Wood Stain & Finishes for Hardwood Floors | How To Choose

hardwood floor

When choosing hardwood flooring, one of the biggest decisions to make is the type of wood stain & finish to use. In this article, we will compare the types of stains and finishes that are used on hardwood floors. Hardwood flooring is a classic, timeless and elegant flooring option that has been used in homes and buildings for hundreds of years. It has a natural beauty that adds warmth and character to any space, and it’s also extremely durable and long-lasting. The right stain and finish can enhance the natural grain and color of the wood, or change it completely to match a specific decor style. Minwax, Duraseal & Bona are some of the most well known brands of wood stains and urethane finishes.

Polyurethane Finishes

For wood floor refinishing in multi-unit buildings in New York City we always use Bona water based polyurethane. Water based finish is required because it dries fast & is very low odor. Bona is the brand we find to perform best overall. Oil based finish  emits toxic odor that can linger for days or weeks. Water based finish also does not change the color of the stain or natural wood as does oil based finish. In Long Island, where there is more of single family homes we may seldom use use oil based finish when requested by a homeowner. 

hardwood floor medium colorOil based urethane may come cheaper and requires less expertise to apply, but the floors can take several days to dry before walking on and replacing furniture. The odor can last days or weeks and permeate into curtains, furniture, etc. And the finish will change the color of the wood. Whether it’s natural color or stained the color will immediately change as soon as the finish is applied. Over time the color will continue to change as the finish becomes amber toned, though some folks may like this feature. Water based finish is clear when applied, it does not alter the color of the floor. This makes it much easier to color match and to know in advance exactly what color your floors will be whether it’s clear & natural or light, medium or dark stain.

Whether you use water based or oil based polyurethane, either way the urethane is applied to give protection to the wood and provide some sheen. The sheen can be flat, medium or high gloss. Flat gloss better hides scuffs and scratches while high gloss is more bold & reflects more light but shows scuffs and scratches more, thus making it more suited for low traffic areas.

Natural Clear Finish

A natural clear finish is exactly what it sounds like: no stain or color is added to the wood, just a clear coat of urethane is applied. This type of finish is popular for people who want to show off the natural beauty of their hardwood flooring. Natural finishes are often used in homes with a minimalist or contemporary decor style, as sample wood stain stripthe simple look of the natural wood can complement the clean lines and uncluttered spaces. This finish is also popular for homes with light-colored woods, such as Maple, as the natural finish will enhance the light and airy feel of the space.

Clear finishes are popular for homes with hardwood flooring that already has a lot of character, such as reclaimed or antique woods. The clear finish will preserve the natural character and beauty of the wood, and the gloss will give it a modern and sophisticated look.

To help you decide whether to go natural or choose a wood stain color we create a sample strip. A section of the floor is sanded just enough to expose the natural wood. Tape is used to make about 8 segments to test different colors and compare side by side. After the color is chosen the section is again sanded clean along with the rest of the floor. 

Light Wood Stain

light stain wood floorLight stains are popular for homes with light-colored hardwood flooring, such as Maple or Birch. These stains will enhance the natural beauty of the wood, while also lightening it up. Light stains are also popular for homes with a coastal, beachy or cottage decor style, as the light and airy feel of the stained wood can complement the relaxed and carefree atmosphere of these spaces. Light stains are also a good option for homes with kids or pets, as they are less likely to show dirt and scratches than darker stains.

Medium Stains

medium stain wood floorMedium stains are a popular choice for homes with a more traditional or classic decor style. These stains will add a rich and warm color to the hardwood flooring, while still maintaining some of the natural grain and character of the wood. Medium stains are often used in homes with light to medium colored woods, such as Oak (the most common type of US wood floor), as the added color will bring out the beauty and richness of the wood. Medium stains are also popular for homes with an elegant or sophisticated decor style, as the added color will add a touch of sophistication to the space.

Dark Wood Stain

dark stain wood floorDark wood stain is popular for homes with a more dramatic or modern decor style. These stains can completely change the color of the wood, and add a rich and intense depth to the space. Dark stains are often used in homes with dark-colored woods, such as Walnut, Mahogany and Brazilian Cherry, as the added color will create a bold and dramatic contrast. Dark stains are also popular for homes with an industrial or urban decor style, as the added color will create a sleek and modern look.

Specialty Stains

Specialty stains are not as common as natural, clear, light, medium or dark stains, but they can add a unique and special touch to hardwood flooring. Specialty stains can come in a variety of colors, such as blue, green, red, or yellow, and they can add a fun and playful touch to wood floors.

The Floor Master

Hardwood flooring expert for over 30 years, serving in the NYC area.

Comments are closed.