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).
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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.
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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).
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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.
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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
You can find the full video transcript at the bottom of the page.
Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors
Related articles for sanding and refinishing
- Hardwood flooring stain trends
- Hardwood flooring trends
- 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
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Transcript for video – changing the color of your hardwood floors:
Hi my name is Debbie Gartner and I’m known as The Flooring Girl, and you can find me at TheFlooringGirl.com.
Today, I’m going to answer the question about whether or not you can change the color of your hardwood floors. The good news is the answer is usually yes! Of course this assumes that you have solid hardwood.
If you live in Westchester or the New York area or even the northeast and mid-atlantic, and you live in a house, chances are you have solid hardwood. If you engineered hardwood floors, that’s a different story. With solid hardwood you usually can refinish them. You may have a different species, but usually they are solid and you can refinish them. We have refinished hardwood in houses from the 1800s and even several from the 1700s.
These pictures show the range of colors that you can get on oak. If you look at that one on the left this is oak natural with no stain just polyurethane. The one in the middle is a red mahogany stain, and the one on the right is with an ebony stain (although typically in real life the ebony stain looks a little bit lighter and shows the graining a little bit more than this photo leads you to believe).
This is why it’s really important to test the stain colors as they are different in the pictures than it looks in real light. And, the stain colors do you actually look different on everyone’s floors. That can vary based on the species, is it red oak or white oak, what grade as well as how old the floors how much have they aged as well as the lighting. We always test three or four different stain colors for our customers so they can choose.
As you can see in these pictures some of the planks are lighter some are darker the stain will be absorbed differently, and you want to test on a small area to see what works best on your floor. Please note that the only way to change the color is to actually SAND the floor all the way down.
When you see sand them three times finer and finer grits and the raw hardwood but that’s the only way have the stain up properly penetrate into the floor. If you try to do it on top of what you have now it will peel off. If you have some other species, the colors will look different. In particular if you have brazilian cherry or brazilian walnut or some of the exotic hardwoods those start out darker and many of them have a red natural tone underneath.
So those you really can’t make lighter than they are. If you look at the one on the right, that is Brazilian cherry. There’s no stain on it; just polyurethane. If you see sand and refinish it, it will look a little bit lighter than this just from the sanding, but over time the light and the Natural aging process it will look just as this does right now. The one on the left is Brazilian walnut and obviously that’s a darker brown. You can make those darker, but you really can’t make them lighter.
This here is an example one of my customers where she had Santos Mahogany which is is very similar to the Brazilian cherry. She did not like redness in there. (She is not alone in this), and she wanted us to drown it out as much as possible. So we tested out some darker stains. And, as you can see in the picture on the right (even though it’s not the best picture), this is the end result. We tested a few different stains and found that on her floor, dark walnut came out the darkest.
This is kind of ironic because Jacobean and and ebony are darker stains but they are absorbed differently in each wood. In this case, the dark walnut looks darker. This does a good job drowning out the red but there’s still are some underlying red tones, if you look close enough. This looks more like a royal mahogany stain but this is really the best that you can do to try to drown this out.
This next picture shows oak floors with a jacobean stain. Jacobean is the second darkest, ebony is the darkest. We will sometimes to a 50/50 blend of Jacobean and ebony for our customers which gives an espresso color looks very nice and rich. If you do you live in the Westchester area feel free to give us a call. My name is Debbie and you can find me at TheFlooringGirl.com or you can reach us at 914–937-2950. “We bring the store to your door.”