How to Refinish Hardwood Floors: Hardwax Oil Application

Jess Ann Kirby shares how she refinished the hardwood floors in her renovated ranch.

When we bought our house two years ago the hardwood floors were in rough shape. We knew it was one of the first things we needed to take on, mainly because re-doing hardwood floors is messy and inconvenient when you’re living in the house. We wanted to finish the project before our house was filled with furniture. Craig had never refinished hardwood floors and we were both a little nervous because if you don’t do it correctly or if the floors can’t withstand the sanding and refinishing you have to replace them, and that was not in our budget. We decided to do a light sanding and then a whitewash finish followed by a coat of water based polyurethane (water based is not as durable as regular poly but has lower VOCs which is why we decided to use it). While it looked great initially, it didn’t last. Within a few weeks we realized it wasn’t up to the task of wear and tear from dogs and within a few months there were visible scratches and spots where the whitewash had worn off. It couldn’t even handle vacuuming without getting scratched.

When I found out I was pregnant we made a list of all the projects we wanted to do before the baby arrived, knowing it would be much harder to do anything once that happened. The floors were at the top of our list and after researching the best way to re-do hardwoods, we ultimately decided to use hardwax oil. There are several popular options on the market including Oli-Natura, Pallman Magic Oil, Rubio Monocoat, Osmo Oil, and SAICOS. We chose SAICOS because of the simple application process and quick drying time. It was also one of the most readily available in the US and their customer service was excellent. I emailed them on a holiday weekend with questions, they got back to me the next day and called me to help me decide how much and what product I needed, then shipped it the same day. While some of the process was very labor intensive, it was 100% worth the effort. The floors look absolutely incredible and are in noticeably better condition. Here’s how we refinished our hardwood floors with hardwax oil.

Benefits of Hardwax Oil

Hardwax oil is made from all-natural ingredients and SAICOS has one of the lowest VOC emissions of all the hardwax oils I looked into. For many hardwax oils, SAICOS in particular, the application is quick drying, meaning you can do two coats in one day. Where polyurethane creates a thick shiny film that sits on top of the wood, it makes repairs difficult and will yellow over time. Hardwax oil penetrates the wood fibers to protect from within and acts as a barrier against stains and moisture. At the same time the wood is still allowed to breathe, which can prevent mold. Hardwax oil strengthens and hardens the wood while the waxes remain on the surface, repelling water and creating a matte finish. While poly makes it nearly impossible to repair spots and scratches, hardwax oil can easily be repaired by buffing the area with a small application of oil. One of the greatest advantages of using hard-wax oil is that it brings out the natural character of the wood grain and continues to get better with age.

How to Prep Hardwood Floors

Prepping your hardwood floors before you apply hardwax oil is probably the most important step. I will also say it might not be a process for the novice DIYer. As Craig has pretty extensive experience in construction he was able to do a nice even and thorough sanding throughout, but it’s also labor intensive and messy. If we were doing it over, we would rent or possibly even buy a dust extractor since we had to spend an entire day cleaning and dusting after the sanding was finished. Here is how we prepped the hardwood floors (our hardwoods are oak and are approximately 50 years old).

  • After getting all of the furniture out of the first floor (we also put away everything in the kitchen, sealed off the bathroom, etc) we thoroughly clean the hardwoods to get them free of dirt, debris, etc.
  • Using a drum floor sander (we rented from Home Depot) Craig did the first round with 60 grit sandpaper. We swept up as much dust as possible and then did a second round of sanding with 80 grit sandpaper (still with the drum sander) and finally he did a final round of hand sanding (using a pole with an attachment) using 120 grit sandpaper.
  • Craig then went back and did the edges along the trim and under the baseboards using an angle grinder with a sandpaper attachment. He finished in any tight corners using an oscillating multi-tool with a sanding attachment.
  • Once sanding was done we thoroughly cleaned and dusted the entire house (you want absolutely no trace of dust, dirt or debris left behind).
  • We went through one final time with microfiber towels and rags to collect fine dust from the floor, trim and walls.

How to Apply Saicos Hardwax Oil

The key to hardwax oil application, particuarly with SAICOS, is to make sure it’s even and just the right amount of product. You don’t want to use too much because it will be tacky and won’t dry properly, and you don’t want to use too little or the floors will not be protected. One of the reasons we chose SAICOS is because buffing is not required as part of the application. You can brush/roll on the hardwax oil and that’s it (though keeping a rag on hand to buff if you’ve accidentally put on too much product is a good idea). During the application process keep windows open and if necessary have fans going for maximum ventilation. You don’t want to apply if the weather is too hot or humid.

