The answer is usually YES! Many homeowners don’t realize that you can change the color of hardwood flooring when you refinish your floors. Yes, it’s true…you can go light or dark or red tones or anywhere in between. Most are pleasantly surprised it doesn’t matter if you are going light to dark or vice versa.
First, let me caveat this by mentioning that I’m assuming you can sand and refinish your hardwood floors. Most homes in Westchester NY and Fairfield CT as well as the Northeast and Mid Atlantic tend to have solid hardwood flooring and solid hardwood can be sanded and refinished many times (unless it’s so old that the floors have worn down to the tongue and groove…note, this usually takes many generations and I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of hardwood floors and I believe only twice they were too old and thin to refinish). So most solid hardwood floors can be refinished. If, however, you have engineered hardwood, you may or may not be able to refinish the hardwood – it depends on how thick the top layer of hardwood is and how the wood is installed (floating floors can not be sanded).
The process for sanding and refinishing hardwood floors
1. First, you sand the floors with sanding machine. We typically do 3 sandings, each with finer grits (the grits vary based on the type of wood and age). This ensures your hardwood is smooth and that it properly accepts the stain and/or polyurethane for a better and longer lasting look. When you do this, the wood essentially looks like new raw hardwood.
2. Step 2 is to add a stain...or if you decide to go “natural,” you jump to the next step. You can choose a light stain such as Golden oak or Golden Pecan, or a dark stain such as Ebony, Jacobean, dark walnut or Royal Mahogany. Or, you can choose a mid color stain such as Provincial or Special Walnut or English Chestnut. You can also choose red tones such as as Red Mahogany or Mesquite Red or Sedona red, or a bit lighter with Gunstock.
For a full range of stain colors, check Minwax.com or Duraseal.com. For my customers, I help them select stain colors and my guys will test 3-4 for them on their own floors. This is important first because every floor is different based on the species, grade of wood and age of wood. Further, wood is a natural product and there is color variation – the wood will accept the stain differently, so testing on one piece or looking at a stain chip is irrelevant. You want to look at it on your own floor and see over a wider space of several boards before finalizing. Please note that testing the stains does not damage your floors or wear them down any further…they will still get 2 more sandings.
This slide demonstrates how the same stain can come out different on different species of wood. This is a pre-finished floor using a custom color called mocha. The color and graining difference is a bit more dramatic in person, but this slide helps demonstrate the difference. This is mocha on red oak, maple, ash and birch.
3. The third step is to add polyurethane – usually 2-3 coats. Assuming you are using oil based polyurethane it takes 24 hrs for each coat to dry and you screen (or buff) the floors after the 2nd coat is applied and in between each additional coat. This helps smooth the floors and importantly helps the polyurethane absorb better and last longer. (for more info on oil based polyurethane vs. water based polyurethane). For the polyurethane, you want to select the type of finish or sheen that you prefer – matte, satin, semi gloss or glossy. Currently, satin is the most stylish and probably 90% select this option. A satin finish tends to show the scratches less than a semi gloss or glossy finish (the glossier you go, the more the light reflects to show the dents and scratches).
How light can you go with hardwood?
Well this depends on what type of hardwood you have. Aside from bleaching/white wash finishes, the lightest you can go is natural (i.e. no stain), so it’s the color of the hardwood with the polyurethane (which is a clear coat with a touch of tint…it’s pretty close to the impact that putting a top coat of clear nail polish has). Most homes have oak flooring and to the left is a picture of red oak hardwood natural – with no stain.
If you have white oak, it will be a bit darker (because white oak is a bit darker than red oak – for more info on red oak vs. white oak hardwood). If you have maple, it will be a bit lighter; if you have pine, it will be a bit darker (and perhaps a bit redder pending on the species of pine). If you have Walnut or Brazilian walnut, it will be much darker as this wood is a dark brown, or likewise if you have American Cherry or Brazilian Cherry, this will be redder/more orange as that is the natural color of the wood. But, most homes in Westchester NY and Northeast/Mid Atlantic have oak. The only way to get the wood lighter than its natural color is to bleach it or use a white wash stain. I’m not a huge fan of these both because the color often reacts with these oils and resins on these woods and doesn’t usually look the way customers expect and can become blotchy on non-oak woods. You also need to use a water based poly. See oil vs water poly for info on the differences and recommendation on brands of poly to use.
Please note that you MUST SAND the floors in order to change the color of the hardwood floors. You can not just add stain or paint on top of finished floors…it will not look good and it will not last…it will peel off. And, yes, I have seen this done before and it looks horrible, so don’t even try it.
Video – Can you change the color of your hardwood flooring
Related articles for sanding and refinishing
- Hardwood flooring stain trends
- 12 Hardwood flooring trends for 2016
- How long does it take to refinish hardwood floors?
- How to prevent scratches in your new hardwood floors
- Dustless sanding vs sandless refinishing
- Water vs oil based polyurethane
- Should you replace or refinish your hardwood floors?
- FAQ’s for hardwood floor refinishing
Check out my Ebook – Top 6 Hardwood Refinishing FAQ’s.