Can hardwood floors and pets live happily ever after?
Many of my customers have pets, so I get this question often – which type of hardwood should I use for pets? It’s a hard question to answer because truthfully all hardwood will dent and scratch over time – it’s just a matter of how much and how much you can see it. But I do not think this is a reason to avoid getting hardwood for your home. Tons of consumers have hardwood and pets and they can easily co-exist together.
Usually, this question is less of an issue for 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.
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Hardwood flooring that is best for pets
1. First, stay away from the softer woods:
- American Walnut
- American Cherry
These woods are softer and will dent very easily – even without a pet or without kids. They look beautiful, but they are not very practical. And, ironically, they often more expensive (because fewer people buy them). Note: American Cherry and Walnut are different than Brazilian Cherry and Walnut. American = soft; Brazilian = hard.
2. 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 lovely pets, 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.
3. Consider handscraped or distressed hardwoods. This is a stylized look that some customers love and some 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 – the dents look like they fit right in. Likewise, hardwood that has more knots and character marks will hide the dent and scratches more.
4. 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.
5. 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 (3684) which have less and smoother graining. Hickory is another example of a hardwood with strong graining, and it’s harder than oak (over 1,800 on the hardness scale).
6. Less glossy finishes. Satin 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.
7. Usually, lighter colors are better for pets. First, darker colors seem to show the scratches 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.
8. Select a hardwood that can be refinished. It’s always good to have an insurance plan. So, if you buy solid hardwood, or high quality engineered hardwoods that can be refinished multiple times, you’ll be in good shape for later.
9. Bamboo is “iffy” with pets – can vary greatly – some are good; most are not. Bamboo’s resilience can vary widely pending the type and 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. Oh, and stay away from chairs with wheels – often thing get 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 can even have 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.
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. 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.
If 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 popular demand, I’m now offering phone consultations as well.
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31 thoughts on “Hardwood flooring – which types are good for Pets?”
This post is full of useful information, well written, with a hint of the passion you hold for your industry. Anyone considering flooring or tile work, of any kind, should give you a call!
Anita – Thank you so much. i really appreciate it.
I love my quarter-sawn natural finish oak floors, and don’t even have pets!
Nice in-depth discussion of hardwoods and pets.
Mike – Thx so much. Yes, quarter-sawn oak is great – less expansion/contraction.
I learned a lot from this post, great help for me, thank you!
Thanks For Providing This Wisdom. I find it helpful and it enchances my appreciation, Thanks again for giving this advice and look forward to your future posts.
As a pet owner I love this advice.
So glad you enjoyed, Maureen. I’m a pet owner, too.
Debbie, I wish this had been available before I bought my strand bamboo floors 4+ years ago. I chose a dark color and, as mentioned previously, my cats’ claws easily scratch it when they run and skid. I have stain pens that work for quick touchups; however were I to do it again. I would go for oak (still dark) for its graining, which I agree would be less likely to show scratches.
Thanks for this!
Nanci – Thx and yes, I do think oak is a great option to hide the scratches.
Wonderful information. Thank you very much! You are so right about the walnut floors. My cousin chose those floors…they looked beautiful when they were installed…6 months later they are so scratched and beat up looking, I feel so badly for him, especially since I know it was not cheap!
Tammy – Thx for your comment and I’m sorry about your cousin’s floor. Maybe he can refinish them.
Thank you for the post Debbie! My wife and I have 3 Greyhounds and hardwood flooring. We’ve been in the house for 8 years and the hardwoods are worn and scratched, to the point of needing them refinished. I had posed this question to you via LinkedIn and am elated I caught your post here. Thank you for the insights. While the 3 dogs may be the culprits for a good bit of the wear, the fact that we don’t take our shoes off has opened our eyes to the fact that we may be just as much at fault! 🙂 Thanks again Debbie!
Hi Jeff – Thx so much and sorry I must have missed your question on LinkedIn. But, I’m glad you found the info here. Call me if you have any questions or if I can help you in any way.
Thank you so much for this great information. I have to 80 lb dogs and have stayed away from hard woods for this reason. Now I know it’s not necessary. You have a lot of great information here.
Sharon – Thank you so much. I really appreciate that!
HI Debbie, years ago I was part of a team at Tandus that brought the best urine odor and stain remover in the world to our industry. It’s made with pharmaceutical-grade tea tree oil and completely safe for kids, pets and floors! Brand new to the residential flooring market, Helios (the product name) completely and permanently removes the uric acid crystals, which as you know are the actual source of any odor. In addition, Helios Pet Odor and Stain Remover eliminates any stain left over – particularly on carpet and other fabrics – that may have been left by an enzyme cleaner. Let’s talk about how we can give your clients a discount on a true solution to an issue that has plagued our industry for decades!
