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Rough Hardwood Flooring After Refinishing? Read This First!

Sanding and refinishing a hardwood floor can be a rewarding DIY project for any homeowner. With proper care and application, the results will be beautiful and something you can be proud of for years to come.

But what happens if you do all that work only to find that your floors suddenly feel rough or grainy? Can this be easily fixed or will you have to start all over? In this article, I’m going to cover some of the common causes of rough feeling hardwoods and what you can do to fix them.

What Causes Newly Finished Hardwood Floor to Feel Rough?

If a hardwood floor that you sanded and refinished with water-based polyurethane feels rough, the reason is likely one of the following:

  1. You didn’t use enough coats of polyurethane
  2. You didn’t clean the floor well enough and there’s dust in the finish 
  3. You didn’t sand or screen between coats of poly

Rough Hardwood Flooring

Why Does Water-Based Polyurethane Cause Raised Grain?

Water-based polyurethane is one of the most popular finishes for hardwoods for many reasons. Not only is it easy to apply, but it also dries quickly and it’s low VOC compared to oil-based poly and other sealers.

However, one drawback to using water-based poly is that it can raise the grain of your hardwoods if you don’t take proper care during the application.

Since it’s water-based when you apply water-based polyurethane to your wood floor, it causes the fibers to swell, which raises them into the finish if not properly dealt with. This is actually called “raising the grain.”

I covered how to prevent rough feeling hardwoods with water-based poly below, but chances are that if you’re reading this you’re already past that point. Chances are you are currently dealing with a rough feeling floor and you want a solution.

In that case, jump down to the Fixes section below.

Can You Prevent Raised Grain in Wood Floors?

You can drastically reduce the raised grain that leads to rough feeling hardwoods. The key is to screen the floor between each coat of water-based polyurethane using a fine sanding screen to remove the raised grain in that coat of polyurethane. This is a process known as “burying the grain.”

Most people sand their floors and then apply the first coat of poly. The problem is that even though the floors were sanded, they were sanded dry. As soon as the water-based finish is applied, the grain is going to raise.

The trick to minimizing the raised grain is to actually raise the grain and screen it during the finishing process. This is called “burying the grain.”

By doing this, you will minimize the amount of grain that penetrates through the next layers of finish.

Here’s what you do. I am assuming you properly sanded and prepped the floor, applied the stain for color, and are now ready to apply the polyurethane.

  1. Rent a floor buffer from your local hardware store. This should come with a pad that a sanding screen attaches to. You’ll want a fine screen, such as a 220 grit screen.
  2. Thoroughly clean the floor by vacuuming and using a tack cloth to remove as much dust as possible. Remember that dust can also lead to rough feeling floors.
  3. Apply the first coat of water-based poly.
  4. Allow this to completely dry for 24 hours (or as directed by the instructions). Since it’s water-based, this will raise the grain in the floor.
  5. Using the buffer and 220-grit sanding screen, go over the entire floor and screen the first coat of poly. This will help smooth out any raised grains. Go lightly on this, you don’t want to overdo it.
  6. Clean the floor again by vacuuming and using a tack cloth
  7. Apply the next coat of poly and allow it to dry.

If the floor is smooth, then you should be good to go. If not, repeat the process of screening, cleaning, and applying layers until it is.  Water-based polyurethane typically requires 2 – 5 coats.

How Do You Fix Rough Hardwood Floors?

The quickest way that has a good chance of success is to screen and recoat the floor. This will require renting a floor buffer with a pad and 220 grit sanding screen. Using such a  fine sanding disk, you can remove the polyurethane and sand the raised grain without removing the stain and reapply.

While this method does not require you to completely sand and refinish the floor, it will take some time and effort (and money).

The trick is to go lightly with the screening because you want to preserve the stain on the floor. If you get too aggressive and start removing that, you’ll likely end up having to start over.

Remember, you can also go over it again, but once you’ve gone too far, you cannot undo that.

Make sure you follow the process I outlined in the section above to prevent rough floors when you’re done. You’ll need to repeat the screening process between each coat of water-based polyurethane that you apply.

Here’s a quick video on the process of screening in case you’re unfamiliar with it:

Can you revive the hardwood without sanding?

If you would rather try a method that does not involve screening and recoating or completely sanding the floor, then you can try applying one or more additional coats of polyurethane.

If you only used a minimal number of coats of polyurethane, then it could make sense to try applying another coat.

As I mentioned in a previous section, water-based polyurethane typically requires 2 – 5 coats. So, if you only applied two coats, or perhaps even only one coat, then adding another coat may help.

You will need to make sure that the floor is as clean as possible. Make sure you seal off the room and vents to prevent as much dust as possible. Then thoroughly clean the floor by vacuuming and using a tack cloth prior to applying additional polyurethane.

The issue with this approach is that you may end up doing a lot of work for nothing. If it were me, and I decided on this method, I would try one coat and determine if it helped.

If I didn’t see and feel a difference, I would go ahead and screen and recoat.

Can you fix rough spots on hardwood flooring by fixing only a section of the floor?

If the rough patch of flooring is confined to a small area, then you may be able to fix just that section of hardwood without having to screen and recoat. You will need to use a sanding block with fine sandpaper to remove the polyurethane. Then apply a new coat, sand, and repeat as necessary.

If you need to only fix a small section, then it seems unlikely that your issue arose from a problem of the polyurethane raising the grain. If that was the case, I would expect you to have rough floors throughout.

It could be that some dust or dirt got caught in the poly as you were applying the coats. In that case, I think this is worth a shot. In addition to the sanding block and fine sandpaper, you will also need a paintbrush to apply the new coats of polyurethane with.

Just as you would if you were doing the entire floor, make sure to clean the area completely before applying a new coat of poly and lightly sand between each coat. You’ll want to brush on at least two coats, potentially more.

The biggest risk to this method is that you may end up with uneven coats of polyurethane. The rest of the floor’s coating may not match this section. If so, check out this article on common finish issues with hardwood floors.

When should you sand and refinish a rough feeling hardwood floor?

If your floors were recently refinished and are rough, then screening and recoating should fix the issue. However, if it doesn’t for some reason, maybe the grit was caught in the stain, then you’ll have to completely sand and refinish them.

This should not be common and one of the methods above will more than likely fix your issue.

If you’re reading this and your floors are rough and have not been refinished in many years, then yes, it is time to consider doing so. In this case, you’ll likely be dealing with issues beyond just rough floors such as a lot of scratches, dull finish, or boards that are discolored.

If that’s the case then you should absolutely have your floors refinished.