How to Choose Wood Floor Stain for Red Oak

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If you’re like me, you absolutely love the look of a light stain on white oak hardwood floors. It’s simple, modern, inviting, & really brightens up any space. If you’re building a home and are able to pick any wood flooring it makes the decision so much easier! However, if you’re like us & you live in a home with existing hardwoods, chances may be that you don’t have white oak, but that won’t stop you from trying to get the same vibe.

Choosing wood flooring was one of the most difficult decisions we had to make during our kitchen/family room renovation. Initially, we planned to blend the new floor with the existing wood floor in the living room. We figured this was the most cost effective solution given how extensive our renovation had become. We were down to the wire on choosing what type of wood floor to order, so we decided to save the money and match the red oak that we had in the living room. However, we did decide to get wider planks and went with 4” instead of the standard 2 1/2”. Our builder reassured us that it would blend well with the 2 1/2” in the living room and would barely be noticed.

Choosing a Stain Color

Choosing is a stain is probably the most challenging part of the whole process. You can blend some stains together to create mixes at varying percentages to end up finding what you like best. When choosing a stain, make sure you consider that they look different with different light & at different times of day. I’d take a day or so to look at them from every angle & in every kind of light. Also, when doing this in the future, I’d recommend choosing the two rooms with the most varied natural light & doing test patches in each one so you can really see how different it will look throughout the house.  Stains also look different from a test patch to an entire room being done, so it’s important to try to do samples on pieces of wood with varying tones so you can really get a better idea of how a whole room will look. 

What Flooring We Chose

My husband and I then decided that we would replace the living room wood floor within the next year and for now we’d find a lighter stain for our red oak floors. I can’t tell you how many different stains we tried on these floors. My heart was set on the look of natural white oak floors. Our flooring contractor knew the look I was trying to achieve, so he left me with probably 15 different Duraseal stains, so I could spend the weekend mixing and staining sample boards. I wanted a light natural color but quickly realized this was essentially impossible to achieve with red oak. Every combination I tried looked pink! Red oak would be a great choice for a dark stained floor, but not if you’re trying to achieve a lighter, natural look. Red oak also does not take any kind of gray colored stain well, since it turns pink.

In the end, we decided not to choose any of the made up mixes and went with Duraseal’s Golden Oak stain with Loba Satin Water Based Polyurethane. It’s a little darker than I originally wanted, but now that we’ve had it for a while, I have to say I really do love our wood floors. They’re warm, not too dark and not too light. They’re a great color for dogs and kids, which we have a lot of!

The Aftermath

Your entire house (walls, window sills, window treatments, floorboards, etc) will be COVERED in dust after you refinish your floors.  This is one downside to choosing to have wood floors finished on-site.  Even though the cleanup is extensive it’s worth it in my opinion.  The quality of stained on-site wood floors is unmatched.  It gives you the ability to refinish the floors down the road 4-5 times (not that anyone would likely chose to do this).  When our floors were completed we had a cleaning service come in to dust and it was totally worth every penny!  Most cleaning services offer this service if you let them know what you need done. They came in to clean every wall, light fixture, window sill, etc so that the house was ready for us to move our furniture back in. The amount of dust is no joke!

Selecting the Polyurethane

Depending on what type of stain you used (water versus oil) you’ll have to wait a certain number of days before putting furniture back down on the floors.  We chose a water based finish which allowed us to move furniture back after 24 hours.  I recommend using furniture felt pads on the legs of all of your furniture to ensure they don’t damage the floor. You’ll have to wait about five days (with water based) or longer (with oil based) to put rugs back down.

What we Learned

Always, always, always refinish wood floors before moving in if you think it’s something you’ll ever do. It saves the headache of moving all of your furniture in & out! This is my number one recommendation after going through this process. Also, I wish we would have been told more clearly just how impossible it is to get rid of most of the red or pink tones with red oak, but you live & learn!  In the end, I’m very happy with our wood floors.  Even though they are a bit darker than we planned I love the contrast with all the white oak furniture we have in our home.  

I hope this was helpful if you are looking for how to stain red oak to look like white oak. While you can’t totally mimic the vibe of white oak, you can certainly get close, while embracing the character of red oak & the history of your home! Floor trends come & go like so many things with home decor. While we are all loving the light floors now, I’m sure something else will be all the rage soon enough!