How to Pick the Right Grit Sequence for a Hardwood Floor

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When it comes to sanding a hardwood floor, grit sequence is everything.

You want to start with a more abrasive grit and then use successively finer grits. The first grit is meant to take off any finish, the next is to smooth out the pattern of the first grit, and the final grit is meant to smooth out any remaining sander marks and provide the finishing touches.

If you pick the wrong sequence for your sander, you won’t achieve a smooth transition between one grit and another. Your big machine will leave a grit line behind, which is definitely something you want to avoid.

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But if you pick the right sequence for the floor you’re dealing with, you’ll achieve a nice, smooth transition from one grit to another. The floor will accept the finish evenly and look great.

Sometimes it takes more than just three grits to achieve a smoothly sanded floor. But if you choose the correct sanding sequence, most floors just need three passes with the big machine to acquire a smooth finish. Click here to browse our selection of sanding abrasives.

How do you choose the correct sanding sequence? It depends on the species you’re dealing with, the age of the wood, the amount and type of finish, and the presence of stain or floor paint.

Available grits and when to use them

12-16-20-24: very coarse
30-36-40: coarse
50-60: medium
80-100: fine
120-150: extra fine

12 grit: This is one of the coarsest grits available. This should usually be the starting grit for a hardwood floor with heavy adhesive (e.g. a floor that was underneath carpet) or several coats of paint.

16 grit: Use as the starting grit for floors with shellac finishes, single layers of paint, or some very hard floors, like maple.

20 grit: Use when there is a good deal of flattening of the floor needed.  You will remove a lot of wood stock even when sanding the hardest of wood floor species.How to choose the right grit sequence when sanding a hardwood floor

24 grit: Use 24-grit sandpaper if there are sander flaws (e.g. swirl marks) in the wood, or if the finish has worn down to the wood in certain areas. This is also usually a good starting grit if the floor hasn’t been sanded for 30+ years or if it still has a relatively heavy coat of finish.

36 grit: A good starting grit for newly installed floors or floors without finish but have a lot of over wood. This grit should remove all over wood and make the floor flat.

60 grit: Not intended to be used as a starting grit. This grit takes out the scratch from 36-grit sandpaper, but does not remove much wood .

80 grit: Takes out the scratch from 60-grit sandpaper. This is usually the final grit for most standard hardwood floors.

100 grit: Takes out 60 or 80 grit scratch. This is usually the final grit for maple, birch, or other particularly hard woods, and for any floor that you would like to stain.

150 grit: Extremely fine sandpaper. Can take out the scratch from 120-grit or 100-grit sandpaper if necessary.

Note that there are other grits available, including 30, 40, 50, and 120.

Remember to sweep and clean the floor before you start sanding AND in between each grit. This will ensure the smoothest results possible.

Deciding on a sequence

When sanding a new floor, you’ll often want to define the finest grade you want to use and then work backwards, skipping a grade of grit between each sanding. For example, if you’d like the finish grit to be 80, your sequence can be 36-50-80.

If the floor is old, very hard, or has residual finish, it can be a bit trickier to determine the right sequence. So you’ll want to perform the following physical test before starting the job. Make sure to do this in an inconspicuous location.

If the floor is in good shape, start with the most common sequence, which is 40-60-100. Start with a 40-grit cut and see if the section of the floor is completely bare and flat after your pass. If it is, that means that you can sand the floor with the 40-60-100 sequence. If it’s not completely bare and flat, try progressively more aggressive cuts in different inconspicuous areas of the floor until you find the cut that leaves it bare and clean.

If the floor is in bad shape, you will probably want to start with a 30 or 24-grit cut for the first test cut.

Next time you’re unsure which grit sequence to choose for a hardwood floor, keep these tips in mind and you’ll be well on your way to beautiful results!

Click here to browse our full line of abrasives and call us at (800) 737-1786 or email if you have any questions!

12 thoughts on “How to Pick the Right Grit Sequence for a Hardwood Floor

    1. Caran Baxter

      We apologise. We thought we had replied to this already. He is our response…

      Hello. Thanks for reading. You can certainly re-sand with a 36grd. Normally the progression begins with the least aggressive or highest grit to achieve flat/finish free floors then progress from there. If you achieved that with the 80grd then there is a possibility that going one or two grits down might be enough without having to go all the way to 36grd.

  1. John Brown

    In my home I have used 100 grit for oak hardwood flooring. 100 grit gave smooth finishing to the floor. Thanks for your information.

  2. Rachel Frampton

    We’ve been wanting to refinish our old hardwood floors and really liked your advice on how to use grit sequencing. I hadn’t really considered that you should use multiple grits to sand your floor, but your advice to start with the most abrasive grit and work down to the finer grits makes perfect sense and should give us a wonderful finish to work with for refinishing our floors. We will have to give it a shot.

  3. Alex Payne

    My floors are 2.25 inch by .75 inch red oak flooring. I started with 36 and it wasnt making a dent. I then moved down to 20 and have gone over the floor about 4 times. There is still stain showing through and is splotchy. I’m not sure what to do. Any suggestions?

    1. City Floor Supply Post author

      Hi Alex,

      Is the stain you are refereeing to just the age and patina of an old floor? This type of coloration can be very deep. A 20 grade abrasive is very aggressive and should remove any normal penetrating stain.

  4. Callum Palmer

    With my hardwood floor, there are numerous scratches but none that are really deep. Do you think I would be okay in the 80-100 grit range? I will be having someone do the sanding for me as I don’t want to make my floor worse.

    1. City Floor Supply Post author

      Hi Callum,

      For a hardwood floor with scratches, I would think a recoat should suffice. Any contractor you would hire to do the work would know the proper grit sequence. Should turn out fine.

  5. Frank Delaware

    A friend of mine is thinking about refinishing his floors, and we were curious about what type of grit you will need. I had no idea that 12 grit is usually what you start with, and the most coarse. It would be nice to know that if he gets one, he can also get the right grits.

  6. Paul

    We have a hardwood floor with a red oak finish. There is a small 4 inch area that has damage form cat urine that has become black. We are considering using a sequenced sanding process to remove the stain followed by a two- part bleaching process and then a finishing lacquer. Because the affected area is so small – could I do the sanding by hand?

    1. City Floor Supply Post author

      Spot sanding and touching up is very difficult to blend back in. It will almost certainly be a focal point. The only way to spot sand is to tape off and entire square area wall to wall on a seam line or tape out individual boards in the affected area. Unfortunately, pet stains often don’t come out.


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