of Bona Novia (Satin).  Apply a coat of the Bona Novia Satin the same way you did the sealer by edging and rolling (using a NEW roller). Allow to dry 3 hours. (again I left it overnight). Sand very lightly with 180-240 grit sandpaper.  Vacuum, then wipe with a damp cloth.

4. Apply 2 coats of Bona Traffic HD*.  Apply a coat of Bona Traffic HD the same way you did the others, edging and rolling (with a new 10 mm roller), making sure you don’t leave any pooling or striping. Allow to dry 3 hours.  Sand again, if that’s what you’re doing and vacuum and wipe with a damp cloth.  Repeat for a second coat. NOTE:  Bona Traffic HD requires mixing a hardener into the product before use. Once it’s mixed you have a limited time to work with it (4 hours).  That’s just enough time to do 2 coats. If you cannot get both coats done in 4 hours, only mix up as much of the product as you’ll need. You’ll have to do your own math on this.


QUESTIONS & ANSWERS about Refinishing Pine Floors

How much will I need?  1 gallon (each bottle is 1 gallon) will do 500 square feet of flooring)  Buy extra if you think you might need it.  As long as you don’t open it and you’ll be able to return it. (check with who you buy it from first though)

How much will it cost?  For my 3 gallons (the sealer, the Novio and the Traffic HD) plus a few rollers, it was $274 Canadian to do around 500 square feet of flooring.

Why not use Bona Traffic HD for all of your finish coats?  *The Bona Traffic HD is more expensive than the Bona Novia so using the Novia as your second coat keeps the price down a bit.  Bona Traffic HD is your only option for a matte finish, plus it has the best durability so if for some reason you only want to use one product, go with the Bona Traffic HD for all of your finish coats, NOT the Bona Novia.

I looked online and they say applying the finish is really hard and you have to be able to swirl it around corners and you should use a pad to put it on and I’m really scared to do it because I might ruin my floors.  You won’t.  I thought the same thing when I looked up how to properly apply the finish.  Just ignore what you’ve read and think of it like painting a wall. You want to feather out your edges and you don’t want noticeable lines or splotches.  If you see a splotch, just run over it again lightly with the roller.

I like whitewashed floors. How do I get that look? There’s the somewhat difficult way of using wood lye (bleach) and castile soap but you can get a similar look by just using the Bona NordicSeal as your sealer instead of the Bona NaturalSeal.

Doesn’t sanding old floors remove all the patina and beauty of them?? It depends on the age of the wood.  The older the wood, the deeper the colour in them goes.  20 year old floors with have colour just on the surface.  100 year old floors will have colour almost all the way through the board. So you can sand them and still retain that nice old wood look. Keep in mind, the board will be lighter the deeper you sand no matter what, but there will be colour and it will still look like a mottled, old piece of wood.

Can you bleach wood floors?  I did.  Some of the replacement boards I used for patching were made of fir which was darker than my pine floors.  I just poured straight bleach onto the board and wiped it with cloth. By the next day the boards had lightened.  In some cases I had to do this twice.


I hope, hope, HOPE this helps any of you who have faced the same orange floor crisis as I did.  There’s is a green alternative that will eliminate your orange floors.

You can do it!  Exhume the fume from your Oompa Loompa room.

→Follow me on Instagram where I do lots of other stuff←

A Modern Way to Refinish Old Floors. A Complete Step by Step Guide

81 Comments

  1. Judy says:

    Tung oil. Not the marketed versions of tung + other schtuff. Tung oil straight out of the can and thinned with turpentine. It is super strong, non yellowing and super water resistant. It is also non-toxic and like other plant oils, washes off with strong soap if it is not dry. You can use it on your butcher block and cutting boards, heck you can even cook with it!
    This is my method:
    Sand and tack the surface. Mix 1 part tung oil to 5 or 6 parts turpentine. Scatter drops across the wood to be finished and rub it around well. It will be very thin. Rub until it is evenly distributed. Let it soak a while then polish off any damp areas that has not penetrated. Set up a small fan to move the air. Tung oil, like other drying oils sets up by reacting with the air to form a polymer. This is why you thin it so much. Let it dry overnight.

    Add one part of tung oil to your original mix with each successive coat. Repeat the above process. After a few coats you may wish to sand with fine paper to remove the fuzz. Just keep applying until it looks smooth as you want it. The finish is almost matte, never glossy and plastic looking, but more like natural wood that has been polished with years of use with stocking feet.

    It is so durable that I used it for our slate shower and countertop. Ten years and still new looking. If you need to fix a ding or refresh the finish, sand the area and apply.

