Red oak flooring is one of the most commonly used hardwood floors, mostly because it’s (relatively) affordable, and durable. We chose white oak floors for both our housing projects, but I get questions all the time about red oak and my thoughts on making the flooring look up to date.
Using Red Oak In 2022
Red oak was very popular during times when certain stains and finishes were trendy (hi orange floors of the ’90s!). That being said, red oak isn’t out of style and orange floors aren’t your destiny if you have red oak floors. There are ways to stain the oak to minimize or even hide the orange undertones. Keep reading for trendy stain finishes and ways to make red oak look great!
Red oak floors refinished with a light stain
Red Oak Flooring Vs White Oak
White oak flooring is similar in many ways to red oak floors, as both are similarly priced, durable and have similar graining. To the untrained eye, it could be hard to tell the difference from just looking at flooring.
Related: Read about our white oak flooring and our experience finishing it and buying new here.
The Color of Red Oak
The most significant difference between the two floors is in the color of the wood. Red oak has strong pink and yellow undertones that certain stains can bring out and darken more than others. White oak naturally has more beige and brown undertones, but red oak doesn’t take as well to beige stains.
Red oak floors have a heavier and more dramatic grain and pattern. The advantage to this is that red oak floors can hide scratches and dents more than white oak, within the grain.
Overall red oak is just about as costly as white oak floors overall, but price fluctuations are common. Currently in my local area, red oak is just slightly more affordable, but both are great options.
Although there is a slight difference in the hardness level, with white oak being of harder density, my flooring installer told me it was so slight that it’s inconsequential. He told me better to choose the flooring that appeals to you more for personal reason, but don’t base it on density.
Above: 5” plank #1 red oak with minwax weathered oak stain with water based sealer
Above: Red oak flooring with a Duraseal Country White
Pros and Cons
- Red oak is stain friendly and will soak up stains easily due to the porous nature, but the yellow undertones are not currently in vogue and what a lot of people try to mask. However, red oak takes stain better than alternatives like pine.
- Red oak is durable, which is why it is a favorite in the industry. If the floor is damaged, sanding it down and refinishing is an option.
Red Oak Stain: Staining red oak floors without the pink / orange
You can make your red oak floors have that beautiful light and beige color that’s trending right now with white oak… but not without going through some headache! Red oak just doesn’t take as well to white and lighter stain colors as white oak does. There are strong pink or yellow undertones that will pull if you simply whitewash or give it a light white stain.
Of course, this is all a personal decision and depends on how nit picky you are about pink tones!
Staining Tips and Ideas
Using no stain and just a clear sealer (like we did on our white oak) is an idea to keep the wood light, but be aware it’s not going mask the natural pink tones in the wood. Adding a clear top coat (oil or water based) will give you a light look but at the same time deepen the natural undertones in red oak.
If you are wanting that perfect “natural” wood look that’s everywhere in new construction right now, I would mix a few stains together. Below are a few different stains I suggest you try. These are light and should cover up the pink enough and bring out the warmth of the wood:
- Duraseal stain mix of 60% Fruitwood and 40% Country white and light and will cover up the pink
- Duraseal Silvered Gray also light and reduces the pink/yellow tones
- I would not try pickled oak stains alone, they won’t mask the wood’s natural red and yellow undertones. But pickled oak could be nice mixed with another stain.
- Bleaching the red oak, followed by staining it is a more involved process. However, the bleaching process will take some of that red out, and staining it after bleaching would bring the warmth back.
Above: red oak flooring stained Duraseal 60% Fruitwood and 40% Country white
Above: a medium stain on older red oak floors, made of a custom mix
If you are choosing a medium to darker stain, you have no worries. Those darker stains get soaked right up and hide the salmon color, leaving you with the same end result as a dark white oak.
Lastly, I recommend sealing your floors with a high traffic water based finish, as opposed to oil polyurethane. Oil will amber over time more aggressively than a water based finish. With a wood floor that already has strong orange undertones to start, better to play it safe!
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