  • Craig started by cutting in around the edges with a block brush. For the first coat we used the SAICOS Premium Hardwax Oil in Pure. The pure finish neutralizes the ambering effect of oils, meaning it maintains the actual color of the floors rather than making them look too warm. It has a slight white tint, but with one application the white isn’t visible. With two coats, sometimes you will see a slight whitewash effect.
  • Working with the grain he did the first coat of hardwax oil in pure using the SAICOS roller. We only needed two rollers for our entire first floor which is approximately 1000 sq ft. We let the first coat dry for 5 hours before applying the second coat. There is no need to sand in between coats.
  • For the second coat again with the roller we used the 3200 SAICOS Clear Hardwax Oil in Satin. The satin finish gives a very subtle sheen but the look is fairly matte.
  • We let the second coat dry overnight before walking on it, and waited another 24 hours before bringing furniture back in (we didn’t put rugs back down for two weeks). It can take up to 14 days for the finish to harden and cure completely, so it’s ideal to take extra care during that time.

Maintaining and Caring for Oil Finished Hardwood Floors

While it has only been a little over a month since we finished the floors, the durability and overall look of the hardwoods is so much better than it was with the water based poly. It stands up to dogs running around, spills, vacuuming and normal wear and tear with no problem. I also love the natural look of the floors. The finish has a slightly different feel than a regular poly, it’s grippier vs being slippery. I decided to purchase the SAICOS maintenance and care line rather than mess around with trying something that’s not specifically suited for this product. For cleaning we use the SAICOS microfiber clothes and ecoline wash care concentrate. While we haven’t had to use the ecoline wax care I did also purchase that to use it every 6 months for deep cleaning and refreshing (this was recommended by the SAICOS rep).

Jess Ann Kirby's renovated kitchen includes Cafe Appliances, wood countertops and refinished hardwood floors.
kitchen barstools | sheepskins | paint color: Farrow & Ball Inchyra blue | more kitchen details here

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6 Comments

  1. Holly wrote:

    Hi! Thanks for sharing! Do you know if you have red oak or white oak? We have red and the poly has suuuuper yellowed over time. This gives me hope that there’s… hope? I’d love to have something that looks more like yours!

    10.17.19 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I honestly don’t know because they were in before we bought the house, but I assume ours are white. That said, poly naturally yellows over time, so it would do that regardless of the type of wood you had.When we moved in the floors were super yellow because it was really old poly on top. Once we sanded that all the way off and used hardwax the yellow was gone, but also because we used the white pigment oil as the first coat.

      10.18.19 | Reply
  2. Lynn wrote:

    I love natural hardwood floors. When I lived in Vermont we bought a small old Cape house that was 200 years old but redone so many times all charm seemed gone. It was definitely a project of love to redo the whole house over to make it look old again. The floors were old and not wide board as I wanted. My partner wasn’t as talented as Craig so we hired local people to lay wide pine on top of the thin flooring. We also sanded and stained them a pale oak in all of the downstairs rooms. The kitchen had pine light cabinets and we painted them a French blue and added black iron hardware. We made our butcher block counters and we oiled them. It really was a fun project and took a while. You have done a spectacular job with the whole house. I love the floors and everything you have done. I think we were the happiest when we were doing our little Cape over. It made it mine. It still remains my favorite little house of all the houses I’ve ever lived in. The Floors look so lfabulous!!!

    10.17.19 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      That sounds so beautiful Lynn! What a dreamy and magical place to call home.

      10.18.19 | Reply
      • Lynn wrote:

        Thanks Jess, it was Magical and a great place for kids . Skiing for the kids twice a week at Berkshire East in grade School, a Summer beautiful lake with a Beach and fishing. The house also had a Red Barn next to it with a white fence and tall pines around it complete with a weather vane that turned in the breeze. Roses of all colors grew along the fence. I miss it there so much . Your house looks beautiful !! Definitely very Magical!! xo

        10.21.19 | Reply
  3. Sarah White wrote:

    These floors are beautiful! You did a great job refinishing them, and it’s incredible how different they look! I was too scared to DIY my floors a few years ago, so I got them refinished with a professional company. They did an excellent job and it was actually affordable. I will definitely recommend your method to my friends though, you make it seem like a doable project!!

    11.19.19 | Reply