If you are like me, you absolutely love the look of a light or blonde stain on white oak hardwood floors. It’s simple, modern, inviting, & really brightens up any space. If you’re building a home & get your pick of flooring, that makes it easy to get just what you want! However, if you’re like us & you live in a home with existing hardwoods, chances may be that you don’t have white oak, but that won’t stop you from trying to get the same vibe. Today, I’m sharing how to stain red oak to look like white oak & all the we learned from recently refinishing our hardwood floors.
How to Stain Red Oak to Look like White Oak
Our home is from the 1950’s. Updates have been done over the years. However, we knew moving in that there were a number of updates we would be doing to the home over time. You can get a peak into our last big renovation in our hall bathroom reveal post. The before/afters are insane! We are lucky that most of our home had hardwood floors when we moved in. My Cloffice was previously covered in carpet & we were happy to learn that there was hardwood underneath before moving in. I, like I’m sure many of you who are here reading this post, absolutely love the more modern, light stained wood floors that are popular now. Our home had an older, orange stain on them that was just not our style we wanted.
We had talked about restaining our floors before moving in to our home. However, there were quite a few other things we were doing & I really thought that once we moved in & had rugs that the floors wouldn’t bother me so much. I was wrong. They increasingly bothered me & I just felt like the floors were going against the entire vibe we were trying to achieve in our home. These past six weeks or so we were doing a big renovation to an old garage conversion that we wanted to seriously update (including knocking down a wall, raising the floor up, getting all new drywall, taking out tile in the connecting kitchen, closing in a door, etc). This included getting hardwood put into this new space & our kitchen! When talking about this project, which included over 500 square feet of new hardwood, I said it hurt my soul to stain it the dated orange color to match what we had in the rest of our home. We thought this would be our last chance to restain our existing hardwood & decided to go for it. I promise I’ll share a full before & after of that space when it’s finished enough to do so, but today it’s alllll about floors.
Now that you know a little bit of the back story on our home & floors, let’s jump in to talking about how to stain red oak to look like white oak. Below I’m sharing my tips & tricks, things we learned throughout the refinishing process, how we chose our stain, our before & afters, & more.
Okay, this post title being ‘how to stain red oak to look like white oak’ is a little misleading because SPOILER ALERT: you can’t. You can’t make red oak look exactly like white oak. The wood species are SO different & how they look with different stains reflects that. Don’t get discouraged, though! You can minimize a lot of the red & learn how to get a light stain on red oak floors that at least gives you a similar vibe to white oak without having to totally replace your existing wood floors.
Prepping to Restain
Before you restain your hardwood, you’ll obviously need to find someone who knows what they are doing. Research, research, research. You want someone who has done the vibe you want with red oak before! Talk with them about what you are wanting to achieve. Once you’ve selected who you’re going to use to refinish your floors, it’s time to clear the house. Yup, you need to move out every single thing in your house. We tried to leave some stuff in closets because they told us they would seal them off, but they didn’t do the best job & I ended up having to dust off SO many things. Moving in & out is a pain, but dusting off everything you own is probably an even bigger pain!
Choosing a Stain
Choosing is a stain is probably the most challenging part of the whole process. Our choices were below, but honestly depending on who you go with & how much they are willing to work with you, you could have endless choices. You can blend some stains together to create mixes at varying percentages to end up finding what you like best. When choosing a stain, make sure you consider that they look different with different light & at different times of day. I’d take a day or so to look at them from every angle & in every kind of light. Also, when doing this in the future, I’d recommend choosing the two rooms with the most varied natural light & doing test patches in each one so you can really see how different it will look throughout the house. This is a little more of a pain, but it will ensure you know just what you’re getting in the best & worst lighting scenarios. Stains also look different from a test patch to an entire room being done, so it’s important to try to do samples on pieces of wood with varying tones so you can really get a better idea of how a whole room will look.
