How to Buff a Hardwood Floor

Say goodbye to scratches with a simple machine and a few basic supplies

Audrey Bruno
Written by Audrey Bruno
Updated June 30, 2022
A father and daughter put together a puzzle
Photo: Fancy/Veer/Corbis / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images
Difficulty

Intermediate

Perfect for handy homeowners.

Time to complete

6 hours

The total time spent buffing your hardwood floor will depend on the size of the room.

Cost

$50—$100

You’ll wonder why everyone doesn’t do this themselves.

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Stand-up buffing machine
  • Spraying applicator (optional)
  • Mop and bucket

SUPPLIES

  • Finishing/polishing liquid
  • Replacement polishing pads
  • Gloves
  • Mask
  • Safety glasses

If your hardwood floor has seen better days, you might think you have to sand it down or even replace it entirely. Sometimes, though, when it’s just light scratches and scuffs, buffing can be enough to give it a new lease on life. 

Although buffing is still time-consuming, it isn’t as complex, messy, or expensive as the alternatives. Learn how to buff a hardwood floor without the help of professionals to give it a smooth finish and lustrous sheen.

  1. Determine Whether Buffing Your Floor Is Worth It

    Buffing only works to lift light marks that have penetrated the thin protective layer, such as polyurethane, on top of your timber. Think of it as an exfoliating process. You won’t be able to remove deep scratches gouged into the surface of the actual wood, but you can smooth away any small imperfections that may have built up over the years.

    Hardwood floors with a penetrated finish like a stain won’t have the surface layer on top that you can buff up. Any scratches will be directly on the timber. For these, you’ll need to refinish the flooring by sanding it down or just replace it.

  2. Rent a Floor-Buffing Machine

    Although you can buy a stand-up floor buffing machine, they are expensive (typically at least $500), and you won’t need to use one often. It makes more sense to rent one instead from your local home improvement store as this costs less than $50 per day. Handheld buffers are also available for small spaces.

    There are two types of stand-up buffing machines: spray and dry. The spray type is the one most often used for home jobs. The buffer rotates at a speed of up to 1000 RPM, and it uses a polishing solution on the buffer pad to remove scuffs and produce a shiny luster. 

    Dry buffing machines are more powerful but are more challenging to handle. They are usually only used by professionals or in a commercial setting. If you hire a professional to buff the floors of a large room, they may use this type of machine.  Professionals typically charge at least $100 to $300 for floor buffing services, depending on the size of the room.

    You often need to buy the finishing product and polishing pads separate from the machine rental. Ensure the pads are high quality to avoid any issues with removing too much of the surface layer. Do some online research or ask the machine rental associate for help to find the best equipment for your floors.

  3. Prep the Room

    You’ll want to clear the space you plan to work in. Remove furniture and clutter, lift curtains, and remove any floor vent metalwork. These high-speed machines can cause damage if they accidentally scuff furniture or walls, and you need a clear path to achieve a smooth finish.

  4. Clean and Dry the Flooring

    Cleaning hardwood with cloth
    Photo: stokkete / Adobe Stock

    Thoroughly clean and dry the floor before any buffing begins. Debris and dirt can cause an uneven finish, discoloration, issues with even polish absorption, and the final shine could be less impressive.

  5. Take Proper Safety Precautions

    Using gloves, a mask, and safety glasses is sensible, and be aware that the finishing solutions can be toxic and produce noxious fumes. The room should be well-ventilated.

    Although usually easy to handle, floor buffing machines operate at high speeds and have impressive power. Be extra careful when using one to minimize the chance of injury.

  6. Apply the Buffing Solution

    When using a spray buffer machine, you need to apply the finishing solution to the floor before going over it with the buffer. You can either apply this with a mop, or, for an easier, uniform, and light application, you can use a spraying applicator designed for this job. The sprayer is particularly helpful if you’re buffing a large space. If you want an especially glossy shine, you can apply a second spray of the solution after buffing in the first light mist.

  7. Buff the Floor

    Machine buffing hardwood
    Photo: Thomas / Adobe Stock

    Having a smooth technique and planning your route will help to simplify the process of refinishing the floors without sanding. Always use a light, sweeping motion that is as smooth as possible and work from left to right across the room. Be careful of applying too much pressure when working close to the room’s baseboards. You don’t want to let the buffer stay in one spot too long—this can cause burn-like marks.

    Work backward so you don’t trap yourself in the room, and consider the electrical outlet you plug the machine into—positioning it behind you. You may wish to go over the floor twice to ensure you’ve covered every section properly. Replace the polish pad if it suffers from any tears or becomes thick with the finishing solution.

  8. Wait Before Refurnishing Your Room

    Once you’ve completed the buffing work, it’s best to allow 24 hours before returning all the furniture to the room and using it as normal. Light footfall after one hour, however, shouldn’t be a problem.

    To keep your floors in tip-top condition, be careful not to drag any furniture across the floor and consider using pads underneath any heavy pieces to prevent future scrapes and scuffs. When cleaning your hardwood floor, don’t soak it with water and make sure you use appropriate and gentle cleaning products.

    If buffing hasn’t lifted off the scratches or scuffs the way you had hoped, it may be time to call in a professional refinisher. They can assess if there’s a requirement for sanding.

FAQs

What’s the difference between buffing vs. sanding?

Buffing is a less expensive and less time-consuming alternative to other floor repair techniques, but it’s only ideal for removing surface-level scratches and damages. Floor-buffing machines work to gently smooth out the floor’s top layer rather than removing it the way that sanding does. 

This process is ideal for gently worn floors, but it won’t have the desired impact on floors with severe damage. On the other hand, sanding works by fully stripping the floor’s top layer so that damages beneath the surface are accessible to remove or repair. Since the process is more involved, it requires more time, tools, and experienced technique to achieve the best possible results. 

Will buffing remove scratches?

Buffing will only remove scratches at the surface level of your flooring. You’ll need to remove deeper scratches with another floor repair method like sanding.

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