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Staining Red Oak Hardwoods to a Lighter, Brighter, White Oak Look

** Disclaimer: All photos are 100% unedited to show the truest color of the floors

When we first purchased our new home, we were faced with a few immediate decisions to make, including choosing the paint and deciding on the flooring. We knew we wanted lighter floors, but I was well aware of how difficult this was going to be being that we had red oak floors. We had the option of replacing all our floors to a 4" wide white oak, but when that estimate came back at $100K (yikes!), we knew our 2.5" red oaks were here to stay. Plus, they were in perfect condition, so staining was really the best (and only) option.

Here are some before pictures. Not terrible, but the oil-based finish and sunlight had yellowed them significantly over the last 20+ years:

We knew the most difficult part would be to find a stain we were happy with. Our last home was easy - we not only had white oak floors, but we were also going darker, so finding a custom match was a much easier process. And, because red oak has a red/pink tint to it, I knew it was going to be difficult to find a light stain that fully masked it. Our flooring specialists even told me it was impossible, but they obviously didn't know me very well.

The key here is to try sample, after sample, after sample. As annoying as it is, mixing different stains was the only way I was able to find the perfect match. Every red oak flooring is different: some pull more pink than others. And the tried-and-true way to hide pink is to mix in some green.

I did a ton of research beforehand, and found a few ideas on what stains to try. There were two options I was so excited to try: Duraseal Silvered Gray and Duraseal Country White/Fruitwood Mix.

As you can see on the left, both stains were a gorgeous light tone with very minimal pinkness. Same red oak floors, should be a done deal, right?

Totally wrong. Unfortunately, none of them ended up looking the same on my floors. This was a HUGE learn, because while one stain might have worked for someone, it could look completely different on yours since there are more than one species of red oak.

Clearly , the same stains looked completely gray/white with the exception of the second one, which was still too yellow (our flooring specialist picked this one). I was super bummed, because I thought the first one (mix of fruitwood and country white) would be the winner like it was in the above!

So, it was back to the drawing board. I switched from Duraseal to Bona, and had to get really creative with the mixing.

Here are some more samples...

I had almost given up at this point. Maybe my flooring specialist was right, and finding the perfect light shade was impossible. We needed to add green-tinted stain to cancel out the pink, but every stain started looking yellow to me.

Until, as a final Hail Mary, we mixed 3 equal parts Natural, Sand Dune, and White. The custom mix was perfect.

We tried a few more variations, some with more white (2 parts White, then equal parts Sand Dune & Natural), and it started pulling more pink. I knew the original custom mix was the winner.

And for the final result, unedited in all its light-wood glory:

As a comparison, this was the before:

Of course, painting all the window casings, walls, and replacing the baseboards helped, but the floors in itself were a pretty dramatic transformation.

There you have it! The tiring, but not impossible, process to find the perfect light stain for your red oak floors. Just takes some creativity, patience, and a bit of trial and error to get it right! Don't be discouraged if a combination you found online doesn't work, because there is definitely one out there that will be the right one for your floors!

Follow along as we rip out all the carpet upstairs and match this flooring!

Other Sources:

Wall Color: Benjamin Moore, Simply White

Trim Color: Benjamin Moore, Edgecomb Gray

French Door Color: Sherwin Williams, Tricorn Black (my go-to black)

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