While images of dark wood floors tease homeowners from the pages of every “home and garden” website and publication, staining your wood planks is not a necessary step when going through a hardwood floor restoration process or when installing new floors. In fact, sometimes skipping the stain makes sense and is a better choice.
First, there is an inherent beauty in the visible grain and the natural tones of wood that brings nature closer and make your home resplendent with outdoor colors. But leaving your hardwood floor unstained may be preferable because of what staining actually entails: more effort, more time, more problems – and often more mistakes.
As a hardwood flooring company that works with do-it-yourself homeowners, we have seen a good deal of staining jobs gone wrong. Below, we are addressing some of the problems that might appear during the staining process and why natural wood floors are sometimes the better option.
Natural Hardwood Floors Are More Permissive with Sanding Mistakes
During the staining process, the stain travels into the wood fiber and gets absorbed into the wood pores. If the floor is scratched during an unprofessional sanding job, more stain slips into the deep scratches, making them darker and highlighting them. The result is not only a stain color that is not uniform, but a floor that shows every scratch in the wood. Such a floor must be sanded and stained again, which takes more time and reduces the life of the wood planks.
Add to that the fact that applying the stain must be done both uniformly and with restraint, and that stain that goes beyond the saturation point of the wood and is not properly absorbed may creep back to the surface. Considering all these potential problems, when the staining step is skipped and only the top protective coat applied, the result is not only a floor that showcases the timeless beauty of wood in its natural state, but also spares the homeowner of more headaches than necessary (not to mention a possible increase in the cost of refinishing hardwood floors).
Some Types of Wood Are Difficult to Stain
Some species of wood such as maple, birch or pine are notoriously hard to stain. This is because they have smaller pores, and the stain is not absorbed well. At the same time, the fiber density may vary across the same type of wood, which will cause visible differences in color from plank to plank. The season in which the wood was formed determines how well the wood absorbs the stain. Wood developed in spring, for instance, is less dense and more absorbent, while the dense fiber of the wood developed later in the season makes it more resistant to stain. Asking for the advice of a professional hardwood floor refinishing contractor is a good starting point in deciding if your planks are good contenders for staining and if you should or should not stain your floors.
Natural Wood Floors Are a Better Option for DIY-ers
For all the reasons above, skipping the staining step is a good alternative for those who try to finish or refinish their floors by themselves. But staining mishaps are not only the privilege of DIY-ers. Even professional, experienced wood floor refinishing contractors face every now and then a problematic floor that they have to sand and stain again. Knowing this, prospective DIY-ers may find natural floors more desirable and may decide to enjoy the natural beauty of the wood.
Natural Hardwood Floors Means Less Waiting Time
Leaving your wood planks unstained means that the finishing job takes less time. The stain must be dry before the protective hardwood floor coating is applied, so that the finish can bond. Therefore, waiting for the stain to dry may lengthen the entire process by at least two days, depending on the climate conditions – and often more when these are less than ideal.
Light Wood Floors Are More Forgiving with Wear and Tear
Skipping the dark stain may come with long-term benefits. Lighter hardwood floors do not emphasize the debris, scratches or high-traffic wear as much as the dark ones. If your life is hectic enough not to need the added burden of constant wood floor cleaning and maintenance, unstained floors may be for you.