Rick – That sounds like an interesting solution that may work for some customers. Thanks.
What about engineered hardwood? I am deciding on flooring and leaning towards a floating floor of some kind over sob subfloor. I live in southern utah and all the horror stories of water, pets and hardwood buckling have made me steer clear of hardwood. I am not rich but do look at flooring as an investment so I am willing to pay a little more to avoid laminate and tile. I have a husky tall son and we will have dogs. Help! What about the tile that looks like hardwood. It is open concept so having two different floor types in kitchen and living space isn’t something I want. I prefer consistency. Someone recommended Pergo but I have heard it is not environmentally friendly. They said they would feel confident to put Pergo in their kitchen.m I would think engineered hardwood would be better. Thoughts
Hi Robbie. This is a toughie for sure. Personally I prefer solid hardwood over engineered and even more so if you have dogs. This way when they scratch (and they will), you can replace them.
Now, that being said, there are other factors that go into the equation such as cost and subfloor. Here in Westchester NY, most houses have a plywood subfloor, so solid hardwood is close to a no brainer. If you have a concrete subfloor, that’s a different story and solid may be too expensive (but if you do have plywood, go for solid over engineered). If it’s concrete, yes, you could consider tile that looks like hardwood. Here that would cost more than tile, but that may or may not be the case in Utah, esp if subfloor is concrete.
Pergo is a brand of laminate. Laminate does hold up better to scratches than hardwood does…everything depends on what is most important. Most engineered hardwoods can not be refinished, so a good laminate will prob hold up better/longer. but, neither are close to solid hardwood. If you do laminate, do a higher grade and go w/ a reputable manufacturer and nothing made from China. The ones in China a bad for environment and your health, so stay away. I don’t care how much it saves you…it will cost you in your health and that is not worth it.
You’re information is the most helpful I have found anywhere. So first let me say thank you. Now with that said, from HD store the quote for my 1526 sq footage came back with a 17,568 price tag with tile in the 2 bathrooms and laundry room. That was after a 10% overall discount on installation! etc….OUCH! I don’t have that much money for the project. Their cheapest hardwood is a Canadian light Birch with the thinner strips.Thoughts?
I looked at Pergo, laminate, engineered and cork. Took samples and submerged them all in water overnight. They held up sort of okay. Cork started to break up, Pergo changed the color of the water and looks fake. All of them came up a bit around the sides and expanded where the pressed padding is. I hate them all. I really want hardwood. Now looking at bamboo too since many friends have suggested it. I have heard that bamboo is slippery and very hard on joints and feet for animals. I also heard it cracks if it gets too dry.. thoughts?
I have OSB subfloors over a walkout basement.
Hi, we’re building a new home and have be choice between site finished or prefinished. Which holds up better of time to pets and young children? I’ve read prefinished is stronger but site finished wears more naturally. Both are the same price.
Mike – Yes, I would agree w/ your statement. Prefinished has a harder surface due to aluminum oxide, but it shows scratches much more. Personally, I prefer site finished as it looks better and more natural and much easier to clean (prefinished collects a lot of dirt in the bevels and probably more likely for dogs to get claws/nails caught.
Thanks so much for the quick reply. The prefinished floor we were looking at is matte and wire brushed so would probably hide scratches easier but overall, I definitely prefer site finished. For site finished, would you recommend Jacobean or Medium Brown stain with a white and light grey kitchen? Thank you 🙂
Mike – Yes, that should hide scratches. For site finished, and your colors, I would go for jacobean as it’s darker and a cooler color and should go better with the gray and white. and, it looks more contemporary. But, it will show dirt/scratches better. You could also test dark walnut (which is also cool and dark, but a tad lighter than jacobean.
Thank you for the idea of the distressed hardwoods. I have a dog and would hate to see my floors ruined within the year. I agree that you should stay away from the softer woods. I also recommend using a large rug in certain areas for added protection.
Luke – Yes, excellent point on the area rug.
We were thinking of refinishing our hard wood floors. We have 2 adorable german shepherds and I read somewhere that darker stains show lot of scratches. What we have now is Bruce gunstock and I’m thinking a lighter white wash stain or grey stain. Any suggestions?
Rajani – Yes, darker stains show scratches and dirt most. Natural will show them the least. If you are going to sand and refinish, natural will hold up much better than gray or white wash. And, if you are going to do gray (or white wash), be sure to read my blog post on gray (just put gray in the search bar) and be sure that you have a flooring contractor that has done a lot of gray. I get lots of comments, questions and calls w/ people who have contractors that don’t know how to use gray and usually use the wrong and inferior products. I hope that helps.