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What are the best hardwood stain colors for selling a house?

Most popular wood stain colors for selling your home

When it comes time to sell your house, many customers wonder what are the best hardwood stain colors.  In general, you want to choose popular colors that also go with the style of home.

best hardwood stains if you're selling a house

In this article, I’m going to share some recommend stain colors that will help you sell your house faster and at a higher value. I will also share some stain colors you want to avoid as they are polarizing and will usually make it more challenging to sell your home.


✅  And, if you’re planning to sell your home soon, these printables will save you time and sell your home for top dollar.


Related articles:


Please note that this article may contain affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.

Best stain colors for wood floors…if you’re about to sell your home

Best hardwood stains if you're selling a houseIf you’re selling your home, you want to go with the most popular colors, and those would be very dark browns, followed by very light shades (i.e. natural).

Dark brown stain shades

Very dark hardwood floors are currently the most popular…by far.  You can read more about Stain Color Trends here.  In fact, here in the NYC area, the combo of a 50/50 ebony/dark walnut blend is THE most popular shade, especially among higher end homes.  In fact, this combo became so popular that they started to make espresso (which is basically a 50/50 blend – the same thing)


 dark hardwoods for selling and staging a homeBut test to see which looks best in your home.  Some people prefer to go a bit lighter with just dark walnut or even a bit lighter than that with antique brown.  And, some do a 50/50 blend of ebony/jacobean.  But, jacobean has some red undertones in it, so most prefer dark walnut over jacobean.  But, if I had to pick the most popular and one that works most universally, it would be 50/50 ebony/dark walnut.


My advice is to stick with the browns (as they are the most neutral and most popular) and have your bring ebony, dark walnut and antique brown for testing.  Realize that going darker tends to make your home look more upscale.


Very light:

best stain colors for hardwood if you're selling your houseThe second great choice for refinishing your floors before you sell is to go very light…usually this means going natural (i.e. no stain).  Generally, going natural is a bit less expensive than doing a stain, so this will save a you a bit of money and time, too.


But here’s the tricky part that many people miss…when going light, you want to avoid the yellow.  Yellows are VERY dated.  This is easy to avoid if you use a water borne polyurethane.  You see, oil based poly turns the floor a bit yellow and over time and with exposure to light, the poly amberizes so it gets more yellow.


If you use a water borne poly, such as Bona Traffic, you can avoid the yellow and your floors will look much more up to date.  Bona Traffic is a high grade polyurethane that is just as durable as oil based polyurethane (see Best brands of polyurethane).


You’ll be happy to know that Bona Traffic smells way less than oil based polyurethane and has very low VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) and it dries much faster, so you can walk on the floors much sooner.


Hardwood finishes:

best hardwoods for selling a houseIf you are going dark, I would generally recommend an oil based poly with a satin finish (we have found Duraseal to be the best looking and most durable).  You can read more about that here:  Best brands of polyurethane.  Satin is by far the most popular finish for oil based poly.  You can read more about sheens in this article about most popular finishes for hardwood floors.


And, whatever you do, avoid semi gloss or any type of shiny finish.  These are very dated and are much harder to keep clean. They show every speck of dust.  It’s hard enough to keep a house clean while it’s on the market.


If you are going natural, I would go with water borne poly – specifically Bona Traffic as it looks the best (i.e. the least yellow, most natural and most upscale).  You can either use a satin or matte finish for this.  Note: that we are seeing half of our customers use Matte finish (they call it extra matte) and half using satin with Bona Traffic, so either one is fine.


best stain colors for hardwood if you're selling a houseWhile I generally recommend doing 3 coats of poly on the main floor when you’re living in the home, if you are selling your home, stain + 2 coats of poly is sufficient.  The 3rd coat is there for longevity and it will usually give you an extra 2-3 years of life on the finish.  But, if you are about to put your house on the market, this extra coat isn’t necessary since in an ideal world, your house will be sold within a year of refinishing the floors.


For natural (i.e. no stain), you want to do 3 coats of poly.  In each case, your floors will have 3 coats of protection…either 3 coats poly for natural or stain + 2 coats poly, for a stain.

Stain colors to avoid, if you’re about to sell your home

When you’re selling your house, you want to appeal to the widest range of potential buyers.  That means you should choose the colors that are most popular, and not necessarily trending colors.  You want colors that appeal to the vast majority of potential home owners.


So, you’ll want to avoid the following stain colors:

Avoid Grays

gray hardwood - stain colors to avoid if you're selling a homeGrays are very trendy.  But, they are just that…trendy.  The majority of people prefer dark, followed by light, followed by gray.  So, if you choose gray for your hardwood, you are probably only appealing to 10-20% of potential home buyers.


