Looking to stain your red oak floors but struggling to choose the right color? With the natural reddish hue of red oak, finding the perfect stain can be challenging.
In this post, I’ll share a few key factors to consider while choosing wood stain for red oak, test out some popular stains on red oak, my personal experience staining our red oak floor to help you find the ideal stain color for your red oak floors.
Do you have red oak floors in your house?
Right after my husband and I purchased our 1940s house, we were thrilled to discover beautiful hardwood floors hidden beneath layers of old carpeting. However, we soon realized that the floors were made of red oak when we brought in a flooring company.
After they sanded a patch from the floor, we noticed the hardwood floor patch looks light pink. The floor was originally stained in a very dark color so we couldn’t tell because exposing the raw wood underneath.
This posed a challenge for us as we want to create a modern and neutral flooring aesthetic that would complement our home’s overall design.
Red oak floors have beautiful wood grain and are quite durable, but it can also present a challenge for homeowners due to their natural red hues. Selecting the right stain color is crucial to achieve a beautiful and neutral flooring aesthetic. As flooring takes up a significant surface area in any room, it plays a key role in the overall design of your home.
Throughout our own experience of refinishing red oak floors, working with red oak plywood, and tackling numerous DIY staining projects, we’ve learned a lot. Now, we’re excited to share our insights with you! We hope these tips will assist you in choosing the perfect stain color for your red oak floors.
What’s the deal with red oak floors? Why are they tricky?
If you’re like us and you’re aiming for a modern look with your red oak floors, reducing the red hue is important, unless a light pink floor is your cup of tea.
While natural red oak floors without stain can be an option, they often have a pinkish hue that may not be the desired aesthetic for a lot of people. Leaving the red oak floors unfinished and simply adding a top coat, can result in a lighter color that may show dirt more easily and can be challenging to match with furniture pieces.
Of course, personal preference plays a significant role here. If you love the natural look of red oak floors without stain, by all means, go for it!
However, we found that staining the floors slightly darker, combined with balancing out the redness to achieve a more neutral light brown color, which fit our vision much better. Plus, the darker stain helped to hide dirt and wear-and-tear more effectively, making it a practical choice for high-traffic areas.
Key factors to consider when choosing stain
When it comes to choosing the right stain for your red oak floors, there are several key factors to consider.
Light vs dark
Do you want to lighten or darken the wood floor? While it may seem like darker stains would be better at hiding dirt, in reality, black floors can actually show dirt quite prominently, as dirt tends to be gray, not black.
From our experience, medium stains tend to be the most versatile, whether you’re aiming for a bright and light space or a moody atmosphere, and they also tend to hide dirt better, making them a practical choice for most households.
Balances out the red hue of red oak
Some stains can actually enhance the redness, while others may have yellow or green undertones that help to counterbalance the redness, resulting in a more neutral floor color. Testing out the stain colors on the red oak floor to achieve the right balance of warm vs cool hue can be crucial. Later in the post I’ll share some popular stain colors tested on red oak wood, to give you some ideas.
Enhance wood grain
Some stains may darken the wood grain significantly, highlighting the grains and creating a more pronounced texture. While this may be appealing to some, it may not fit the aesthetic you’re aiming for. The best way is to test it on a piece of red oak with obvious wood grain, to see how the stain interacts with the grain.
Best Stain colors for red oak floor.
Please note that all the photos in this blog post were taken by me using a phone or DSLR camera. However, the color of the photos may be influenced by factors such as camera color profile, monitor color, and lighting conditions when the photos were captured. While I have tried my best to present the photos as close to real life as possible. Before you determine a stain for your red oak flooring, make sure to test some things in real life and check under different lighting.
In this section, I will focus on light to medium tone stains, as they are popular in modern homes, easy to match with furniture, and hide dirt well, making them versatile choices. Additionally, I will discuss oil-based finishes, which are known for their durability and widespread availability.
I tested some popular stain colors on red oak plywood to see how they interact with my red oak floor. I also tried to match the existing Nutmeg stain on my floor, but it’s not available for purchase. I need to re-stain parts of the floor that were patched up by my contractor, so it’s been a side quest to find the right match.
Sunbleached from Varathan: It added a light gray wash to the red oak and lighten the color. It doesn’t counterbalance the red hue much, but rather use the light wash to cover it up. This resulted in a light gray floor color. This could work well for modern home, but not so much for traditional interior style.
Weathered Oak: Top stain color is from Varathane on the bottom stain is from Minwax. It’s interesting the same stain name can result in a slightly different color. Varathane’s weathered oak from virus and has more of a warm hue, whereas weathered oak from Minwax skew more yellow. They both appress the red hue from red oak.
