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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