Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

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How to Refinish Wood Floors


Nowhere is the charm of an older home more apparent than in the rich look of heart pine floors. Cut from the dense heartwood near the center of virgin longleaf pine trees, heart pine is prized for its fine grain, durability, and lasting beauty. Watch this video to find out more. ...More




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How to Refinish Wood Floors

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Nowhere is the charm of an older home more apparent than in the rich look of heart pine floors. Cut from the dense heartwood near the center of virgin longleaf pine trees, heart pine is prized for its fine grain, durability, and lasting beauty.

The floor in this century old house had been hidden under a layer of glued down carpet. Since trying to dissolve the adhesive with solvent would only have forced it further into the grain and cracks, it was decided to sand it off instead.

Once the glue had been removed with a floor sander and course grit sandpaper, the floor was sanded again using finer grits of paper.

Sanding dust from the floor was mixed with lacquer sealer and toweled over the entire surface to fill any cracks between the boards.

After it had dried, the floor was sanded again to remove any excess sealer then stained with Early American wood stain to reduce the yellow tones in the wood.

When the stain had dried, a semi gloss finish was applied to the floor with a lamb’s wool applicator.

The beautiful look and durable surface of this heart pine floor is one the homeowners will enjoy for years to come.



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54 Comments on “How to Refinish Wood Floors”

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  1. debbie cox Says:
    January 27th, 2008 at 9:42 am

    we have pergal wood flooring it says to clean with water damp cloth. Do you know what I need to buy to clean this flooring. I believe water will damage flooring after using several months. thanks debbie

  2. melissa whitlock Says:
    February 27th, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    We are currently refinishing heart pine floors in our home, but we have alot of cracks in between boards some as large as 1/4″. Could you specify a little more on instructions for filling them? Thanks

  3. Trish Marciano Says:
    March 23rd, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    We have a 200 yr old house, with wide pine tongue & groove flooring. We used clear latex caulk for the cracks, and rubbed off the excess. We did this years ago, and it still is working fine.

  4. Harry Murray Says:
    April 15th, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Metal wheels on dining room chairs have left grooves in heartpine floors. Any suggestions on how to fix these grooves?

  5. Doug Says:
    June 4th, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Help Needed ASAP: We have a 1922 bungalow and just got the floors sanded. Against the advice of my spouse! But there were so many gouges and raw chips. Thougt I had got a good contractor, yadda yadda; and now the caramel colored heart pine and yellow pine floors are skinned bald, have one coat of poly and the contractor is on hold until we resolve the issue. Went from caramel and cinnamon color to bright butterscotch like a basketball court. The mixed woods – so nice with patina – look calico and are way too bright. If the contractor had not gone so deep, no problem but there it is. We feel like our puppy has just gotten killed. I need to salvage this mess and want to see if we can add a tint to darken the next coat and try and better match the original color. Or do I hand glaze then then varnish. Or (and I don’t want to go any deeper and do more damage then I have) do we have to re-sand and start over with some sort of tint/stain then finish. The contract refused to stain the pine – which I bought – but his efficient machines took off too much of the old surface. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  6. Deb Roberts Says:
    September 26th, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    We are refinishing heart pine wood floors 100+ yrs. old. Could you please recommend a finish for these beautiful floor? Thank You

  7. Pam Williamson Says:
    October 11th, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    we are refinishing our heart pine floors in our late 1890′s kitchen. the floor had a sub-floor stappled on with armstrong flooring attached to it. we have pulled it all off but have a million staples. any suggestions on removing them easily (ha)at least a better way than each one removed by hand? we have refinished three other rooms and they are so worth the trouble….

  8. Danny Lawson Says:
    December 1st, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    I just finished pine floors in my log home for 3 or 4th time ( we rent it ) I sanded but did not sand all the sealer off I stain it again . It appears the sanded to wood soaks in but after 2th coat of sealer still appears dryed in . I sealed it with satin but appears glossy in the places old sealer still was on floors !

