The Pros And Cons Of Staining Hardwood Floors

The Pros And Cons Of Staining Hardwood Floors

Installing hardwood floors in your home can be a great decision, but whether you have them installed yourself or buy a home that already has hardwood floors, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

There is an awful lot that goes into preparing, treating, and finishing floors and every choice you make along the way can seriously affect the finished product. Nowhere is that truer than when it comes to staining. While staining your hardwood floor can add warmth and depth to the floor and enhance the overall look of the room, if the process is not handled properly it can have major unwanted results.

Before you proceed with staining, then, it’s crucial that you understand the pros and cons involved with this vital step.

What Exactly is Staining?

This may seem like a very obvious question, but you’d be surprised how many people actually confuse staining with finishing, and that can be a vital mistake as they are two very different processes. While finish is designed as a final clear coat that simply adds a protective covering to your hardwood, stain actually colors the floor, enhancing or sometimes entirely changing the color of the wood.

Think of it similar to painting a wall, with one crucial difference; if you wind up choosing the wrong color of paint it can easily be corrected. If something goes wrong with staining, however, you’ll have to re-sand the entire floor and start over again – which can be a time consuming and frustrating process.

Perhaps some of the confusion comes because some companies out there are attempting to do an all-in-one staining and finishing product. But you definitely want to steer clear of those for flooring projects as the finishing part is not usually durable enough to hold up to everyday foot traffic.

Once you understand the differences you’ll need to be very careful about choosing your stain. There are a wide variety of colors to choose from, and the one you select will depend on a number of factors, including the type of wood, the amount of light in the room, and the overall design

Pros of Staining a Wood Floor

Though a lot can go wrong if the staining process isn’t handled properly, when it’s done right there are plenty of ways it can elevate a room. Color, warmth, shine, and depth can all be enriched with the right choice of stain and the correct application. Done correctly, your finished room can have the stunning, natural look that you see in home decor magazines. Some specific benefits of staining can include the following:

Achieving the elegance of dark wood – Most natural wood is light in color, but with a rich deep stain applied you can get the drama of dark wood. This is a look that is very popular in magazines today and one that can be a major selling point in the real estate market.

Copying the look of a certain wood type – If you can’t afford more expensive types of wood or if you buy a home with one type of wood but want the look of another, staining can give you that option. Staining a lighter wood with a rich cherry can give it the depth and dimension of natural cherry. Some lighter woods, like oak, aren’t very flexible making it difficult to achieve elaborate designs like herringbone or lattice. However, with stain, you can use a more flexible wood to get the pattern you like, and then achieve the coloring of oak with the choice of stain.

Accentuating the natural beauty of wood – Perhaps the biggest advantage of staining is its ability to bring out the natural patina and accentuate the grain giving a warmer, cozier feel to your room through the richness of wood flooring.

Cons Of Staining a Wood Floor

Here are some of the cons to staining that any homeowner should be aware of before they proceed:

Accentuates sanding marks – Sanding is a necessary step in order to prepare your hardwood to accept stain, but when done incorrectly it can leave a series of scratches, scuff marks, or gouges in the wood. When the stain is then applied to the wood surface, the pigment in the stain seeps into all of those fine marks, showing darker in those areas and making them stand out even more. The result can be a murky and busy overall look.

Not all woods are meant to be stained – There are certain types of wood, including maple, birch, and pine, that don’t stain very well. These woods are very light grained, meaning there are very few openings into which the stain pigment can settle and provide coverage. At the same time, pine and other coniferous woods also contain sap, which will actively resist stain. Staining these types of woods can result in areas of beading where the stain is repelled, making for a messy look.

Tendency for “bleedback” – Unlike paint, stain cannot be corrected or darkened by applying more layers. No matter what type of wood you choose , it can only absorb a certain amount of stain. Once it reaches its limit, if you continue to apply stain, it will simply rise back up to the surface, resulting in what is known as “bleedback.” The same effect can happen if you go over a layer of stain with a layer of finish that is not compatible. In either instance, you’ll be left with unsightly pockets of beading and spotting that will mar the overall look of your floor.

Staining is time consuming – One of the biggest drawbacks to staining (and one that is often overlooked by homeowners) is the sheer amount of time the process can take. If a stain coat is not completely dry it won’t be able to accept a layer of finish, and if the stain and finish do not bond correctly the finish can smudge and even peel off entirely. The only recourse would be to sand the floor again and start over. In order to dry thoroughly, stains require a minimum of 48 hours in the ideal conditions of heat, humidity, and air movement. Since it can be difficult to achieve those ideals in most cases, you’re more likely to need at least 72 hours for your stain to dry. Once the stain is dried, then you’ll need to apply a finish coat (or two, depending on which product you use) and wait for that to dry as well, which could be another two days.

Staining vs. Clear Coating

When it comes to achieving the perfect look for your hardwood floors, staining isn’t the only option. If you want a natural, rustic look that emphasizes the inherent grain and pattern of the wood, you could always opt for a clear coat finish. Unlike staining, clear coating doesn’t add any pigment but simply augments the existing look of the floor, adding protection and possibly shine (if desired).

This can have its advantages, most notably that it allows for greater reflections of light which can help to add depth and a feeling of size to smaller rooms. This is particularly noticeable in rooms with lots of windows which allow for more light.

Another advantage of clear coating is that unstained floors can provide an effective accent to darker wood accessories such as trim and furnishings. This interplay of various shades of wood can add extraordinary depth to a room which many designers find especially appealing.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Whether you are installing new floors or working with existing hardwood, stain is an extremely important part of the process and one that should be approached with great care. When done properly it can optimize and reflect the beauty of the wood and help to pull together the overall design of the room, but even the slightest misstep in this process can cost a considerable amount in time, effort, and energy.

Before you decide to stain your wood floors, it’s important to understand everything that is involved in the process and get expert input from a professional hardwood installation company so that you can be sure you are making the right choice and getting the final result you are looking for. With the right choice, either stain or clear coat, you can enjoy the benefits that a beautiful hardwood floor can bring to your home.