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Maybe you ended up here because you, like me, have been searching high and low for real life examples of light stain on red oak flooring. Well, WELCOME!! I am so glad you found me because I do not want to gate-keep this information from anyone.
Take a look at how we achieved that white oak look from our red oak flooring after months and months of searching for how to make it happen, trial and error, one major fail, and finally perfection.
Light stain on Red Oak – yes!! it’s possible!
When we bought our home, one of the first things we proclaimed was “we will refinish these beautiful but ORANGE hardwood floors as soon as we can!” And just like that, 5 years passed. Turns out even though it is a super affordable and high impact home project, its an incredibly tedious process to do while you are living in your home. So why, you ask, did we get to do it twice within 6 months? Oh you didn’t ask? I’m gonna share anyways. Basically so I can tell you how to get the white oak, light stained red oak floors the right way. and how NOT TO.
But first, let’s take a look at those beautiful before shots. Those Winnie the Pooh colored hardwood floors of the 80s/90s. Okay okay, I’m not going to rip on them, they are gorgeous hardwoods and every style had its time and place. But in 2023, the 90s orange floors had done their time and it was time for a refresh.
So very… saturated, right?? But gorgeous potential, for sure.
When we first met with our flooring company about refinishing them I attempted to ask for a light stain. I was warned that red oak will look very pink with light stains, sometimes yellow. Both really; the variation in the wood is kind of crazy. Ideally, dark stain was by far the easiest choice.
But with two very hairy dogs and two children I knew dark stain was a nightmare to live with and honestly it was not the look we were going for. Enter: the worlds most annoying flooring client, me! Well, maybe not annoying, but persistent and who knew what she wanted.
Choosing a stain- the first time. (and failing)
I was inspired by the floors I watched be refinished in the Arrows and Bow home. They ended up using Bona Nordic Seal on their raw floors, so this was my introduction to the product and I since had done a lot of looking into raw floors finished with it. It seemed like a great option! When I asked thee flooring company we choose to work with about it, they had only used it a handful of times, warning me that peoples floors were turning out pink and whitewashed with it and seemingly shut down the idea of using it at all. So we moved on to staining it something else.
I had the company come over a few different times to try out stains, I even asked for custom mixes. For whatever reason they weren’t able to mix stains for me and that right there should have been my red flag. Stop. Do not pass go. But, we continued on, excited to get this orange floor behind us. Finally after a lot of back and forth and trying to communicate our desires of the floor, we sampled Fruitwood, Weathered oak and Nutmeg.
Weathered Oak was a stain mixed with gray paint and looked purple in our home. NOPE. Nutmeg was beautiful but was too dark and pulled out the grains way too much. Too dark, too busy. NOPE. But fruitwood, now that was more like it. A lighter option but still a little darker than we envisioned. The man at the flooring company suggested Duraseal Fruitwood with a top coat of Bona Nordic seal. He came over and put down a sample of it and we were thrilled! It was great. Light, not too light. Not orange and not pink. We were set! This seemed like the perfect solution.
A small view of the raw flooring before applying the stain samples
Obviously everything needs to be off of the wood surfaces of your home to get started. This is not the easiest task when you have a family of four and two dogs living and using these surfaces all day every day. Luckily we were blessed to be on vacation while the work happened.
My mom would stop by the house and fill us in on what the process was looking like. Day one, when they stripped the floors raw, we hesitated because they were showstopping, beautiful, PERFECT. Did we want them to look like this? YES. Please yes. But how?? From miles away we reluctantly agreed that it was too light. The Fruitwood stain went on the next day and over it the Bona Nordic seal. And from photos, it was perfect and we were pleased with our choice.
We arrived home from our trip at night and checked out the new flooring in the dark. From artificial lighting and after a long travel day, they looked fantastic. We were thrilled!! BUT then…
The Plot thickens…
Where it all went wrong.
We woke up the next day, and that excitement over our new floors quickly vanished. We walked around thinking somethings not right. This doesn’t look right. It wasn’t that the color was wrong, but there was a strange cloudiness to them. They looked dusty. And then we looked closer. All over there were streaks of white. The reality of the situation set in quick right along side of the jet lag and vacation hangover.
We were SO hesitant to call the flooring company because we were horrified by the fact that we were probably going to be going through this whole process again. Waffled about “maybe we can live with it” “maybe it wont bother us” Nope. as the days went on I was not only bothered I was pissed. This looked awful. After reaching out to the flooring company they knew exactly what I meant. “Oh you mean the white, yea I thought that’s what this might be about” um okay? Why did you leave it like this if you knew it looked messed up??!
Long story short, the owner of the company, the man who suggested the combo of Fruitwood and Bona Nordic seal on top, failed. He did his research AFTER his mistake and found on the Bona website that you are NOT supposed to apply Nordic seal over a stain. They agreed to their fault and that they would come and redo the floors, and we discussed different stain options to get the look we were going for. They left our house that day and we never heard from them again. COOL. (thankfully we never had to pay them for this botched job)
A look at the screenshot I was sent by the flooring company after reaching out.
Flooring take two. Getting it right, very right.
Four months of HATING these floors and cursing myself for managing to do a home improvement project that did the opposite of improve, we got a second chance. And this time, we were adamant about getting what we actually wanted. A light stain on red oak that was as close to raw wood as we could get.
This new flooring company excitedly explored mixing stain options with us and went right along with my original request., 50% country white and 50% fruitwood. We will avoid the fact that this second experience was a small nightmare in its own unique ways (ie. beer stealing, stranger diarrhea in a day old bathroom, and hand foot and mouth disease.) Anywhooooo. We made it through two rounds of floor refinishing and despite the fight to get there, we are now totally in love with them.
All that being said, if you just came to this post to scroll to the bottom to get an answer of how to achieve light stain on red oak floors, a white oak look, here it is:
What to do: Duraseal 50% country white and 50% fruitwood and a water-based sealer
And while we are here. Let this be your warning: DO NOT APPLY BONA NORDIC SEAL OVER A STAIN (stupid stupid stupid)
And another disclaimer* Flooring looks different in each home and in each room. Be sure to have your flooring company of choice let you see this sample ON YOUR FLOOR before fully committing. Pictures can only do it so much justice.
For fun and to see how far we’ve come, take a look at our home When we first moved in!