Hardwood Stain Guide
Staining gives new life to your hardwood floor.
This can help you avoid a complete floor remodel. Getting tired of the look of your floor? Refresh it with a stain that comes in about any hardwood color you can imagine (more on this later). It’ll give a fresh color but also can make the grain “pop” like it’s new.
Maybe you haven’t bought hardwood yet, but are wondering about staining. It’s definitely not something you have to do, but here’s where it can save you big money with this scenario:
You like Hardwood A. It’s $5 more per square foot than Hardwood B, but you just don’t like the color or look as well of Hardwood B. You’re on a budget, so what should you do? Buy stain! Get the right stain, and you can make Hardwood B look just like Hardwood A. If you installed 500 square feet of hardwood, you just saved $2,500 minus the cost of stain (which isn’t much).
So if you’re interested in staining, it helps to know a little about it, and that’s what we’ll cover below (if you have any questions not answered, let me know in the comments below):
What types of wood floors should be stained?
Not all wood floors need to be stained. If you have a high-end or exotic species of wood floor, such as rosewood, mahogany, or even maple, you probably will be fine leaving them in their natural color. Their vibrant appearance is already what people are going for when they want to stain their floors.
Oak is one of the most popular floors for staining. It tends to yellow with age. White oak takes new colors very well so it can be easily stained to white, gray, or black. Since oak floors take stain well with the right technique, they can be updated without a complete remodel. Another benefit of oak, it’s relatively cheap (see oak compared to other wood species here)
No matter what type of wood floor you have, it can be stained, although no two species will take a stain exactly the same way. Before deciding on a specific color you should test a sample and let it dry so you know how the final result will look.
Oil vs water based stain
Most floors will use oil-based stains because those sink deeper into the wood. By comparison, a water-based stain is more likely to be worn away by days and weeks of heavy use. If you do use an oil-based stain, you will need to combine it with an oil-based sealant as well, and not a water-based polyurethane.
Stain color options
This is the fun part of staining. It’s like painting a room: you have more options on color shades than you may even want. The cool part is it gives you a lot of flexibility with your floor. There’s anything from formal to a little crazy:
Dark hardwood floor stains can completely change the look of a room. White oak floors can suddenly become dark and blend into one of two very different styles. With historic homes, dark floors can be paired with antique furnishings for a very classic look that is both minimalist and striking.
If you desire a contemporary home decor, the dark stain allows you to focus on creating contrast with monochromatic floors, furniture, and walls. Either way, you end up with a dramatic finish.
If you want to keep your hardwood floors in the traditional sphere, there are many natural brown stains that will enhance the natural color of your oak, maple, cherry, and walnut floors without going too light or too dark.
Choosing a medium-toned wood stain is a great way to refresh a floor that you may already love, but that needs a bit of an upgrade.
Light and gray stain
Another way to create dramatic change in a wood floor is by using very light or gray stains. These neutral stains help lighten an otherwise crowded or dark room, make small spaces seem larger, and take traditional wood floors and make them contemporary.
Gray is one of the most contemporary colors for the modern home. It is often more popular than white because it can have both cool and warm tones depending on the shade of gray that you select.
Patterns are a fun way to shake up a traditional looking floor. Some of the more common patterns include using darker and lighter wood shades in a checkerboard pattern, or with triangular borders across the room.
Doing this right calls for an expert painter, some skillful stenciling, and your imagination but the end result is a unique looking floor like no other.
How to apply stain to wood floors
This is for general purposes, but you’ll want to do some research before taking on this project yourself. It’s also a good idea to start with “practice”/scrap wood. If you make a mistake on a practice piece it’s no big deal, but if you make a mistake on your floor and don’t catch it before it dries, you have just made a lot more work for yourself.
Generally, there are two methods to pick from. The first is to brush the stain onto the floor with a brush or roller, moving the brush in long, even strokes and gradually lifting the brush after each stroke. After a certain length of time, depending on the stain, you should wipe the floorboards down with a rag to remove the excess.
If you plan to wipe on the stain, you will need a rag to dip into the liquid or gel. You rub the rag into the grain with a slight bit of pressure. The wipe is a one-step process repeated throughout the floor and you do not need to worry about excess stain flooding on the boards.
Captain’s parting words!
Knowing a little about hardwood stain can be a big money saver:
- You can switch the color of your hardwood to save you from buying new hardwood floors
- If you’re buying new floors, it can allow you to settle for a less expensive wood appearance and then re-create the look yourself
The colors and options you have expand through about every shade of wood you can think of, and you can even give yourself a unique patterned look. Stain can be a DIY project but not one I’d jump straight into.
Any other questions on hardwood floor stain? Let me know in the comments below.