  9. Eric Fiel Says:
    January 4th, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    We are going to refinish our 120 year old Heart Pine floors and I would like more details on the different grits of sandpaper you used and the ratio of pine sanding dust and lacquer sealer you used and how long you let it dry before you resanded it. Thanks in advance

  10. Mary Says:
    January 25th, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I have the same questions that Eric has regarding sandpaper grit, and the lacquer sealer. I have pine floors that have round circles (plugs of some sort) scattered thoughout the floor. Those circles are darker than the pine. I was thinking that maybe I could use stain as close to the dark color as possible to prevent them from being so obvious. Thanks!

  11. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    January 26th, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Eric and Mary,
    One of the problems with sanding heart pine floors is that the resin in the wood tends to gum up the sandpaper. When I sanded our antebellum floors, I had to start with coarse (36 grit) sandpaper to get them even and down to bare wood, then I switch to 60, 80, and finally 120 grit (though it tended to gum up on a single pass across the floor). Regarding filling the cracks with lacquer sealer and sanding dust, the cracks on our old wide flooring were so big that I didn’t fill them for fear that it would make them standout more and wood movement might cause the filler to come loose. When filling narrow cracks, add enough sanding dust to achieve the right color and consistency and let it dry until it is hard before finishing. For holes and the like, try mixing sanding dust with epoxy glue, which will dry hard in a short time.

  12. Mitch Berry Says:
    January 30th, 2009 at 1:15 am

    We had installed remilled 200 year old heart pine about 10 years ago. It was finished with NO laquer finish, just a Watco stain as we preferred little to no shine. The floor needs refinishing but the wood is in superb condition. Somewhat distressed, but we want it that way. When sanding/buffing, what grit of paper would you use? There are no defects that we need to remove. Again, the wood is in near perfect condition. Thanks for you response!

  13. LINDA Says:
    May 22nd, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    WE BOUGHT A 50YR OLD HOUSE WITH WOOD FLOORS. WE CANNOT AFFORD TO PAY A PERSON TO COME IN AND REDO THE FLOORS. WILL IT BE OKAY TO CLEAN THE FLOORS AND PAINT A STAIN ON THEM?

  14. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    May 26th, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Hi Linda,
    Most stains are made to penetrate into unfinished wood and would not work over an already finished floor. You might be able to apply a tinted polyurethane over your existing finish to hide defects if you clean and lightly sand it first.

  15. Dave Says:
    August 11th, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    I refinished some of the floors in my house w a friend who has done a few and they turned out well but not perfect. I understand the process but im having a hard time figuring out if buffing the floors is necessary and if so when should it be done?? Between coats? Before poly on the last coat?
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!

  16. Martha Says:
    August 20th, 2009 at 5:59 am

    I’m trying to color match new random width red oak flooring to 110 yr. old heart pine which has been refinished in a natural stain. Any suggestions for stain colors? Minwax Gunstock is close but needs slightly more brown/yellow. (maybe add Provencial ?) I read that Antique Maple and a dark mahagony might work but that’s using a Minwax gel stain and it’s a two step process to apply the color. Thanks for your input.

  17. tom Says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    never have re-covered a wood flooring ,but I am willing to try. Not afraid of failing.It just must be done.I have looked at all the videos. Am ready to try ,do you have any last words of wisdom

  18. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 8:15 am

    Hi Tom,
    If you’re putting down new prefinished wood flooring (especially the thinner engineered flooring) , be sure your subfloor is as flat and level as possible first. See our video on How to Level a Subfloor for more info. If you’re sanding a new or existing floor using a drum sander and edger, keep in mind that it’s easy to gouge the floor and leave sanding marks. Lower the drum sander down lightly while moving the machine forward and pick it up at the other end the same way. Unless you really look hard, you won’t see the sanding marks until the finish goes on, when they stand out like a sore thumb and it’s too late to do anything about it. Good luck with your project, and share what you learned when you’re through.

