Few flooring materials look as warm, natural and inviting as hardwood. But while many people love wood floors for their innate beauty, they often ask themselves: “Should I stain my floor?”
Staining is an important decision for three main reasons. First, your choice of colour will have an impact on the overall aesthetics of your house. Second, staining is permanent. Third, the process is time-consuming and expensive.
Fortunately, choosing the right stain colour isn’t difficult if we ask ourselves a few questions. The most important one: is hardwood floor staining the right option for me?
Pros and Cons of Hardwood Staining
Wood stain is a type of paint used to change the appearance of wood products, including flooring, furniture, mouldings and handrails.
Wood staining is the process by which stain is applied over a wooden surface.
Once you know the pros and cons of this process, you’ll be in a better position to decide if it’s a good idea for your floors.
But before we proceed with the pros and cons of hardwood flooring, it’s important to know what staining exactly means.
How Hardwood Staining Is Different from Finishing
A lot of people confuse staining with finishing, although they’re completely different procedures.
Finishing is the addition of a clear protective topcoat to prevent scratches, dents and other types of damage; staining changes the wood colour. The latter process is similar to painting a wall, with one main difference – if you choose the wrong paint colour, it can be redone and fixed. Choosing the wrong stain means having to sand the entire surface and doing it over; this is an expensive, time-consuming and frustrating experience.
Other factors play important roles in deciding how your room will look when you stain your hardwood floors. These include the species of wood, your furnishings, the lighting and the colour of your walls.
The Pros of Hardwood Staining
It Prevents Rot
Hardwood is prone to rotting, especially when it’s not sealed properly.
While there are many factors that can cause rotting, the most common are mould, fungi and termites. Decay fungi, for example, breaks down the cellular structure of wood, causing significant loss of strength, cracks and even breakage. It does this by secreting enzymes that penetrate the wood and dissolve some of the constituents of its cell walls. Fortunately, sealing your hardwood flooring with stain preserves its beauty and structural integrity for a long time.
Unlike paints, stain soaks into wood and bonds with it, preventing other materials from soaking in. This gives your hardwood floor some resistance to moisture and other environmental agents, such as insects and bacteria.
It Protects It from Sunlight
Constant exposure to sunlight and excessive heat can damage hardwood. This includes unsightly discolouration, cracks and separation between boards. Some wood species are more photosensitive than others, meaning your floors may lighten or change colour over time. Using a high-quality stain and applying coats regularly is crucial to protecting your floor against harmful UV rays.
It Preserves Natural Beauty
The beauty of wood lies in its natural grains and patterns. Staining comes in a variety of tints and colours, but you can also choose a clear or colourless stain to preserve and enhance the innate elegance of hardwood flooring. Since stain doesn’t peel or flake like acrylic paint, it’s easy to maintain and lasts a long time.
It Replicates the Look of Certain Wood Species
If you want to change the look of your hardwood floor but can’t afford to replace it, staining is an excellent option. For example, staining a light-coloured wood like beech, elm or pine with a rich cherry stain gives it a rich, warm effect, similar to cherry wood or mahogany. If you have a dark-coloured wood and want to minimize its red or orange tint, use a cooler, darker stain to hide the warm hues.
The Cons of Hardwood Staining
It Highlights Sanding Marks
Sanding is an important step in preparing your hardwood floor to accept stain. When done the wrong way, it can leave unsightly scratches and gouges. As stain is applied, it can seep into those fine scrapes, making flaws look darker and more prominent than the rest of the surface. The result is a smeared, messy-looking floor.
Not All Woods Are Suitable for Staining
Some wood species like birch, pine and maple aren’t suitable for staining because their grains are too tight, meaning there are few openings to absorb the stain.
There’s a Chance of Bleed Back
Unlike acrylic paints, you can’t correct or darken a particular stain by applying additional coatings. No matter the wood species you choose, it can only absorb a certain amount of stain. Applying too much can cause it to rise back to the surface, leading to what’s known as ‘bleed back’.
This can also happen if you apply stain on a layer of finish that’s incompatible. As a result, you’ll be left with a messy-looking floor, full of unsightly spots and blemishes.
Just like other flooring treatments, staining has its benefits and drawbacks. When done well, it can enhance the beauty of hardwood floors and pull together the overall design of a room. But even the slightest mistake, like improper sanding or choosing the wrong stain colour, can cost you time, money and effort. By making the right choices, though, you can enjoy the many benefits of having a stained hardwood floor.