Refinishing hardwood floors gray in Westchester County
Yes, believe it or not, gray hardwood flooring is in style! Higher end homeowners in Westchester keep requesting gray hardwood floors. Yes, gray! It’s an up and coming trend. Finding pre-finished gray hardwood is easy, but how about if you already have oak hardwood floors in your Westchester home?
As background, it’s easy to get the gray color in pre-finished maple or birch floors. Because these woods are closed pored, they absorb the stains differently and some of the darker brown stains turn gray on maple and birch (see picture to the right). These same stains will look brown on oak, but gray on maple. So, now that this trend has caught on, we have many homeowners who want to refinish their existing hardwood floors (which are usually oak) to have a similar look).
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While achieving this gray look on existing oak hardwood is challenging (and is not to be done by your everyday contractor), it is possible to achieve when you have talented hardwood flooring refinishers. It costs more than your standard type of refinishing (read below to understand why), but for those looking for the stylish gray look, it’s well worth it. How do you achieve the gray effect? Well first, the stain is a combination of ebony and white wash. We test different levels until we find the right level of gray that our customer prefers – it could be dark gray, light gray or somewhere in the middle. We will test the gray colors on your hardwood floors.
In the above pictures, you see different ratios of white:ebony. In the far right picture, the sample on the right is 3 parts white to 1 ebony, middle is 5:1, left is 4:1. In the left photo is 7:1. These are shown on white oak. The carpet sample is from Tuftex (Marblehead is the style).
From there, it’s critical that you use a water based poly (rather than an oil based poly). An oil based poly will turn the floor yellowish and it just won’t work well with the gray. So water based poly in this instance is the best way to go. White wash costs a bit more, and water based poly costs a bit more.
We strongly recommend Bona Traffic HD poly for this effect (see below on where to buy). It just lasts longer than traditional Bona and other water based polyurethanes. And, of course it costs more. It’s often better to add an extra coat of water based poly, too for a more durable finish. After all, refinishing hardwood floors can be rather inconvenient as you need to move all the furniture and often vacate the house. And, since this is more expensive than your typical refinishing job, you might as well make it last longer so you can postpone the need to refinish your floors again.
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Please note that refinishing hardwood floors gray is challenging and should be handled by an expert, especially one with experience in gray and white washed floors. First, the sanding must be immaculate. Stain should be consistent and applied in strips to avoid any cross-grain color-variant lines. Test the stains carefully (before applying). Stains should dry at least 24 hrs, consistent with dark colored stains (and/or to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Be careful with the wood species. Gray stained floors tend to turn out best on white oak flooring. Red oak has underlying red tones, and often a darker gray is needed to achieve the desired look. Stain can turn out blotchy on maple floors as these are close pored species (this blotchiness occurs with all stain colors).
Gray does not come out very well with pine floors which have underlying yellow as well as red tones. If you try this on pine, I’d suggest a deep gray to wash out the yellows (and note: these floors will get more yellow over time as the pine ages). And, if you’re looking for this particular floor (which is pre-finished) – Shaw Castlewood Hearth, you can buy it here.
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Here is some testing we did with gray stains on a house that had both red oak and white oak flooring so you can see the difference. The right oak is on top and the white oak on the bottom. (These mismatched species were installed by a previous contractor but it’s a great illustration to show the difference). The differences in color and graining are more apparent in real life.
Recommended polyurethane for Gray floors and where to buy
When it comes to water borne poly, there is no dispute, Bona Traffic HD is the best in the market place. It looks great, dries quickly, and doesn’t amberize. It’s perfect if you’re staining your floors gray, or white, or just going for a natural super clean look. It costs more than Bona Mega, but it’s worth it as it looks better, lasts longer and amberizes less. This is the only product we use with gray or white washed floors.
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Should you use Rubio monocoat or tung oil for gray hardwood floors?
You definitely can use tung oil or Rubio monocoat for gray hardwood floors, but it’s generally not my first choice. There are pros and cons with using tung oil (or similar products). One of these days, I’ll have to write a full article on this topic. These products are still rather niche, but they are growing in popularity for their natural and unique look, as well as low VOCs and importantly the ability to spot treat scratches and mishaps. They are especially popular in NYC.
Unlike polyurethane, the oils penetrate into the wood. This gives the wood a unique patina and texture. It looks more natural and a bit more rustic. (Note: some people love this, others don’t). It has a very flat and matte finish.
Most oiled floors use linseed or tung oil, or a combo of the two. The oils penetrate the wood and attach at a molecular level making the wood stronger while leaving the texture and color unobstructed. Over time, the oil ages with the wood and the patina grows stronger.
In addition to the environmental benefits, many like the ability to spot repair the oiled floors. As a homeowner, you can do the repair yourself, and you don’t need to sand and refinish. Instead, you just apply more oil.
But, there are some downsides to the oiled floors. The biggest disadvantage is that they can be more difficult to maintain. You need to periodically treat the floors with more oil. Furthermore, the floors aren’t protected from water (or pet accidents). Polyurethane, on the other hand, provides a protective layer that rests on top of the wood. This prevents liquids from penetrating; oiled floors don’t have that same level of protection.
The other downsides to oiled floors are that they cost more (significantly more) and they have a longer curing time (which means it will be longer before you can move your furniture in.
Importantly, with oiled floors, you shouldn’t use a regular hardwood cleaner. Instead, you would use Woca natural soap and the Woca Wood Refresher. These items cost more than the typical hardwood cleaners, but at least you can make repairs as scratches occur. And, you can buy these products on Amazon and have them shipped directly to you.
I’d say that if you absolutely love the look of tung oil, then go for it. And, if the ability to spot treat is very important to you, then that is an added bonus. If you have pets that may get the floors wet (from going in/out when it rains, water dishes or accidents), you may want to avoid this option. If you don’t like to spend a lot of time on touch ups, and instead prefer a floor with less maintenance, then use Bona Traffic HD (note: Bona Traffic is also environmentally friendly).
Update: Recently Duraseal introduced a new line of gray blends. These a combo of light and dark grays as well as greiges (gray/brown blends) and you may want to check those out in this article: Duraseal’s new gray and greige blend line.
Related refinishing articles:
- How long does it take to sand and refinish hardwood floors?
- Best paint colors with gray hardwood flooring
- Hardwood flooring trends
- Hardwood floor stain color trends
- Duraseal’s new gray blended stains
- Which are the best brands of polyurethane?
- Recommended cleaning products and accessories to maintain floors and reduce scratches.
Do you need a local flooring contractor? Find one here.
For more info, check out my Ebook – Top 6 Hardwood Refinishing FAQ’s.
Complementary products for your hardwood floors:
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