A Complete Guide to White Oak Flooring

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Our family has used white oak flooring three times, and with all that experience I knew it was time to share it all in one large resource. We have experience picking out stains, using no stain, buying new white oak as well as refinishing older white oak floors. 

I liked the white oak in our first new build so much, that years later (today!) we are currently renovating an older home and we chose to install white oak flooring again. This time we did not use a stain. Keep reading for more information!

refinishing white oak hardwoods

Your Guide To Choosing White Oak Flooring

This post may contain affiliate links. I hope you find the information and photos helpful!

If you are refinishing or installing hardwoods, your options for types of wood are overwhelming. From engineered to custom site finish, all kinds of varieties of wood and then, of course, stains and finishes- it’s a lot! I hope by sharing my experience of choosing our white oak flooring and the stain we chose for our hardwoods, you can find clarity and narrow it down.

white oak hardwood flooring in a new build

White Oak Floors: Why Is It Better Than Other Types of Hardwoods?

Nothing against other types of flooring; LVP and engineered have a time and a place. But there is nothing like the beauty of real wood in my opinion! 

Related: If you have red oak or are considering using it, read my guide to red oak flooring here!

White oak is very en vogue right now, as it is easier to soak up the correct stains without showing undertones of pink or orange, like red oak pulls. This reason right here is one of the main reasons people use it so much! It is also one of the more durable hardwoods; it’s harder than other kinds of hardwood like pine (harder meaning more resilient to dents). It’s become very popular in new builds in recent years because of this.

subway tile in a blue and white kitchen

foyer with glass front doors and white oak hardwood flooring

Shop My Entry: Foyer Rug/ Lantern

White Oak Floors: Lengths, Widths, and The Issues With Wide Plank

Be aware that plank width and length sizes are more noticeable with light floors than they are with darker floors, so they could be worth paying more for. 

In our newest renovation project, our white oak planks are from 2005 era and are 2.5″ widths in the downstairs. Where we installed new hardwoods upstairs we choose 3″ width. It’s an upgrade that is not noticeable as you go from one floor to the next so the home feels cohesive, but makes the upstairs floors look just a bit nicer.

When building our previous home, we used 4″ solid white oak hardwoods, considered just above standard.

The risk of buckling and warping is too high with wide plank white oak hardwoods that is more than 4″ in width. If you are dead set on a very wide plank, consider engineered hardwoods instead so they will not buckle.

I would encourage you not to use small lengths. The longer lengths are more attractive. Short lengths can look choppy; whereas longer lengths flow smoothly across the room and help visually elongate the space.

If you have wide plank white oak hardwood flooring, I would love to hear from you in the comments how it is holding up (and where you live – as climate is a factor!).

white oak hardwood floors with leopard print shoes peeking out

These are our hardwoods in our new build: White Oak flooring, #1 with 4″ width.  There isn’t a brand name for them, but they are from Artisan Flooring. We had them finished on site.

White Oak Floors: Variation

When you look at a flooring sample, read the information about that floor. Does it read along the lines of high degree of variation or high color variation? Stay away! Each piece could be a variety of colors, so although that sample is pretty, once the entire floor is down it might look like a mosaic: light to medium, to even greenish tint! Talk about a visual distraction.

Best to look for white oak that is low, medium or natural variation. In my opinion, these are the most attractive kind of floors that will give you a beautiful backdrop for furnishings.  

White Oak Floors: Grades

Consider the grade of your white oak flooring. Grades are not determined by someone’s opinion (“This floor gets an A+!”), but actual measurements of variations, streaks, worm holes and defects.

The 3 grades for flooring are:

  • Select: uniform in color, very few knots, longer, the least amount of character markings, more uniform length boards
  • #1 Common: some variation in light and dark colors, knots, holes, and more variation in the length
  • #2 Common: rustic, called builder’s grade, lots of character with a variety of color from board to board, prominent, larger-sized knots, plenty of worm holes, and includes some shorter boards

What’s important to know is that none of these 3 different grades are better than the other grades – the grading purpose is to qualify appearance. Know that #1 and select are more expensive. Not because they are better, but because there is less of a tree that is usable. 

White Oak Flooring Stains: Choosing Beautiful, On Trend Stains

a kitchen with oak hardwood flooring
white oak floors in our new build’s kitchen

 

(Read about our  paint colors in our kitchen here!)

Duraseal White Oak Stain

Our builder recommended using Duraseal stain colors. Duraseal is owned by the same company as Minwax, but offers quite a few more stain colors and takes less time to cure. You can find Duraseal on Amazon, Walmart, or use their store locator to find out where to buy Duraseal stain.

When it came time for us to pick out a hardwood floor stain color, I was told the stain color “Natural” might be something I liked. It was said to be a nice medium to light stain that most people preferred, very on trend and likable.

Shouldn’t that stain color favor the natural color of raw white oak? It doesn’t. Not on its’ own, that is. Although not a bad color, it is significantly darker than the color of white oak without a stain. It was not my version of a “light” floor- instead it looked very dark in my home. I was disappointed.

So what is the best stain for white oak? This question is subjective, of course. The colors we tried with samples on our floors were Duraseal Weathered Oak (too gray), Classic Gray (also no – this felt like a trend that would end soon), Neutral (too dark), and Country White (too washed out for what we wanted).