  19. lauren Says:
    October 5th, 2009 at 9:27 am

    our carpenter just glued down stair treads in old reclaimed yellow pine – our floors in our 1910 home are original red heart pine. i’ve been mixing and trying stain combos for weeks to get the yellow pine close to the color of the old red pine. anyone know the winning formula?!?!??! thanks

  20. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    October 5th, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Hi Lauren,
    I’ve used Minwax Early American a lot. It has a nice medium brown color. Minwax mahogany will give a darker brown with some dark red in it, so you might try it as well.

  21. raynelle Says:
    October 24th, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    I have heart of pine flooring in a sunroom. A small area has some red paint, possibly a paint ball, or red dye from a wet red duffle bag, not sure which – grandson knows but is not telling; this has penetrated through the polyurethane. I have tried hand sanding and unduluted bleach – nothing works; red stain still there. Had my floor refinisher analyze stain; he is not sure he can sand it out – may have to replace wood at a cost of $450. I would like to repair this as economical as possible. This is an investment house that I have sold and am closing on Oct 27th. Any suggestions? Thank you.

  22. lisa hodges Says:
    January 1st, 2010 at 12:28 am

    I love the look of very light wood floors. My 4″ oak prefinished plank was installed throughout the house, and turned was exactly the look I wanted…. however, the wood is only two years old, and it’s turning a weird yellow/orange color, which really clashes with my current decor. I’ve only tried 3 types of cleaner, Bona = too sticky, no matter how little I used… vinagar & water very sparingly = smells, and eventually dulls the glossy finish, and finally Murphy’s oil soap = cleaned well, but (seemed) to accelerate the yellowing. Two questions, is there any way I can gradually remove the yellow, and what type of cleaner should I use that will not promote this yellowing? Also, this yellowing is happening everywhere, whether there is sunlight or not… (not much direct sunlight comes in)
    Thank you for your time, in answering all our questions.
    Lisa

  23. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    January 1st, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Hi Lisa,
    The change in the color of your wood floors could be due to a color change in the wood or finish as they age. Almost all natural wood will change color over time with lighter woods like maple, cherry, and mahogany darkening significantly while some dark woods, like walnut will lighten to a honey color. Finishes, too, can change color with varnishes often taking on yellow hues as they age. In either case, there’s not much you can do about it but learn to live with it.

  24. gregg Says:
    January 3rd, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    I have Long leaf Pine flooring. They were covered with carpeting for many, many years. About 10 years ago I ripped up the carpet and had them sanded then coated with polyurethane. The wood dents very easily. All furniture is on felt and my girlfriends high heals are making the floor look like a woodpecker lives hear. Is there a finish that will harden and protect this flooring? Maybe epoxy. Thanks
    Gregg

  25. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    January 4th, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Hi Gregg,
    If the wood itself is denting, then it won’t matter how hard the finish on top of it is, it will continue to happen. Long leaf pine (if it has a fine, quartersawn grain) and polyurethane (when applied correctly) are both pretty hard, so I’m surprised to hear that you’re having problems with denting.

  26. Randy W Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 2:30 am

    Ive been wanting to refinish my floors in my 1930′s house – I went and rented a rotory floor sander, not a drum sander – because the flooring is pretty thin. The problem is the sanding pads keep getting gunked up the the varnish or urethan(sp?). Is there a trick or should I get the drum sander? The room is 9′x15′ and Im not quite half done and already went thru 12 of the 36 grit pads. :( Thanks for any tips. Kinda thinking about striper to get the top coat off then sanding?

  27. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Hi Randy,
    If you’re using an edge sander, like the one in the first photo of this article, you should definitely use drum sander instead to sand the bulk of the floor in your room. Not only is a drum sander much faster than an edger, but it leaves a much smoother finished surface with any scratch marks running with the grain of the wood rather than in circular swirls across it. You’ll still need an edger to do next to the walls and doors, but the drum sander is the tool to use for everything else. Both sanders, however, can be tricky to control to keep from gouging the wood.

