Your Refresher Guide To Staining Hardwood Floors

By Cezar

What Is Hardwood Staining?

A wood stain is any type of product designed to alter the colour of your hardwood floor. A stain will seep into the top layer of your wood, and change the colour accordingly depending on the pigmentation.

If you currently have hardwood flooring in your home, it’s very likely that your floor is not only stained, but finished. A finish is a translucent product applied above your wood that protects it from scratches, scuffs, dirt and moisture. Most finishes last around 10 years with an ordinary level of floor traffic and recoating every one to three years.

Hardwood floors have tremendous versatility, and your floors can be stained again in a completely different colour! However, the finish will need to be removed before you can accomplish this. Once the finish has been buffed off, your floor will be sanded down to a new layer of wood that is untouched by the present stain. Then, the new stain will be applied before your floor is finished again with a new coat of product.

Types of Stains

There are many different types of stain on the market. A good way to differentiate them is by the agent or solvent. The three main agents or solvents used for hardwood staining are oil, water, and gel.

Any solvent can either carry a dye, which will directly alter the colour of the wood, or a pigment, which will obscure the colour of the wood and present a new colour. Stains containing pigments will usually hide the grain of the wood either partially or completely, so opt for a dye-style stain if you’re attached to your grain pattern!

  • Oil Stains: Oil stains are a thick and viscous product, usually consisting of linseed or another plant-based oil together with a dye or pigment. The oil will deeply and evenly penetrate wood for an attractive, durable, and long-lasting stain. You’ll need to follow the directions for your individual product, but oil-based stains typically take about two hours to dry, and require two coats for a complete stain
  • Water Stains: These stains are much like water itself, thin and quick to dry. These products are popular because they contain fewer VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) than oil-based stains, and are less likely to irritate sensitive areas like your eyes or nose during application. Because they dry quickly, however, water-based stains are more difficult to apply and require care to avoid blotches and unevenness. Water stains can’t penetrate as deeply into the wood as oil-based stains, and tend not to last as long.
  • Gel-Based: Gel based stains are extremely thick and need to be smeared onto the surface of the wood. Gel based stains dry extremely slowly, but make it easy to avoid splotches and other defects during application of the staining. Unfortunately, gel based products also do not penetrate the wood surface as readily as water, and your finish will not last as long.

Popular Colours

While it might seem simple, choosing a stain colour is actually very difficult! Everything from the particularly species and colour of your wood to the lighting in the room will affect the look of the final stain, for better or for worse. If you don’t choose carefully, it’s possible to end up very unhappy with a choice of stain that looked great on paper!

That being said, to start your search here are some of the most popular hardwood stain colours:

  • Natural Stains: These products only lightly stain the wood, letting most of its natural colour and grain shine through. Usually these stains are very neutral or slightly warm-toned for a cozy feeling.
  • Dark Stains: A perennial favourite that is still very popular, dark stains with a matte finish give an air of understated luxury to a space. They range from coffee, to dark browns and greys
  • Highlight the Grain: These stains have a white pigment that strongly highlights the natural grain of the wood. This is a great way to show off the beauty of your hardwood as nature intended!


Stains are applied to your floor to give it a colour – warming, darkening, or slightly highlighting its best features. While wood doesn’t need to be stained, most homeowners opt for some kind of stain during the finishing process.

Staining is thought of as a popular DIY project, but watch out! Any mistakes, splotches, or unevenness during the job will be permanent until you refinish the wood. Your hardwood floor can only be refinished ten to twelve times during its lifespan, so it’s important not to waste a finish over a simple staining mistake. Together with the larger job of refinishing your floor, staining is usually best left to the pros, who can make sure your stain is professional, attractive and meets your expectations.