Also, it is very difficult to decorate with gray hardwood floors.  Save they gray for walls.  Gray is by far the most popular when it comes to paint colors.  (See how to pick the best shade of gray for walls).


Note:  While I would not recommend gray for hardwood floors when you’re selling your home, gray is a super color for tiled floors (probably the most popular color) and is the best paint color to use for the walls.  See Best shades of paint when selling your house and most popular shades of gray paint.


Avoid Whites/white washes

poor stain choices if selling home - whitewashWhite washes are even more trendy and polarizing than gray is, so it’s extremely niche, and it can be a big turn off to 90%+ of buyers, so I would avoid that color.  Likewise, if you have white washed floors, you are probably better off refinishing them and making them a more universally appealing color.


In addition, you should know that’s it’s more expensive to do white wash (or gray) on hardwood floors and most refinishers have challenges getting the color right.


Debbie Gartner The Flooring GirlAre you about to sand your floors? Not sure how long to wait before using them? Avoid these common pitfalls that can impact your floor’s durability!


Avoid Reds/cherries/red undertones/oranges

avoid cherry stained wood when selling a houseReds are very dated…in fact, less than 20% of consumers like reds (yes, I have a survey on my site to validate this).  And, the number of people that HATE red is very high.  I can’t even tell you how many customers comment on reds and oranges and how they not only dislike it, they hate it!


Cool tones are in, warms are out.  Most customers don’t even want red undertones, even if the floors are mainly brown.  Browns and cool tones are much more neutral and easier to decorate with.  Way more paint colors go with cool tones vs warm tones.


Reds definitely date a home, so if you have these, you are better off refinishing to a more neutral color (assuming that you want to sell for top dollar and/or quickly).  And, if you have a wood that is naturally cherry (e.g. Brazilian Cherry, American Cherry, Mahogany), see my advice below on the best stains to camouflage the reds.


Avoid Yellows

2017 hardwood trends water borne bona trafficYears ago yellows and warm colors were stylish, but now they have become so dated.  If you’re going light (e.g. natural), avoid going too yellow.  The best way to avoid this is to go natural (i.e. no stain) and use a water borne poly (hint:  The best one is Bona Traffic…check out this article on the best brands of polyurethane.


You see oil based polyurethanes turn the floors yellow (when you are using a light stain) and they amberize more over time as they age and interact with light.  So, yellow floors look dated and aged. If you use a water borne poly such as Bona Traffic it will be lighter and it wont have that infamous amber glow.  Bona traffic HD is the most durable and looks the best.  You’ll also be happy to know that is has much lower VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), smells way less and dries much faster.


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Considerations that may influence your stain choice:

Style of home/neighborhood

I do want to caveat this by saying that these are general recommendations.  Styles of homes are different, so you’ll want to make sure that the color you choose goes with the style of your home and what seems to be most popular in your specific neighborhood.  What’s popular in a beach town may be a bit different than a city.  What works in a Tudor, may be different than what works well in modern home.


Old and damaged wood

I also want to mention that if your hardwood is very old, damaged or has dark stains (e.g. from pet or water damage), you may need to select a darker stain color to camouflage the flaws.  If damage is isolated to a few sections, it’s usually easy enough to weave in new wood to the damaged section and then choose whichever color you prefer.


Non Oak species

brazilian cherry hardwoodIf you have an exotic species or rarer type of wood, recognize that the stain colors often come out different on different woods, and the stain sample you see are generally shown on red oak.  So the stain samples will look different on different woods.  And, some woods (e.g. maples, pines, douglas firs) are more challenging to refinish.  You will probably need to add a conditioner to these woods and you are much safer hiring a professional floor refinisher (and not a handyman, nor a general contractor) who has a lot of experience with these species.


Red Species (e.g. American Cherry, Brazilian Cherry, Mahogany)

hardwood stains for selling a houseIf you have an exotic reddish wood such as Brazilian Cherry or Mahogany, recognize that these are naturally red, and you will never be able to fully drown out the red.  In general, the darker you go, the more you will drown out the red (so you may end up with a dark brown with red undertones).


We have found that dark walnut and true black do the best job of getting the wood darker.  (And, for these woods as well as pines, douglas firs, dark walnut comes out darker than both ebony and jacobean…it’s just the way the wood absorbs the stain).


True black is more translucent and darker than the other stains which are semi transparent.  True black may be too dark for you, but if dark walnut isn’t dark enough, consider blending the dark walnut with some true black to drown out the reds further.  It’s hard to find this new color in most stores, but you can buy it here on Amazon.