  28. Karl X Says:
    March 11th, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Would you please provide more detail about the method of using laquer sealer and dust to seal seams. Is there a preferred sealer? We’re ready to sand, seal and oil-base poly our 1935 Atlanta bungalow kitchen with heart pine. Also, do you have any kitchen specific advice for refinishing?

    Thanks!!

  29. Eric J Says:
    April 4th, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    I am having heart pine wood floors refinished. There are large gaps between some boards. In the past some sort of filler was used. In some cases it was very light. Most of the old caulk filler however looks like a dark pitch. Do you know what this was and what I could use to match it to fill in gaps?

  30. Daphne Williams Says:
    April 9th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    I have heart pine in an 1899 house. We decided to try refinishing the flooring in one room to see how it turns out (instead of paying someone $2800 to do all five rooms). We have it sanded, and it looks pretty good, but there are some dark spots throughout where we were scared to sand down far enough to remove them with the drum sander.

    We have decided to go with a dark stain to try to make the dark spots blend and because we like dark. Can you recommend a stain brand/color and topcoat?

  31. Sara Says:
    June 14th, 2010 at 1:17 am

    I would also like more information about using a combo laquer and sanding dust. Please let me know how best to use this method.

  32. Tami Says:
    June 24th, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    I have heart pine in our home and we are in the process of refinishing the floors up stairs and my question is the floors have been sanded and I would like to wait until the weather cools down in fall to complete them. Would this cause a problem if we hold off on the staining.

  33. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    June 28th, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Hi Tami,
    It would be best to stain and finish your floors as soon as possible to protect the wood from damage from the sun, warping due to changes in humidity, and to keep any stains or dirt from marring the wood. However, if you don’t use the upstairs of your house and the raw wood floors will not be walked on, you might be able to wait until fall before finishing them.

  34. Darlynn Tenaglia Says:
    October 21st, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    I just tore up my carpeting and want to restore the wood underneath. My problem is there are large areas of animal urine stain. As far as I can tell, the floors don’t have a sealer on them, they are only stained. By sanding the floor would the stains come out or at least lighten up or should I just re-carpet?

  35. Barbara Couture Says:
    December 1st, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    We are trying to remove the glue/backing from old carpet on our pine floors. We are using a small electric tool and scraping the backing off the floor. It has been very time consuming but the floor will be wonderful when finished. I have used Goo Off on the floor up till now. Is there something better/easier to use? There is some residue left on the floor that will not come up. I don’t want any stain put down until it is completely clear. HELP!!!

  36. Spencer Ford Says:
    December 7th, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Danny,

    I have long leaf pine floors in my 1920′s home. A previous home owner installed ceramic tile over the floor in one 450sf room. They put a hardy plank backer board under the tile and secured it to the wood floors with large wood screws. A neighbor told us that this was because the owners were trying to make the floor appear to be level by using tile instead of having the foundation leveled.
    We want to remove the tile and hardy plank and refinish the floors. Do we need to remove each screw by hand or can they be cut off filled and then finised over? Is this project even advisable?

  37. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    December 7th, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Hi Spencer,
    I would remove the screws, but you could cut them off if it will be less noticeable that way. Good luck with your project!

  38. Louise Swenson Says:
    January 8th, 2011 at 9:28 am

    I am redoing pine floor and I was wondering how you can tell what type of pine it is, the house was built in 1879(Northern IL). The wood is extremely hard and has a tight grain.

  39. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    January 8th, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Hi Louise,
    There are a number of species of pine, all of which contain heartwood, so it can be difficult to tell which is which. If you’re really interested in trying to figure it out, start by reading Bruce Hoadley’s excellent book Identifying Wood.

