Sanding Painted Floors…..learn from my mistakes!


You know those projects that take a LOT longer than you anticipate. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s almost all of my projects. This hardwood floor refinishing project is one of those projects!


When we took out the carpet in the upstairs, we found chipping lead-based paint on the hardwood floors beneath the carpet. So…we moved into one of the units next door and I started sanding the upstairs that we were supposed to be living in.

I refinished the hardwoods in our last house, so although I’m no expert, I have a clue. I used a Buff Sander in the past and rented it from a local rental store. I had time to call around, and find the best price and most fitting sander previously.

This time I was not so lucky! The entire process was totally crazy. My mom, dad and in-laws took the kids for three days, and my goal was to refinish the floors in this time.


There was no way I could have even come close to refinishing these painted floors in that amount of time.

Creatively Living Living Room House Pic

The paint was chipping in some spots and that lead me to believe it would all come off easily. As I mentioned before, I didn’t have much time and started by calling Lowes. They had a sander that I could rent that was around $40 for four hours. This sounded about right, so off I went. The first Lowes only had a broken sander and 2 out of 3 employees I talked to didn’t even know that they rented sanders. Unfortunately, this is all too typical. I drove to another Lowes and rented their Orbital Sander (shown above), bought some sandpaper and was lucky enough to have my father-in-law help me carry it up the stairs (they weigh around 100lbs!).

After 30 minutes I could tell this was no bueno! There was NO WAY this was going to work. Good thing I had sanded floors before, or else I might have not known that this was strange.

I called around. Home Depot assured me they had the right product to rent, so I came in after dropping the orbital sander off at Lowes. The employee at Home Depot was nice and seemed to know what he was talking about. I picked up a Buff Sander. It was supposed to be much more aggressive, and was what I had used in my previous house with success. The employee loaded me up with sandpaper (which costs a small fortune) and I asked him if I needed a pad for the sander (remembering I had in the past). He told me no and sent me on my way.

I got home around dusk and quickly realized that I needed a sanding pad (um, didn’t I ask about that?) I turned around and drove back the 20 some minutes to Home Depot, bought a pad and returned only to have the same experience as with the orbital. NO WAY was this machine going to get all the paint off either!


Buff Sander

By this time it was late, there was no point in wasting more sandpaper with the Buff Sander, so I waited until morning. I called Home Depot when I woke up and I talked to a lady that actually was experienced. She assured me that only a Belt (or Drum) sander would take paint off. She was nice enough to trade the Buff Sander for the Belt Sander, and by this time I had only racked up around $30 in sandpaper.

Unfortunately, the belt sander is more expensive to rent…like $70 for the day, and with paint, you will still need a zillion pieces of sandpaper. Yes, that’s right, a zillion!  Like plan on spending your life savings on Sandpaper!

The floors I was sanding were 100 yrs old. I don’t think they have ever been refinished. From what I can tell, they originally had an ebony colored stain on them, then paint the color of a reddish deck stain, then layer upon layer of bluish-gray paint and poly….and not the water based stuff we have today. This is the old-school, hard-as-a-rock, serious paint!

I used a lot of 34 grit sandpaper. That stuff with a belt sander should have eaten through my floors…but it didn’t! I called a pro and he said that he would have started with 16 grit until all the paint was off. 34 was the lowest grit I could find.

The Belt Sander did take most of it off, and despite all of the internet warnings about Belt Sanders, I felt very comfortable with it. The one that Home Depot rents has a lot of safe guards so that you don’t make huge gouges in your floor.

You still need to sand with the grain. There were a few times I ran it across the floor the wrong way and it did make lines that I had to later buff out. Sometimes running it the wrong way seemed the only way to get some of the paint off, but it always did leave a sanding mark that I had to deal with later… take your pick, sand and sand with the grain in the tough paint spots, or sand against the grain and buff out your marks later.

Remember start with an extremely low grit sandpaper. Then move to a middle grit, like 60 or 80, then go over all of it with a 120 grit.


Belt or Drum Sander

*One other options that I’ll talk about in post #2, is taking the paint off with a heat gun. This would work well if you had a smaller floor to do. With 700 sq ft, it would have taken me too long to do the entire floor with it, but it did help on the edges!

I also used ear plugs, gloves, goggles and a Hepa filtered mask. You NEED a Hepa filtered mask. You can buy one at any hardware store. The stuff you are sanding off is NASTY!

100 yr old boards aren’t always level. They are warped in spots and I still have A LOT of hand sanding to do, but I’ll save all of that for post #2 on sanding painted floors.

Boys Room Floor Sanding

Boy’s Room Floor as of now.

So the main points to take home if you’re planning on sanding painted floors are:

1) Think about repainting them. It takes HOURS ….no make that DAYS of sanding, and a zillion dollars in sandpaper. I wanted to originally paint them white, but my family and friends said, “Your family? With white floors? Are you nuts?” ….and they had a point.  I think sanding them will be worth it for resale alone, not to mention my sanity.


2.) Don’t think that anything but a belt sander and 34 or lower grit sandpaper will get that paint off! Old paint particularly is a monster to get off!

3.) Do your research. Call a pro and Google. Don’t think that all employees at Lowes or Home Depot are going to know what they are talking about.

I know it will all be worth it in the end. If I had known then, what I know now, I would have still sanded them, I just wouldn’t have wasted so much time with the other sanders!

Looking forward to finishing the edges and getting my first coat of stain on!



  1. Well at least the after looks amazing after all that stress. I can’t believe you had to go to all those stores so many times, oh wait, yes I can, been there. It’s looking good girl!

  2. Thank you so much! You have saved me a bunch of steps and frustration!

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