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13 min read

How to Flawlessly Stain Hardwood Floors


13 min read

How to Flawlessly Stain Hardwood Floors

FlooringHow to Flawlessly Stain Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floors aren’t all that complicated to stain provided you adhere to a proper set of guidelines and a few pointers, sparing you a complete redo, or worse, having to replace your entire flooring. 

By following our set of tailored tips detailed in this article, not only will you be able to choose the right type of stain, but also flawlessly apply it. 

How to Stain Hardwood Floors: From Prep to Care

If you choose the DIY route and stain your flooring yourself, what better way to start than by knowing, ahead of time, what problems plagued seasoned professionals?

Prepare Wood Floor

Hardwood floors have to be sanded before being stained. Otherwise, the wood won’t absorb the stain nor hold over time. 

What’s more, by sanding your hardwood floors, you’re essentially revamping and giving them a whole new, glossy finish. 

The only downside: Stain will often highlight any imperfections in the wood. Therefore, to avoid any unfortunate results, proceed by sanding the wood again, but this time with an orbit sander. 

Then, manually sand the floor along the walls to remove any marks left behind by different sanders. Lastly, polish the floor as a finishing step. 

You can use either a vacuum or mop to clean the floors before applying the stain to ensure a dust-free surface. 

Choose Floor Stain

This is the most intricate step! Why, you ask? Because a poorly chosen wood stain colour can ruin the look of a room in no time. On top of that, you’ll have to resand your floor to change the colour, which has its drawbacks, as you’ll come to find out at the end of this article. 

If you choose to proceed without hiring a professional, the best advice we could give you is this: Test your colour!

How? There are 2 ways to go about it: 

  • Stain an inconspicuous area (under furniture or couch)

  • Stain a separate piece of wood 

Doing so will allow you to see if the colour is exactly as you expected. It’s super important to test the stain to validate the colour and ensure that the light in the room doesn’t skew the result. 

Apply Stain to Flooring

Not so fast! Before applying your wood stain, water pop the floor, which is a process meant to prepare the wood grain for better stain absorption. To do so, dampen the floor with either water or methanol.  

Once the floor has dried, the stain can be applied, but not in whichever way floats your boat. Apply the stain along the wood grain for a flawless finish. There’s no special tool required to apply stain. You can use:

  • Extra-large paintbrush (along the baseboards)

  • Sponge mop 

  • Lamb wool pad 

As for trade professionals, they’ll likely use a stain pad fitted to a buffer. This isn’t so much the technical aspect of it all. Truth the told, things can quickly take a turn for the worse if you neglect to follow the strict set of guidelines.  

Stained Floor Upkeep and Protection

Regular cleaning is the best way to upkeep flooring. We’re not talking about a deep clean here, but simply routine vacuuming. Essentially, what you want is a clean, dust-free surface, devoid of any abrasive matters. Once stuck to the bottom of your shoe, little bits of gravel or other substances could scuff your floors.  

If liquid of any sort spills on your floor, clean it up immediately. No flooring is 100% waterproof, no matter the sealant applied. However, moisture only becomes a problem if overly present. 

Wrapping up this section, note that over time, furniture of any kind can lead to flooring discoloration. This isn’t so much due to the furniture in question, but UV rays. If your furniture is always in the same spot, the floor beneath it won’t fade, but the uncovered flooring surrounding it will. Therefore, should you want mint-looking floors for years on end, change is your best friend. 

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6 Tips for Applying Stain

Tip 1: Mix all your same-colour stain into one container

Not only should you mix your stain before applying it, but if you intend on using more than one can of stain, pour all the stain cans into one big container. Why, you ask? Because two identical cans of stains may differ slightly in colour if they don’t have the same lot number. 

This slight difference can quickly turn into a bigger problem when the first can runs out and pop open the second to continue staining. The slight difference might be plain as day. 

Mixing all the cans at once ensures a uniform colour in the end. 

Tip 2: Remember, time is of the essence

Once you start staining, you can’t stop mid-project, even if you’re waiting on the most important call of the year. If you take a break, your floor won’t have a uniform tint. 

Tip 3: Manage your speed

Working uninterrupted doesn’t mean working at lightning speeds. The truth of the matter is, that the speed at which you’re working will affect the end result. The stain has to be applied at the same speed throughout to prevent wet edges from drying. If you let wet edges sit for too long, the stain will dry and the floor will be visibly uneven in tone.  

Tip 4: Use 2 lamb wool pads or sponge mops

The first lamb wool pad will serve to apply the stain along the wood grain. The second is to wipe off the excess product right after the stain is applied.