    Here in the South, most of the homes built before the late 1800s were floored with heartwood from longleaf pine, since it was very hard and durable, though there were other species of pine available. The lumber was shipped up North by rail as well, so it’s possible your floor is made from Southern longleaf pine.

    Sadly, there is very little heart pine lumber of any species readily available today, since it takes many years of growth to produce it and most of the species grown today for timber produce little heartwood. You can sometimes find heart pine at salvage yards and from companies that pull old sunken trees from the bottom of rivers and resaw them for lumber.

  40. caleb browne Says:
    February 25th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    I just sanded down a pine floor which had some kind of green paint covering it, but not too thick – quite old and worn. There is still a green tint to the wood, and am not sure what to do. It looks terrible. Would some kind of stain be able to counter this? Or should I sand even more?

  41. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    February 26th, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Hi Caleb,
    Stain might help (test an inconspicuous spot to see), but you’ll probably have to sand it down further. Good luck with your project.

  42. alisha Says:
    March 7th, 2011 at 5:36 am

    my husband and i bought a 1930 brick bungalow 6 months ago. all original hardwoods (that i want to desperately keep). during the crazy renovations that had a billion twists and turns we ended up taking all the plaster walls down without proper covering on the floors. they were definitely going to need refinishing at some point b/c it looks like the previous owner put urethane over improperly finished floors and it was peeling/cracking. now it is scraped up really bad from plaster and we are now in the market to redo them before we get all of our furniture in (which should be happening in just a few weeks. we are our of funds to get someone else to do it for us and are wondering what the best steps are in doing this ourselves. what steps should we take, grit of sandpaper should we use, process to move forward in? not even sure what kind of tools we need to rent. can you please offer us help? we are in dire straights to get into this house and it feels like a billion years away. thank you in advance for all of your help.

  43. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Hi Alisha,
    Sanding down wood floors and refinishing them yourself can be done, but it’s pretty tricky to do a good job if you don’t have a lot of experience working with a floor sander. It’s easy to gouge the floors with the sander and leave sanding marks that often go unnoticed until the finish has been applied when it’s too late to correct. If you do decide to give it a try, you’ll need to rent a walk-behind drum type floor sander and a handheld disk type edge sander to get up close to doors and walls. Given the condition of your floor, you’ll need to start with a pretty coarse grit (60 or lower) to remove the old finish and damage to the floors, then work your way up to 120 grit or higher. You probably won’t be able to remove more than 1/16″ to 1/8″, so any deeper gouges will remain. You’ll then need to vacuum the floor well to remove any dust, wipe it down, and finish. In addition to the video/article above, check out our post on Tools for Sanding Wood Floors. Good luck with your project!

  44. billy owens Says:
    March 20th, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Hi Danny,
    We have some pine floors about 40 years old in pretty rough shape. They have a lot of deep scratches. We had considered resanding and then my wife said for now just clean and urethane. Any suggestions thanks

  45. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    March 20th, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Hi Billy,
    Polyurethane doesn’t adhere very well to existing finishes. It really only adheres well to bare wood, unfinished stained wood, and other recently applied coats of polyurethane that haven’t cured completely. So if your floor is already finished, cleaning it and putting down a coat or two of poly on top might not be the best option. To test adhesion, put a coat of polyurethane on a small area that isn’t obvious (a closet that’s finished would be great), let is cure completely for a week or more, firmly press a piece of tape into it, and pull it off. If the poly stays stuck to the old finish or if the old finish and poly both come up, you’re probably all right coating over the old finish with polyurethane. If the layer of poly comes off with the tape, then I wouldn’t use it to coat over the existing floor finish. If you do coat over the existing finish, clean the floor thoroughly (mop with lightly soaped water, go over it again with clean water, then dry with old towels), then sand it lightly with fine (180-220 grit) sandpaper going with the grain, remove the sanding dust with a damp rag, and allow it to dry before finishing. Good luck with your project!