  2. SUSAN DAVIES says:

    Hi there Hope you may still be answering questions … love your floors ! Well done, and thank you for sharing your process. I’d love mine to look very similar … so 1: ‘was it your decision to sand between applying all the different bona products ? Reason I’m asking is that I’ve just spent a week sanding two rooms and a hallway with a drum, belt sander and orbital sander, finishing with a 120 grit. And I’m punch-drunk from sanding, to put it mildly … 2. About 10/20 of my boards have black discolouration (similar to you first pic) that hasn’t come out with sanding. Did using bleach lighten them please ? And if so, was that clorox bleach ? I thought to also maybe try hydrogen peroxide. All the best, Susan

  3. Jeff Banks says:

    It wasn’t the polyurethane that made the floors orange, it was the oil carrier. Bona finishes are also all polyurethanes

    And by mixing finishes you’ve compromised the film quality over the entire floor. Well done.

    • Karen says:

      Hey Jeff! You’re super smart. I’m glad you told me. About how super smart you are. ~ karen!

      • Jeff Banks says:

        From the oh so triggered tone of your reply I can glean a couple of things:

        1. You’ve had a quick google (maybe should have done that before you published?) and discovered I am indeed correct.

        2. You’re not one for admitting your mistakes.

        Perhaps instead of spending your time on sarcastic replies, you could spend it revising and correcting this steaming pile of crap you’ve published to the internet? You know, take some editorial responsibility?

        But that would take some contrition on your part, so I’m not holding out much hope.

        For anyone reading this, I really recommend you do your own research, and not follow the advice of someone who refuses to do theirs.

      • Karen says:

        Nope. That’s not it. Have a good day. ~ karen!

      • Darla Tagrin says:

        Are you a professional? If not, then why are you being a judgemental piece of crap?

      • Sarah says:

        You handled that beautifully, Karen. You shouldn’t need to handle things like that, but you did it beautifully.

    • Vanessa says:

      Your floor looks amazing! Great Job. Off topic … I love the full body portrait of the woman in the white dress. Can you please tell me the name off the artist and piece?

      • Karen says:

        Hi Vanessa. That’s actually an antique portrait of a Scottish woman that I bought at an auction many years ago. So the artist is long gone. :/ ~ karen!

    • Ewa says:

      I agree, it makes it a little confusing to those who don’t know much about floor products and floor DIY… Don’t use poly, but hey there is Bona! Bona is also poly but a new generation and, which doesn’t go yellow.

  4. Linda VonBurg says:

    This might be a silly question but do I have to remove my appliances in my kitchen for this? I don’t really care to, and I see the bookcase above was not moved. Your floors are so beautiful! We have heart of pine over 30 years old now. They are in need of TLC as I do not want to rip them up. We have 2 bulldogs that keep them looking vintage. :) thanks in advance!

  5. Landon "Wood Expert" Edgington says:

    This is explanatory. What a great guide! Thanks!!!

  6. Julia says:

    Great guide, thank you! We are trying to sand and refinish our 150 year old floor boards that have (slightly recessed) screws and nails in them and I was was wondering if you ran into any problems with nails while sanding? Worried about ripping the sandpaper or even breaking the machine..

    Happy holidays!
    Julia

  7. sadie says:

    Your floors are stunning! I absolutely love the color and how there isn’t any orange. I’m so over the orange tones of our floors. We’re getting our floors refinished in a couple of weeks and I want to try and match the color yours turned out! Thanks for sharing!

  8. janine horton says:

    I LOVE your floors!
    Just wondering why you used 3 products? The seal? the bona satin? Then the traffic in matte? I thought you could do seal and then traffic – wondering if I’m missing something.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Janine. It was cheaper to do it this way because the Traffic is more expensive. Technically it only has to go on the top coat so it was less expensive to do the in between coats with the satin. ~ karen!

  9. Cheverly says:

    Do you suppose this could be used on cabinetry as well? We have antique pine cabinets in the kitchen of our 100 year old home and I love the cabinets but HATE the orange-y color. I’ve been testing out stains but of course they’re oil based and so all reading orange too. We need to move forward pretty quick, but I’m frozen by my indecision (and mostly my desire not to match my cabinets with the current president).

    • Karen says:

      Hi Cheverly! That’s a great question, to which I have no answer, lol. I would guess this would work perfectly as long as you got the cabinets properly sanded! Why don’t you try it on the interior of one of the doors? ~ karen!

  10. Susan says:

    I am one year in on my non-yellow floors and I am so happy! I on lm y did one room because, well, I wanted to make sure it worked before creating floor-refinishing chaos in the entire house.
    I have some rugs and the non-skid stuff used left discoloration. What do you use under your rugs on those gorgeous floors to prevent the old ‘banan-peel’ dance?