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best stain colors for wood and selling your homeHopefully, this will help make the stain color selection process easier for you.  I’d recommend either going very dark or very light, pending on the style of your home and what’s most popular in your area. Your floor refinisher should be able to test a few samples for you on your floors, so you can choose the exact best shade for your home.


You may want to visit some open houses in your area to see what’s popular, as well as consult with your real estate agent and/or a local home stager.  By the way, I do offer stain consultations as well…see below.  And, I now offer phone consultations as well.


✅  And, if you’re planning to sell your home soon, these printables will save you time and sell your home for top dollar.

Related articles:

color consultation for paint and stain colorsIf you live in Westchester County NY, I offer color consultations to advise customers on paint colors and stain choices. My designer discount at the paint stores usually more than offsets the cost for the hour consultation. Read more here. Due to many requests, I’m now starting to offer phone consultations, too.


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What are the best hardwood stain colors for selling a house?

12 thoughts on “What are the best hardwood stain colors for selling a house?”

  1. mikelle terson

    i have pine wide planked floors from 1850. i love grey floors and don’t plan on selling for a while. i also want an expansive airy look to my living room, peaceful and zen. but i also feel these floors can’t be sanded down again due to their age and thinness. suggestions? and should i condition the floor before staining? thx

    1. Apologies for the delay on this. Somehow I missed your comment. I would definitely avoid gray on your pine floors as well as whitewash. It just won’t come out well on pine floors. You would need to bleach the first, and the bleach will probably react with the resins and also weaken an already old floor. The color will not come out right. If you want lighter, I would try to either go natural (i.e no stain) and use Bona Traffic water borne poly). Or, you could try Bona nordicseal as your first coat(s) followed by Bona Traffic HD. Bona Nordic seal is a white tinted sealer and you can do multiple layers to make it a bit lighter/whiter. If you do any sort of stain, yes, you will definitely need a conditioner. (but Bona nordicseal is a sealer, not a stain so you don’t need it there).

  2. I’ve really enjoyed your website. My husband and I will be putting down a prefinished hardwood floor to save time, and mess for a small study. I want a brown toned color, thinking of special walnut that you recommended to someone else or antique brown. Do you know of any brands(ex, Maine traditions, Somerset, Mirage, etc.) that are good and what stain color is closest to the special walnut? I have been researching for almost a year. Thank you!

    1. As far as brands, I like Somerset and they should have some mid toned browns. The names/colors never match up, so you’ll need to see what you like. They have several lines, so you should be able to find a mid brown you like. Mirage is great, but rather expensive. I’ve never hear of Maine traditions. I would go into a store and see what you like. You may be able to order samples or borrow a board and give them a deposit so you can take it home.

  3. We moved into a older house in California with old red oak floors. We are having them refinished. Can’t decide between Dark Walnut, or Antique Brown. I want the floors to go with all the cool color furniture and walls. So trying to stay away from reds and yellows. Which one would you recommend? Thank you!

    1. Sheryl – Both are great, but personally I prefer dark oak as it’s a bit darker and then you see less of the graining, so it looks more modern (and less busy). It’s a bit more neutral in color, too so it goes with almost anything. But test them both on your floor to see which you prefer.

  4. I live in a small condo (less than 800 square feet) in MA. Most flooring stores are pushing me toward either dark greys or dark brown flooring (LVP or engineered hardwood) with extra wide planks. I’m a Realtor so I am always considering resale and not making the rooms appear even smaller. What are your thoughts?

    1. Mindy – Okay, so this is tough balance. In general, dark is the most popular NOW and hence IN GENERAL is better for resale. Gray is also popular, but more nice and in my opinion not the best for resale (assuming for LVP or hardwood). BUT, this all depends on 2 things. First, when are you going to sell (because trends change..dark is surer bet than gray). And, second, what looks right in your space/how much light are you getting…and what are your plans for the walls? The walls take up way more space than the floors.

      If you feel that light is the best for the space do it. If you feel that dark floors and light walls are best, do that. This is a judgment call. For me, when I advise customers on this, I look at the place to be done and the lighting…and depends on the neighborhood. So sometimes I recommend very dark (especially in the higher end homes) and sometimes very light.

  5. Nenad Jovanovic

    What about a 800 sq ft condo in Chicago? What so you think for color? Different in houses vs. condo?

    1. Nenad – Hard to give advice without seeing it. Very dark and very light (i.e. no stain and using Bona Traffic HD) are most popular. If you don’t get much light, I’d be inclined to go light.

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