Golden Oak from Varathane: the last one in the picture is Golden Oak. This is a pretty popular stain color. I wanted to get the golden hawk from Minwax, but Minwax stains are no longer carry it at Home Depot unfortunately. This stain gives a more bright yellow finish to the read oak, complete disguise it to a pice of stained white oak.
Pickled Oak: Pickled Oak by Minwax. This stain gives a light white wash to white oak. When it is applied to red oak, it doesn’t really brighten the wood tone. Instead, it brings out the pink hue from red oak. With that being said, I don’t recommend stain on red oak floors.
Oil Based Polyurethane: Oil based poly coat by Varathane which adds warmth to wood. After applying a coat, the red oak takes a slight yellow hue, and darkens a tiny bit. Purpose of this one is to give you a baseline to compare with other stain colors on red oak wood.
Classic Gray by Minwax: Weathered Gray stains red oak in a similar fashion as Weathered Oak, with a slightly darker tone.
Weathered oak mixed with English Chestnut: This is my attempt to recreate my current floor stain Nutmeg since it is a lot harder to buy locally. When I first applied English Chestnut on red oak, it turned more red, so I applied Weathered Oak to balance it out a bit. It is the darkest option from what I have tested
These are some light to medium stain color I tested on red oak recently. Keep reading as I’ll share more stain colors applied on my red oak floor when we finish refinished it a few years ago.
How to test stain colors for red oak floor in an easy way.
The easiest way is to get red oak planks or plywood to test stain colors. Oak planks may be harder to acquire and more expensive, so red oak plywood is a convenient option.
You can easily buy ¼” plywood sheets in sizes starting from 2’x2’ and to up to 4’x8’. Make sure to buy plywood with a fine sanded finish as for better mimicry of the floor.
In this photo below, I used some leftover 3/4″ plywood to test some stain colors. You can see their color and grain are very similar to floor planks which makes them a great candidate for stain color testing.
This is a great first step to narrow down your choice without having to resand the floor, which can make it thinner and more difficult. Once you have a few strong contenders, you can test them on the actual floor.
How I choose the stain for my red oak floor
I want to share my personal journey of staining our red oak floor, including how I chose the stain color and what I would do differently in hindsight.
Initially, I was surprised to find that our red oak floor looked so pink. Despite doing research on stain colors, when the floor company tested them on my floor, they looked different. This is because most of the online resource on stain color is based on white oak, not red oak. In fact, some stain colors can look really different between these two oak floors.
Here’s a image showing how the same stain can look different on red oak vs white oak. I collected these comparison from DuraSeal brochure.
In case you are not familiar of DuraSeal, they are the professional line of Minwax. So most of the time, the stain color stay consistent between these two lines.
After considering various options that were tested on our floor, I ended up choosing Nutmeg as the stain color. Here is a photo I snapped while they were testing different colors.
I initially liked the Wall Weather Oak stain on red oak as it was a light color that balanced the pink tones well. However, the weathered look did not unify the color as much as I had hoped. The small sample showed some parts looking more pink and others having a greenish hue. I was concerned that the final result may look too varied, so I decided against using this color. Similarly, Classic Gray also showed significant color variation after staining.
I also found QC 13 and QC 4 interesting. QC with a number is from their Intermixed Collection, and these colors are a mix of two stains to achieve more color variations. I liked how they mixed with Classic Gray to create a more gray finish. However, these two colors were relatively light, and the nail holes on the hardwood floor were too obvious.
This may not be a big issue for a new red oak floor with fewer nail holes, but for traditional hardwood floors with narrow planks and closely spaced nail holes, it was a concern.
This is why I ended up choosing DuraSeal Nutmeg. I liked how it balanced the pink tones and gave a neutral brown color, and the medium hue hid the nail holes fairly well. One thing I’m not particularly fond of is how it enhances the green tones. When compared to Weathered Oak, you can see a contrast between the wood grain and the base color.
After years of DIY and renovation, if I could go back in time, I would likely do things differently. While I still like the balanced color and how it removes the redness from my floor, I feel that the color is slightly more saturated than I would prefer.
If I were to do it again, I would spend more time testing the stain color on a piece of red oak plywood myself to make a decision without the pressure of floor finishers being present. Additionally, I would probably choose a slightly grayer stain color that diminishes the grain instead of enhancing it.
Stain colors for red oak flooring summary
So hope these red oak stain colors gives you some ideas on what are the best stain for your red oak floor. In summary, stain colors with yellow tint are good for red oak as they make red oak less red. Some stains that does it well are Weathered Oak, Classic Gray, Golden Oak, Nutmeg.
In addition to that, other two important factors to chose the best stain for red oak are: Does it highlight the wood grain? Does it hide nail holes? If you prefer to hide the nail holes on your red oak floor, then a medium to darker stain color will be a better choice.