    • Karen says:

      Oh! I use regular non slip pads. I buy a roll of it and cut it to size. I haven’t ever had a problem with them leaving marks on my wood floors but I know exactly what you mean because non slip pads DO leave marks on my VCT tiles in the mudroom and kitchen. For some reason if I take the non slip stuff away the VCT tiles seem to return to normal after a while. I suspect that the marks trap moisture and once the non slip stuff is taken away the moisture escapes and the marks disappear. Try it on your wood floors and see if the same is true! Good luck. ~ karen

  11. Alexandre W Artmann says:

    Karen, is your floor heart pine? Or yellow?

  12. Sheryl says:

    Hi Karen, We bought a house with beautiful heart pine floors but there are large discolored areas where rugs were placed. The previous owner says I should not sand them as they were sanded twice before. They’ve been in the house about 18 yrs but we have no idea of the actual age of the wood. Can I have them sanded again and, if so, is there a guarantee that the discolored areas can be matched up? I really hate to cover them up but I don’t think I can live with it like it is.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sheryl. I’m afraid I can’t say if they can be resanded or not. You’ll have to have a professional come in and assess whether there’s enough wood left on them. You can have a look between the boards to see how close the top is to the tongue portion. If possible you can try to do a very light sanding with a palm sander on the discoloured areas to see if it helps. ~ karen!

  13. Rosemary says:

    A little over a year on, how do your floors look and clean up? Still great?

    • Karen says:

      Yup. Still great. If you follow me on Instagram, I seem to feature them a lot in my stories so you can always check in there to see how they’re doing. :) ~ karen!

      • Rosemary Harker says:

        Thanks for the information about Bona. We just did the oak floors in our 1940 house (prior to move in, thankfully) and they turned out great

  14. kate says:

    we are laying wide plank pine from rough cut lumber. We have sent all board through the planer to a even width/depth but, they are very light (yellow, red and even bluish beetle kill colors). how might we get the beautiful worn color/stain before finishing? do you recommend a stain?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kate! I wouldn’t say there’s anyone stain that’s guaranteed to work. You kind of have to try a few and see how you like them. On my outdoor furniture and some other pieces, I use my homemade “stain” that’s made of steeped steel wool and vinegar. You can read my post on how to make it here. It isn’t really a “stain”. It causes a chemical reaction in wood that ages it. ~ karen!

    • Kiley says:

      Hi Kate!

      We had 14 pines taken down from our property and then had a sawyer come mill them into floorboards. They’ve been drying out in the barn the past several months and are ready to be planed before install. Curious to see how your project turned out. Hoping you’ll get a notification of my response because I see you posted back in January.
      I’m wondering how/if you managed to avoid the yellow.

      Thank you!
      Kiley

  15. Jenny says:

    Hi l! Are the bona products good with high traffic and pets. Seriously considering doing this myself for some reclaimed oak flooring I’d like to order for my new home and wanting to understand how durable the coats lasts to high traffic (hunting dogs that are crazy!)

  16. Mac Murray says:

    Hello! What grit sandpaper did you use each time you sanded?

  17. Mona says:

    I pinned this post when it first came out. I still love the way your floors came out and wanted to let you know a lot of other people must too because it is one of the most popular pins ever for me.

    • Karen says:

      Wow! That’s great! Thanks for letting me know. :) I still love my floors too and am considering doing the same thing with my “orange” harvest table made out of 27″ wide planks of barnboard. For some reason that’s more frightening to me than doing my floors, lol. ~ karen!

  18. MajesticMoose says:

    I was facing the same issue last year when redoing my entire house. I was NOT going to have the stupid yellow again. I researched and researched (definite addiction there) and found Bona. I absolutely love it. The only thing I did not like was getting the different rental machines back into my Rogue – that was the hard part of it all :) I still have to do the most central room in the house, but first I need to plaster the ugly ceiling. Everybody who comes to the house LOVES my floor and now they hate their orange ones even more.

  19. Alissa says:

    Hi Karen,
    I just found your blog! You’re the go getter I need to become!!! We just bought a 20 year old house with yellow pine floors. The previous owners refinished the floors about 5 years ago, but their dogs wreaked havoc on the floors… and they’re a yellowy orange. I sent a link to your post to the guy refinishing them for me and asked him if he would try it, so he’s going to! I’m so excited! I know my floors are much younger than yours and will now be sanded twice in the last five years… also they’re yellow pine and yours are probably heart pine – Do you think this process will work for me, or do you think they’ll be super light and need some staining to get an older look? I love the look of yours in the pictures. Thanks in advance for taking the time to read.

  20. Gabrielle Duval says:

    Pine floors are sooo soft – I have a lot of them. Gouge very easily unless you don’t use the room…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Art of Doing Stuff