Benefits and Drawbacks of Staining Hardwood Floors
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?
Here we discuss the difference between staining and finishing and the different types of stain. We also discuss in detail its pros and cons, so that you can make an informed decision.
What Exactly Is Wood Staining?
Before you start the staining process, you should have a clear idea of its advantages and disadvantages. To understand these, you should first know what the wood staining process is all about.
Differences between Wood Staining and Finishing
Many people confuse staining with finishing, but they are completely different processes.
When you buy a piece of wood furniture, most are already finished. Wood finishing refers to the process of refining, which involves altering the surface of the manufactured piece to achieve the desired appearance or provide durability. The finishing processes used on manufactured furniture depend on whether it is plastic or metal. Since wood is porous, it will absorb moisture, dirt, and oils. The main reason for applying a finish to wood is to protect it against these.
On the other hand, staining means colouring the floor. A wood stain is a type of paint that consists of a colouring agent dissolved, mixed, or suspended in a solvent which acts as the carrier or ‘vehicle’. Popular carriers include water, lacquer, polyurethane, varnish, or shellac. It is used to enhance or entirely change the colour of the wood. You can either darken or lighten the wood, and add protection from moisture.
For example, when shopping for furniture, you may have seen pieces of furniture with a finish that still looks wet. That wood has been stained a particular colour and then coated with a type of polyurethane or lacquer to create that still-wet look.
So, the primary difference between stain and finish is quite simple. Wood stain adds colour to natural wood, while finish seals and protects it from moisture.
Keep in mind when staining hardwood floors that if something goes wrong then you’ll have to re-sand and redo the entire floor, which is a tiring, time-consuming process. So, be very careful about choosing your stain. There is a wide variety of colours to choose from, and the one you select will depend on several factors. These include the type of wood, the amount of light in the room, and the overall design.
Different Types of Wood Stains for Interior & Exterior Surfaces
There are different types of wood stains you can find to protect the wood and enhance its colour. Here we will discuss a few of them.
1. Water-Based Wood Stains
If you are looking for the best hardwood floor stain, the first that comes to mind is the water-based variety. It is one of the most popular wood stains because it is easy to use and clean up. It is also considered the safest because it is mainly neutral, so it suits any style of decor.
Since this stain consists of water-soluble dyes, it is far less polluting to the environment than other dye types. Nor will it irritate the skin, eyes, or respiratory system. You can get rid of water-based stain spills with just water.
So, if you plan to use a water-based finish, a water-based wood stain is the best choice.
2. Oil-Based Wood Stains
If you are fond of traditional decor styles, use an oil-based stain. It will not require any top coat because the stain alone creates a much deeper colour and gives definition to the wood grain. It may take longer for oil stains to dry (more than 72 hours, depending on the environment), but they also create a more natural feel once the process is complete.
In general, oil-based stains contain linseed oil or a mixture of varnish and linseed oil, making them the easiest to use. The linseed oil (or linseed oil and varnish binder) make the stain dry slower. This allows more time to remove the excess product and achieve a desirable, consistent stain even when working on large areas of wood.
One good reason for using oil-based stains is that you can easily refresh them by re-coating the wood every six months. You can also soften the look of an oil stain by adding a layer of wax.
Another advantage of oil-based stains is their quality. They tend to be durable and penetrate deep into the wood’s grain, making them best for outdoor wooden furniture, decks, and floors.
3. Gel Wood Stains
Gel wood stain’s thickness and consistency are almost the same as that of pudding or mayonnaise. The difference between gel wood and traditional stain is that the former mostly remains on the surface of the wood and does not penetrate deep into the grain. Since gel stains are usually varnish or oil-based, cleaning or thinning them requires the use of mineral spirits.
Unlike other types of wood stain finishes, you should apply gel stain with a rag in circular motions and not in the direction of the grain for best results.
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 enhances the beauty of hardwood floors and pulls 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.
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.