Tip 5: Work within arm’s length

To ensure that you’re not overwhelmed by the work surface, avoid applying stain beyond arm’s length. 

Tip 6: There’s only one exit

It’s rather logical, but in the haste of it all, chances are that you might overlook this factor and start working at the wrong end of the room. Keep in mind that you’ll have to exit the room without stepping on the floor once the work is completed. 

Always start with the wall facing the door. At the end, avoid applying stain in front of the door before having finished staining the rest of the floor’s surface.

How to Change the Colour of Your Flooring

Can you change the colour of a hardwood floor without heading the sanding route? That’s a hard no. If you want to refinish your floor, you’ll inevitably have to start afresh on an untreated surface. 

However, if you’ve already refinished your floor at one point in time, best to hire a professional this time around to:

  • assess the size of the wear layer; and

  • avoid overdoing the sanding and maintaining a wear layer.

Varnishing a Hardwood Floor

There are two advantages to varnish:

  • It’s aesthetic (satin, glossy, crystal clear, etc. finish)

  • Protects the wood (dust, dirt). 

Now the question is, should it be applied pre- or post-stain?

Post-stain it is. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Sanding

  2. Staining

  3. Varnishing (2 coats) 

To varnish, start by mixing the varnish in its container with a stick. Some components may be sitting at the bottom of the can. Then, secure the lid, shake the can, and allow it to sit for about 10 minutes. Doing so will allow any of the bubbles that have formed to pop. 

Varnish is applied along the baseboard with a 3-inch wide paintbrush, just like stain. The rest is simpler. You can pour a film of varnish directly on the floor. Then, with a clean pad, spread the varnish around by positioning the applicator pad like a snow plough. However, to prevent little hairs from the pad from mixing into the varnish, consider dampening it with water before using it. 

Make sure that you’re always moving excess varnish toward your body. Once done, the varnish has to have a wet-like aspect. Apply the second coat two hours later.

To do so, sand the surface once again, but this time around, do so with 180-grit sandpaper. Resanding the floor ensures the second coat of varnish adheres to the surface.   

What colour best suits which species (oak, maple, etc.)?

It isn’t so much colour that’s important when focusing on species, but the mixture that is applied. Why? Because pore size varies greatly from one species to another. 

Therefore, trade professionals mix the stain differently based on the species at hand. They may add more or less methanol or water, knowing ahead of time that: 

  • maple doesn’t absorb stain as well as red oak;

  • the porosity of birch, beech, and pine wood accentuates when stained; and

  • oak and ash absorb stain evenly.

Therefore, choose your stain based on the hardwood species onto which it’ll be applied to avoid highlighting imperfections in the parquet flooring or those created during the buffing stage. 

Professionals know what to use and how to work based on the specificities of your parquet flooring.

How to Choose the Right Colour for Your Hardwood Flooring

Choosing the ideal stain colour for your hardwood floors means considering the desired aesthetic and ensuring the shade suits the furniture and the lighting in the room. In small, inconspicuous zones, test swatch the stain to select the right shade that perfectly suits the look you want to convey. Here are a few guidelines to steer you in the right direction:

On-Trend Hardwood Floor Stain Colours

2022 and 2023 were shaped with dark wood, beige, or light brown colours. 

2021 saw a trend of warm colours like black, copper, or the species' natural hue. However, beige was still the frontrunner that year. 

2020 was instead marked by untreated wood, minimalist in style. 

According to the French-language Canadian newspaper La Presse, in 2010, the focus was on white and even deemed it an “emerging trend” for upcoming years, while still stating that 99% of floors are brown. 

The reason for that is quite simple actually; floors have a sure value. Floors are expected to last for a little over 20 years. So don’t go out of your way to find out what’s on-trend or not. Choose a floor colour based on your preferences and aesthetics, but above all else, your home décor. 

Grey Wood Stain

Grey hardwood floors have a sole purpose: creating a contrast. Using a neutral hue brings out the floor against light- and warm-coloured walls and furniture. Grey wood stain ensures a balance between warm colours found throughout a room and flooring that just wouldn’t fit amongst overly dark shades. 

It has a weathered look, with an appeal that stems entirely from its neutral hue. 

Walnut Stain

If you know a little something about interior designing, you know that walnut stain has to be paired with white walls, or at the very least, neutral colours. Why? To visually enhance the room. 

The same applies to your ceiling. If it’s dark in colour, pairing a walnut stain with white walls will give off a semblance of depth to the space in question. On the other hand, if your ceiling is light, it’ll further convey an overall feeling of comfort and relaxation.   