Duraseal hardwood floor stain colors

None of these were right on their own for what we envisioned. Most were too dark, and on the other end of the spectrum, Duraseal Country White was far too washed out.  Country White really did make our floors look white. It was a stark, Scandinavian look.

We ended up mixing various combinations until we found a winning combo that resembled the wood in its natural state. We created a custom mix that turned out to be the best stain for white oak. The stain is made up of half Country White and half Neutral. On all the flooring photos in our new build, this is the stain we used on the floors.

White Oak Floors With No Stain

When we moved out of our new build into our older home, I considered doing the same custom mix of stain here too.

But instead, we chose white oak floors (to match the white oak flooring in other rooms) with no stain at all.

white oak floors being installed

Does white oak need to be stained?

No, white oak doesn’t need to be stained. The stain alone does nothing to protect the floors; its’ purpose is merely to add color. Protecting your floors from spills and traffic is the sealants’ job. Using a stain on your white oak is personal preference and subjective. Do you like the look of white oak without the stain?
 
Be aware even a clear sealer may darken the floors just a touch, but not drastically. It should just slightly enrich the color.
 
Another benefit to not using a stain is drying time. The wait to be able to use your hardwoods will be longer if you stain! High humidity, lower temperatures, using multiple layers of stain, and not wiping it off thoroughly will all lengthen the drying and wait times.
white oak floors no stain
white oak floors, no stain

This is an image when the white oak floors were just installed, with no sanding or protective finish on them. I was out of town and was so excited to see this progress and their beautiful install.

If you choose white oak floors with no stain, the true beauty of the oak can be seen. This is such an obvious choice that I didn’t consider too much on the floors in our new build.

feet standing on white oak floors no stain

This is after my white oak floors with no stain were sealed with Bona Traffic HD, a waterborne wood finish.  The finish did enrich the color just a touch but in the best way.

white oak floors with no stain
white oak floors with no stain in a bedroom

white oak floors with no stain by fireplace

We’re still undergoing painting and construction so the floors aren’t cleaned well in these images, but the color is warm and beautiful. I highly recommend considering not staining your white oak if you love this look!

What White Oak Stains To Avoid In 2022 

If you’re overwhelmed with stain choices, my biggest piece of advice is to avoid any white oak stain that has gray in it.

Gray is a passing trend on its’ way out. Flooring is a large investment to make on the whim of a passing trend! Gray can leave the room feeling cold and sterile, instead of cozy. Gray is touted as being a neutral, but in my opinion it’s just too stark for flooring, the base to your room!

white oak hardwood floors in a kitchen

How To Keep White Oak Flooring From Yellowing

In our new build we used a oil based polyurethane to protect the floors. But after a few years I swore I could tell the floors had was yellowing. My husband couldn’t tell the difference, but I was sure it was happening!

Using an oil based polyurethane can turn your beautiful hardwoods yellow – even orange!- over the years. The UV rays from the sun make it worse as the wood is exposed to sunlight. This holds true for not just white oak floors but all species of wood. I’m no scientist (shocker, I know!), but our home was filled with windows and glorious sunshine in every room, that I suspect played a role in the yellowing of the floors.

When we were installing white oak in our current home, I did my research and found an easy solution. On these white oak floors, we finished them with a water borne polyurethane called Bona Traffic HD. This is a protectant finish that is water based, so it won’t yellow your floors the way an oil based finish does. You should know that with time all wood oxidizes somewhat from exposure to UV rays, but a high quality water based poly will amber significantly less.

Bona has very low VOCs (the lowest or one of the lowest), and has a minor odor that depletes quickly. It also cures the fastest on the market.

The Traffic HD means it holds up to heavy traffic, pets, real life! You will pay more for this, but to me it was a drop in the bucket for a water based poly that won’t amber like the oil did, while still protecting my floors from scuffs.

We used a satin finish on our floors. Matte is popular and trending right now, so why did I choose satin? I heard from multiple owners that they found matte hard to keep clean. The satin finish does not look overly shiny and is a nice even balance.

White Oak Flooring: How To Clean?

We typically vacuum the floors as needed (careful, no beater bar!), occasionally spot treating by running a dry microfiber mop over it where needed. Every other week our cleaners pass a damp Swiffer mop over all the floors.

The were leaving the house smelling amazing and I finally asked what the good smell was. They use Bona Hardwood Floor Polish on our hardwoods and it’s incredible! The polish fills up the whole house and smells fabulous, and doesn’t leave the floors slippery.

Overall I found our white oak floors to be simple to clean.

white oak floors with no stain in a bedroom

sources: rug | bed | nightstand | lamp | bedding | basket | giraffe

We have been so pleased with our pretty floors! We put furniture pads under the chairs, etc, and they have held up beautifully. They aren’t perfect, and they’re scratched just from life with 4 kids and a dog. But the beauty of the real wood outshines any minor imperfections and we have never second guessed this choice!

I hope this post was helpful! If you are considering white oak hardwood flooring or selecting white oak stains, your best bet is to use a highly recommended installer who understands your vision. If you are local to me in NC, we have used Frazee Floors for years.

Share pictures with your installer, and if you choose a stain be sure to try a sample in person.

kitchen with a runner on top of white oak hardwood flooring

Kitchen Runner

living room with white oak flooring

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