We ended up going with three coats of this exact stain & used two coats of this seal in the matte finish. The seal is commercial grade & is supposed to hold up great! We tried a fourth coat in a smaller space, but it just ended up looking a little milky or cloudy & didn’t actually cut down the red tones that much more. The ones we chose are water based so it really cut down the drying time between coats!
Before & After
Below is a before & after photo of our spaces. I have two side by side photos that aren’t edited & then two that are just to give you an idea. Please see the ‘Important Note’ section for info on color correction with photos & video because that’s essential to keep in mind!
Before (No Filter / Filter)
After (No Filter/ Filter)
Your entire house (walls, window sills, window treatments, floorboards, etc) will be COVERED in dust after you refinish your floors. We assumed that cleaning all of this before we were given the go ahead to move back in was a part of the floor refinishing process. Apparently, it isn’t always, so make sure you ask about this up front. If it’s not, you’ll need to either plan for or hire someone to do a post-construction clean. Most cleaning services offer this if you let them know what you need done. They came in to clean every wall, light fixture, window sill, etc so that the house was ready for us to move back in. The amount of dust is no joke, y’all!
Depending on what type of stain you used (water versus oil) you’ll have to wait a certain number of days before putting furniture back down on the floors. I recommend using these felt furniture pads on the legs of all of your furniture to ensure they don’t damage the floor or that they don’t mess up the stain at all. You’ll have to wait about two weeks (with water based) or longer (with oil based) to put rugs back down.
After your floors have been refinished, make sure that you have several new air filters on standby. We use some from a local Dallas female-owned company called Clean Air that are great. You’re home is going to be SO dusty for a while after, so you’ll want to change your filters regularly & likely schedule someone to come in to clean out your system. I’ve been dusting every day since & am keeping regular cleanings scheduled until the dust settles, which should be around the one month mark from all that I’ve read. I’ve also been using our vacuum non stop to keep all the dirt & dust off of our new floors!
What we Learned
Always, always, always restain floors before moving in if you think it’s something you’ll ever do. It saves the headache of moving all of your furniture in & out! This is my number one recommendation after going through this process. Also, I wish we would have been told more clearly just how impossible it is to get rid of most of the red or pink tones, but you live & learn! We went into this really hoping for a better outcome, but you have make do with what you have sometimes. We don’t plan on being in this house forever so ripping up perfectly good hardwood was just not practical. We learned that you really need to work with what you have & ensure that whoever you talk with understands what you want & is straight with you up front about what a reasonable outcome is. Even with the pink undertones that we have, we still prefer the lighter wood to the orange we had before. It just felt so dated! This feels much more modern & brightens up our home.
It’s really important to note that the iPhone color corrects images (& even videos) when you take them. Therefore, even with no filter or editing, things look different on camera than they do in real life. Even on DSLR cameras. Our floors look amazing on camera, but in person you do see the pink & red undertones. I’ve shown photos to several people that say I’m crazy when I say they ended up more pink than we originally hoped, but then when they come over they say ‘Oh ya, I see the pink.’ You should keep this in mind not only for my post, but for any post you come across online. Floors look completely different in every lighting & during different times of day. What is outside a window makes a difference (i.e. a white house next door compared to a red stained fence), also. Understanding this & choosing your stain based on how it looks in YOUR house under YOUR different lighting conditions is important.
I hope this was helpful if you are looking for how to stain red oak to look like white oak. While you can’t totally mimic the vibe of white oak, you can certainly get close, while embracing the character of red oak & the history of your home! Floor trends come & go like so many things with home decor. While we are all loving the light floors now, I’m sure something else will be all the rage soon enough! Feel free to reach out with any questions you all may have. I’m happy to help however I can!
For more home content, you can check out our bathroom reveal for more on that renovation project. I also have posts featuring tons of home decor in my cloffice, our guest bedroom, our master bedroom, & our living room. Make sure to follow along with me on Instagram to keep up & you can also follow my home Instagram @alo_abode or my home hashtag #aloabode. I’ll have more home content up soon, too! XO