How to Choose the Right Stain Color for Your Hardwood Floors – Part 1


Next to choosing the type of wood, choosing a hardwood floor stain color has the most impact on how your floors will look. The virtually unlimited number of choices does not make your decision any easier.

To make things even more intimidating, applying a stain color is a point of no easy return. If you change your mind down the road, the only way to apply another stain is to sand down your hardwood floors.

So are there any rules? Is some stain color better than the others? Should you consider any dos and don’ts when it comes to wood stains? Here is a quick guide to help you choose the right stain.

Stain vs. No Stain

Staining your hardwood floors is not your only alternative. In fact, some species of wood look fabulous when allowed to flaunt their natural beauty. The natural red-hued color of Brazilian cherry, for instance, gets richer over time and needs no stain or artificial beauty tricks. Exotic woods often come in deep colors that do not require staining to shine. Pine wood floors lend your space a spectacular rustic feel when left unstained.

Wood Types

Some types of wood are easier to stain, some are harder. If you start with a certain stain color in mind, remember that some woods will limit your choices. This is because they have small pores that do not absorb stain well. Coniferous species such as fir or pine have this problem, which leaves you with the choice of either giving up staining your floors or opting for a lighter, less demanding stain. By contrast, oak is highly porous, easy to stain and gives you unlimited color choices.

Type of Decor

For the best effect, the color of your hardwood floors has to agree with the rest of your decor and with the general feel of the house. For example, a light stain that allows the heavily knotted surface of pine shine through fits perfectly a rustic decor. A very dark stain suits well a modern space. Medium stains have a certain traditional vibe. Red-hued Brazilian Cherry gives your house a feel of majesty and opulence.

Furthermore, consider the type of furniture you have. Dark stains make light-colored or whimsically painted furniture pop, but combining them with dark furniture may give your place the look of a light-starved cave. (Of course, there is always the alternative of softening up a dark floor with bright area rugs, or balancing it with a more luminous wall paint, but keep in mind that you need some kind of contrast in your color choices.)

Desired Level of Detail

A lighter stain allows the wood to showcase its natural beauty. If you love the natural imperfections of wood or if your heart is beating faster at the sight of knots and gum deposits, choose a light stain color. If you prefer a more uniform look and would like the natural texture of wood to rather whisper than shout, a darker stain will cover these irregularities fairly well and give you a more subtle look. Finally, if you love lighter colors but little details, there is a happy compromise: choose a more opaque version of a light stain.