  46. Caroline Says:
    June 30th, 2011 at 10:50 am

    We have wide board pine in our kitchen and family room that has mahogany plugs in it. We really want to refinish the floor and possibly stain it. Do we have to have a dark stain to cover up the mahogany plugs or is there a way to bleach those out or something? Hate the dots all over the floor, but cannot afford to rip it up. Thanks for any help you can give.

  47. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    July 19th, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Hi Caroline,
    There will always be some difference between the two woods, and it would be hard to bleach the plugs without bleaching the flooring as well. Applying a stain before finishing may reduce the contrast between them (I’d experiment first). You could also finish the floors with a tinted polyurethane, like Minwax Polyshades, which adds an opaque color that will mask the wood. The disadvantage is that a tinted finish will also hide the grain of the wood. The more coats you apply, the more opaque the finish will be. Good luck with your project!

  48. Jonathan Steinen Says:
    August 24th, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    My flooring sub started sanding the floors of a one room renovation we’re working on, and as he got below the finish with the drum sander, white ring shaped stains (size of a penny to half dollar) started becoming apparent. All of the spots are at the edge of the board and appear to be above where the floor boards nailed. Neither the flooring contractor or myself, have seen this before. Do you know what caused this to happen and how to remove the spots?

  49. Christine Says:
    October 2nd, 2011 at 12:16 am

    OMG! Please help! I had my jarrar floors polished (the whole house)one month ago and the polish is starting to peel away from the edges! Why is this happening? VERY concerned! kindest regards, Christine.

  50. Janice Black Says:
    October 12th, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Our 50′s ranch house has tongue-and-groove floors with mahogany plugs (like Caroline’s, but I actually love the look!) When we bought the house in 1992, we had the floors sanded down and refinished. Now that the kids are grown and the dog has died, I’d like to get some work done on the floors again. They are really worn in a line right down the center of the house (remember, it’s a ranch with an open floor plan, so right down the middle is where everyone walks). Also there is water damage in some areas from spills (plants and a fish aquarium, etc.)
    The problem is that now I realize that polyurethane finish will always requiring complete sanding down when it comes time for repairs . . . and I really don’t want to have the whole sand-it-down thing done ever again! For one thing, I’m not sure how many more sandings our floor could take. Plus, it’s so expensive!
    Is there a type of finish that could be easier to maintain throughout the next 20 years? (For example, something that would be fairly simple to just do “touch up” in spots every few years as required?)
    Thanks for any advice you’d be willing to proffer!

  51. Sylvia Says:
    November 15th, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Husband and I are installing reclaimed heart pine that came from a house that was built in 1852. We love the aged look of the wood with all the character that dents, nail holes etc from years gone by. Question is what would you recommend that we use to finish the wood. We are debating between tung oil to give a natural look or a polyurethane, but concerned the poly would be easy to scratch the finish. Any suggestions?

  52. Dave Says:
    December 31st, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    New hardwood oak 3 1/4 in. wide by 3/4 in thick Bruce product floring showing 1/16-1/32 gaps at spots. How would you recommend to repair it so that the gaps are not noticeable? The pre finished color is Gunstock Oak.

  53. Lisa E Says:
    January 15th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    We are installing new wide plank heart pine flooring and looking for the right stain and finish before starting. I’ve read that using a conditioner before staining is essential to avoid blotching (particularly with pine)and to use a gel stain for an even finish. I’ve also read you can use some type of oil instead of poly. We’re looking for a dark, aged finish that’s as durable as you can get with pine. What are your thoughts on these options? Thanks!

  54. Marie Hebert Says:
    January 16th, 2012 at 12:24 am

    We have a 1910 Victorian with heart pine floors. The house had been in very poor shape and was partially restored when we bought it. As I have looked more closely at the floor/stairs have realized that much of the darkness is actually purple paint that was only partially sanded off and all of the corners have paint and all has been coated with (probably) polyurethane. Does the entire floor need to be stripped or can I spot sand and refinish?

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