One of the most frequently asked questions I get is:
“What types of hardwood flooring are best for dogs? (or pets)
Many of my customers have pets, and they would love to have hardwood floors that stand up well to dog claws. Can dogs and hardwood co-exist and live happily ever after?
It’s a challenging question to answer because all hardwood will dent and scratch over time – it’s just a matter of how much and how much it shows. But, I don’t think this is a reason to avoid getting hardwood for your home if you have pets. Usually, this question is less of an issue for with cats and more of a concern with dogs, especially active dogs. And, while there are things you can do w/ your pets (e.g. clip or file nails), I’m going to focus on hardwoods that can take a better beating and will last longer.
Here are some guidelines to help.
Types of hardwood flooring that are good for dogs
1. Avoid the soft woods:
- Pine, fir, cedar
- American Cherry
- American Walnut
- Carbonized bamboo (caramel colored)
These woods are softer and will dent very easily – even without dog or without kids. They look beautiful, but they are not very practical. And, ironically, most are more expensive (because fewer people buy them and there is lower supply). Note: American Cherry and Walnut are different than Brazilian Cherry and Walnut. American = soft; Brazilian = hard.
2. Use solid hardwood rather than Engineered hardwood. Solid hardwood is often better quality and most engineered hardwood floors have a limited number of sandings. It’s always good to have an insurance plan, and you will have stronger peace of mind with solid, since you can refinish solid hardwood floors if you get deep scratches or if you get pet stains.
3. Take off your shoes. A lot of customers blame their pets for scratches, but often we do more damage to our floors than our pets do. While high heels are often not wonderful for hardwood floor, the biggest culprit is not the shoes themselves, but rather what gets caught in the shoes. It’s those pebbles and dirt that get caught in our shoes that cause most of the scratches. Or, sometimes w/ high heels that have been worn a while, the rubber wears off and there is a nail at the bottom. So before blaming your furry family members, look at your own habits. For my customers that take their shoes off, their hardwood floors are in way better shape and it’s a much longer time before they need to be refinished.
4. Consider distressed hardwoods. This is a stylized look that some customers love and others hate. It tends to be in style in the South, certain areas in the west, and more rustic homes in the Northeast. This look is not for everyone. But, here’s why it’s good for pets…it shows the scratches and dents less because that’s how the wood is designed – it dent looks like it fits right in. Likewise, hardwood that has more knots and character marks will hide the dent and scratches more.
5. All things being equal, harder hardwoods are better. This is tricky because not all things are equal – see the next point. But, Hickory is great choice (1820 on the Janka scale). There are many other hardwoods that are harder…see the janka scale of hardness…but you can’t just look at hardness by itself.
6. Woods with stronger graining are better for HIDING the scratches. Oak is a great example of this, especially red oak which has stronger graining than white oak. While Red Oak is only 1290 on the janka hardness scale (which is still hard and is hard enough), it does an excellent job of hiding the dents and scratches due to the strong graining. In fact, it usually hides them better than Brazilian Cherry (2,350) and Brazilian Walnut (3,684) which have less and smoother graining. Hickory is another example of a hardwood with strong graining, and it’s harder than oak (1,820 on the hardness scale). Conversely, hardwoods with smoother graining (e.g. maple, birch, exotic hardwoods such as Santos Mahogany and Brazilian Cherry, Walnut and Teak)
7. Satin finishes/less glossy finishes. Satin (or even Matte) finishes are usually best. The glossier the finish, the more it will show the scratches from the light reflecting off of it. This is true with or without pets.
8. Usually, lighter colors are better for pets and show scratches less. First, darker colors seem to show the scratches and the dirt more. Second, oak is the most common type of hardwood and oak is naturally light. So, if you have a scratch that penetrates the stain color, it will show less on lighter colors since what is revealed beneath is similar in color. You may also want to consider a color that is similar to you dog’s fur as it will blend a bit more.
9. Bamboo is very “iffy” with pets – can vary greatly – some are good; most are not. Bamboo’s resilience can vary widely pending the type and the type of bamboo as well as the brand, and what follows are some generalizations. a) stay away from stained bamboo – these scratch very easily and bamboo does not accept stains as well as oak does, b) carmelized bamboo is weaker than natural as the process of heating it weakens the grass, c) strand bamboo can be very strong – so if you have pets and want bamboo, this is a GREAT option – more expensive, but will hold up better, d) buying bamboo from big box stores and/or cheap bamboo results in a lot of dents, e) even though natural bamboo is technically stronger than oak, it shows dents more easily (and carmelized bamboo is usually softer than oak). See my page on bamboo flooring for more info and for pictures.
10. Use felt pads underneath furniture and area rugs/entrance mats. This is especially important for chairs that are used a lot. Avoid chairs with wheels – often dirt gets caught in the wheels and cause scratches. If you do have chairs with wheels, put an area rug underneath. And, make sure you have area rugs/entrance mats at all your main entries. You should also put one outside, too. These are the areas that get worn down the fastest due to rain, snow, salt, dirt, so protecting these areas will go a long way towards preserving your floors. And, remember that your pet isn’t wearing shoes and therefore won’t take them off, so it’s even more important to have an area rug here.
11. If you are refinishing you hardwood flooring on-site, then use oil based polyurethane and add an extra coat. Oil based polyurethane lasts much longer than water based polyurethane. And, adding an extra coat will help protect your floors a little bit extra and prolong the time before you need to refinish your floors. You can read more about oil vs. water based polyurethane in this article.
I hope this is helpful. Sorry it’s long, but there are a lot of things to consider with hardwood and this is not an easy question to answer. Above is meant to address denting/scratching. If you are concerned about pets peeing on the hardwood, that is a whole different issue…basically no hardwoods will stand up well to that, so clean up the mess quickly is the best advice I can give you on that (Plus get solid hardwood so that it is easy to replace sections and refinish the hardwood if you need to(. Also, if you have pet stains already in the hardwood, when you refinish the floors, try to replace those boards as that blackness from the water/urine, will not sand out. If you replace them and refinish, your floor will look good as new. Alternatively, if you can’t replace them/can’t afford it, then use a dark color to hide the dark marks.
Other tips for hardwood floors and dogs:
- Be sure to place a mat underneath the dog’s water bowl (and food) to help protect the floors.
- Consider doggie socks. Yes, we understand that this is not a good option for some dogs, but I’ve had a few customers that have used these effectively, and their dogs LOVE them, especially in the winter as it helps keep their feet warm. It was actually one of my customers that told me about this idea.
- If your dog sheds a lot, consider choosing a hardwood color (or an area rug) that is similar to your dog’s fur.
- If your dog has an “accident,” be sure to clean it up quickly. The uric acid (along w/ the moisture) can damage the polyurethane and wood floor and even turn it black. Avoid using ammonia to clean (which can wear down the poly and potentially attract your pet to use the same spot), and instead use vinegar and warm water. Note: this is another reason why site finished hardwood is often better than prefinished hardwood as the seams are usually sealed with polyurethane, whereas prefinished hardwood may have some spaces on the edges without protection.
- Use walk off and/or entry mats by the key entrances that you and your pets use. This will reduce water, snow as well as grit getting on your hardwood floors. It’s ideal to have one inside and one outside at each entrance.
You may also find these hardwood flooring articles helpful:
- How do you get rid of eliminate pet stains in hardwood flooring?
- What types of carpets are best for cats?
- Can you change the color of your hardwood floors?
- Hardwood flooring Stain Color Trends
- Oil vs. Water based polyurethane – Which is better for refinishing hardwood floors?
- How long does it take to sand and refinish hardwood floors?
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