I bought my house a couple of years ago and I was told that there are beautiful hardwood floors under the carpet. I decided to rip up the carpets and find out (actually my dog decided that for me when she ate some of my carpet for dinner).

I see a lot of articles on how to refinish hardwood floors, so I can figure that out myself.

My question is if sanding is ALWAYS required when bringing hardwood back to life. The old woman I bought the house from kept the house in pristine condition, and I can't imagine the floors under the carpet are any different.

I'm hoping that I can remove the carpet and any adhesive and just apply the stain and protective coating without sanding. Is this a completely unrealistic expectation? Or do people sometimes get lucky and have hardwood under carpet that doesn't need sanded?

  • 3
    You can't apply stain without removing the finish first. Stain needs to penetrate to the wood. Oct 3, 2013 at 20:39
  • 2
    Yes, some people get lucky sometimes.
    – mike
    Oct 3, 2013 at 21:17
  • 2
    I'd avoid assuming any expectations until you get the carpet pulled up. You really won't know what's under there until you look.
    – DA01
    Oct 4, 2013 at 2:04
  • Thanks for all the tips. One of the things I wasn't realizing is that staining is different than applying a top coat to protect the wood. If I'm OK with the color of the wood then I wouldn't need to stain. I could just apply the top coats of poly and be good.
    – Bob McNees
    Oct 4, 2013 at 11:49
  • 1
    @bMcNees - In fine wood working, staining or dyeing is a separate step. On the other hand there are polyurethane products that are tinted, being halfway between poly and paint. They produce a completely different look compared to the same color stain/dye.
    – mike
    Oct 10, 2013 at 4:01

5 Answers 5


Wall to wall carpeting is usually attached to the floor using carpet tack strips around the perimeter like these

carpet tack strip

The raised tack points grip the edges of the carpet.

Once you pull up the carpet, there is probably a padding that is just laid on the floor without adhesive. If it is rubber backed, the rubber bottom surface sometimes sticks to the floor underneath. Rubber residue can usually be scraped of with a plastic putty knife without damaging the surface of the wood underneath.

The tack strip can be pried up and there will be a few nail holes per strip that can be easily filled.

The real issue will be the condition of the finish on the floor once you get to it. If there is glue on the surface, this may be difficult to remove without serious sanding. Often the finish is fine and a cleaning is all that is needed.

If the finish is slightly worn or lightly scratched, a light sanding followed by a coat or two of polyurethane should restore it. Professional finishers have a light abrading process using large buffing machines that can do this easily and quickly. However it can be done with an orbital sander and lots of time and elbow grease. Very thorough vacuuming and wiping of all dust is essential for a good finish.

If the finish is badly worn or deeply scratched, a serious sanding and refinishing is called for. Again, it can be done by the DIYer, but this is a big job, sanding with power hand tools is very tedious and the professional sanding machines are difficult to use for the novice.


Its rare that hardwood is installed without it being sealed with something.

Varnishes being present will prevent you staining without sanding first.

If you like the present color, you can topcoat it after a good cleaning and light hand sanding with 220grit sandpaper on a pole sander (if not worn, many times carpet is called in to avoid a refinishing).enter image description here

  • HerrBag, if you only do the light sanding, do you have to have compatible varnishes or build up finish? How can you tell/decide what finish is compatible?
    – Tom
    Dec 9, 2013 at 5:22
  • The key is a 'well' cured under coat, which renders it nearly inert. Well would be > 3 mos. The sanding is still important; it exposed a non oxidized surface, and levels any nibs for the original job.
    – HerrBag
    Dec 9, 2013 at 15:01

You only have to sand the floors if the floors need major repair. Often floors under carpet are in good condition because they weren't used. Many times have I bought a house and through down a couple of coats of poly and the floors looked almost new. You really need to sand if the floors are very uneven (heavy wear spots), very used, or if you want to change the look/color.


As others have mentioned, you won't know until you rip up the carpet. Of the floors need to be sanded due to holes from tack strips and/or staples.

But, sometimes you are lucky and can do a screen and recoat.

That's when you buff the floors and just add a coat or two of poly. I would recommend calling a local hardwood place as they can advise you and do this work. Most people who try this themselves mess up the floors and then they need to call the professionals and pay more to do a full sand & refinish. Buffing or screening is not that expensive.


Among the other responses given I would add that sometimes wood floors had damage to finishes caused by water. A common issue is planters and pots that were left on the wood floor. Water spills or leaks that were left standing for a long period of time can also damage the floor finish. Damages like this are often the source of the incentive for people to cover the floor with carpet. :-(

If you have this type of damage sanding will be almost essential.

Some of the DIY big box stores (think orange) rent an easy to use rectangular orbital sander that can take the finish off your floor in no time. These can sand very nearly right up to the walls and into the corners and are far easier to use that some of the other types of sanders such as belt sanders and drum sanders. A dust protection and containment strategy is essential of course.

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