How to Choose a Colour that Fits Your Décor

In terms of a room, flooring colour is the most important colour throughout. The white floor trend that came out of the 2005-2010 period wasn’t random at all. The reason behind this trend is as American as it gets, hailing from luxurious ocean-front mansions lining the Florida and California coasts.

What motivated interior decorators to rock the boat that was once dominated by beige and brown hues? Those very mansions. It’s quite simple actually, just follow these guidelines:

  • Warm colours: visually shrinks the room

  • Cold colours: visually enhance the room

  • Neutral colours: subtlety 

As such, when choosing a floor colour, consider the room as a whole, its size, and what you may be trying to convey to your guests. And it’s not solely limited to square footage, but a feeling, or a vibe, one might say.

  • Warm colours: energy, motion

  • Cold colours: tranquillity, relaxing, calming

  • Neutral colours: modest

No matter the colour of your choosing, remember to test it out before applying it to your flooring. 

The Environmental Impact of Hardwood Floor Stains

The environmental repercussions of hardwood floor stains are rather extensive. However, pigmentation dyes aren’t solely used for flooring. It’s a product that’s used in numerous industries:

  • Textile 

  • Cosmetics 

  • Agriculture 

  • Medicine 

  • Tech (photoelectrochemical cells, etc.) 

The list goes on… 

It’s why stains and dyes are found scattered about in the environment. For example, it's found in water, and it mainly causes:

  • Photosynthesis issues

  • Chronic illnesses in aquatic animals

  • Growth problems

The issue with stains and dyes is mainly due to the extremely resistant products developed by the industry; products that will potentially last for well over 50 years.

These products are toxic for aquatic mammals and organisms, so much so that studies and reported observations done by industry workers have shown that stains and dyes cause: 

  • Bladder cancer

  • Spleen cancer

  • Hepatocellular carcinomas 

  •  Chromosome abnormalities

In factories, found in wastewater generated by the manufacturing process of dyes and stains are:

  • Salts

  • Sodium sulphate

  • Dispersing agents

  • Sulfuric acid

  • Acid or alkaline pH levels 

Regarding minimalism, leaving your floors bare won’t really change anything about bringing toxins into your home. Only legislation implemented by environmentally conscious governments can actively drive a change in industrial practices, most notably pushing for better industrial wastewater treatment. 

Advantages of Hiring a Trade Professional to Stain Your Floors

Hiring a trade professional to stain your floors has numerous advantages. Their expertise guarantees a flawless and quality result, you can benefit from customized tips, and their know-how ensures a long-lasting, durable result, bypassing any common errors found in a DIY application.

Experts Keep Up with Trends

Although we did state that in 99% of cases, hardwood floors are either beige or brown if you’re home aesthetic allows for it, a professional may advise you on using a slightly lighter, warmer hue, maybe even hinting at a white-like shade. 

They Have a Knack for Colour Pairing

Choosing either a light or dark shade visually transforms a room. With the former, the room will appear bigger, while seeming cramped with the latter. Therefore, it’s important to create a semblance of balance between the colours of your floors, walls, and ceiling. 

If your knowledge of the matter is limited, note that trade professionals are experienced, and with that comes their knack for knowing what works and what doesn’t. Educating yourself by reading a few books on the matter won’t cut it. Having an eye for colour when paired with natural light can only be deemed as a worksite-developed skill. 

They Use Low-VOC Products

While stains are bad for the environment, you can still maintain a certain level of indoor air quality by favouring low-VOC products.

Trade professionals know which products should be used. This isn’t always the case with homeowners, who, for the most part, aren’t knowledgeable and will order products online from overseas. As such, hired experts will meticulously choose the products used in your home, as they’re liable.

They Get the Colour Right the First Time

Professionals do colour test swatches. Not only will they advise you, but they’ll take it a step further by showing you numerous different shades. This precautionary measure is a must.

If the wood stain applied isn’t to your liking, your floors will have to be sanded again. Now, here’s the problem with that: hardwood floors have a service life of about 21 years, and can be buffed about twice, which comes out to three periods of seven years. 

So, if you have to sand your hardwood floors again after having applied the wrong colour of stain, you essentially lose 7 years of wear time.

Staining Hardwood: Flawlessly Revamping Your Floors

Flawlessly staining hardwood floors calls for a methodical and meticulous approach. Each step, from the diligent preparation to the delicate stain application, is instrumental in shaping the overall outcome. By using quality products, properly sanding the surface, and meticulously applying the stain, you’re further ensuring an even and stunning finish. This process, which should be done with care and precision, can revamp your hardwood floors into a focal component in your home, thereby aligning beauty with longevity. 

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Last modified 2024-01-05

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