How to Take the Red Out of Red Oak Safely and Get That White Oak Look

How to Take the Red Out of Red Oak Safely and Get That White Oak Look

Oak is one of the most popular types of wood used for hardwood flooring across North America. This is mainly due to its availability, as oak is grown in the U.S. and thus very easy to get one’s hands on in a timely and relatively affordable manner. Oak is also used for various other purposes, including furniture, wine barrels, and even boats. 

When it comes to flooring, there are two main types of oak that are commonly used across the country in both residential and commercial properties: red oak and white oak. While there are various similarities between the two species, there are some key differences that impact a client’s decision to install red or white oak in their home or office. 

Red Oak vs White Oak: What’s the difference?

Firstly, the designated names of the two types of wood are misleading. You might think that red oak is darker than white oak, when in fact, it’s usually the other way around. White oak boasts a mix of brown and tan hues, making it slightly darker than red oak, which contains red and pink tones and undertones. To the untrained eye, the difference might not be immediately noticeable, but it can become more pronounced depending on the stain and finish. 

While red oak has beautiful undertones that can bring warmth to any space, not every homeowner or business owner prefers it. As minimalism and nordic aesthetics are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., many homeowners prefer the look and feel of white oak, which provides light, openness, airiness, and easily works with basically any color scheme or interior design choice. 

But here comes the tricky part: white oak is significantly more expensive than red oak, at least for the time being. Because of its elevated, clean look, its higher hardness rating, and its durability, white oak can be quite expensive and not as easy to find. This is why many homeowners are buying red oak hardwood flooring and taking out the red to make it look more like white oak. But is that something you can do safely? What are the options? 

How to remove the red tones from Red Oak without damaging the wood

Because of the high price of white oak, more and more clients are opting for red oak instead, and using different methods to change its color. It’s not that everyone loves the look of white oak for their homes or offices, but red hardwood flooring can be more challenging to integrate into a space without rethinking the color palette or design scheme. Some people will try to lighten their red oak floors to make them brighter and more neutral, thus easier to integrate with the furniture and decor. Others will go a different route and darken the red oak floors, bringing more warmth and coziness to the space. Regardless of what the client desires, it’s important to make sure that the integrity and durability of the hardwood is not impacted in the process. 


Many homeowners choose to go the DIY route and try to remove the red tones from red oak hardwood planks themselves, by bleaching the wood. However, bleaching can lead to imprecise, uneven results, and it can also damage the wood in the process, even if all the precautions are taken. 

Bleaching red oak floors is a challenging and tricky procedure that should be left to professionals. If not done right – and even when done right – it can compromise the entire floor and damage the wood to the point of no repair. Not to mention that the results are not guaranteed; there is no telling for certain how the wood will react to the bleach. You might end up with uneven colors, different tones and hues, pastel tinges, yellowing, not to mention thinning and warping of the wood itself. 

We never recommend bleaching red oak hardwood flooring, or any type of flooring, because the results are not guaranteed and there is a high chance of damaging the wood and affecting its longevity and integrity. It’s always easier to darken the color of the wood than it is to make it lighter. 

Going darker 

If the pink-red undertones of red oak are not to the client’s liking, there is the option of opting for a darker stain and finish to eliminate the unwanted hues. A darker stain like ebony, chestnut, or walnut will have a beautiful effect, bringing warmth and elegance to the hardwood floors, while masking the red tones in the process. The staining and finish process won’t damage the wood, so it’s the safest bet if the color of red oak is not to the client’s liking. 

While bleaching thins out the hardwood planks and impacts its integrity and durability, staining keeps the woodgrain intact. This is the best option for homeowners or commercial owners who aren’t too happy with the natural hues of red oak hardwood floors. A darker color will make any space feel warmer, more intimate, and more timelessly elegant, plus it will mask dust, debris, scratches, and imperfections a lot better. 

Using a color neutralizer

If your client is not too fond of the natural look and feel of red oak hardwood, but they’re not too keen on going darker, either, there is another option. There are professional products available on the market that will help eliminate the red tones from hardwood planks, like Bona Red Out, which we recommend to our clients. 

Bona Red Out is a two-step waterborne color neutralizer that reduces red and pink tones in hardwood flooring to achieve the look of white oak. It’s safe to use on all types of wood, from red oak to Brazilian cherry, it dries very quickly, and it’s almost completely odorless. Since it’s waterborne, there’s no need to water-pop the floor before staining, and the product can be used on different jobs, minimizing waste. It can also be diluted with water for easy personalization, depending on the client’s preferences, and it’s compatible with the entire Bona System range of products. 

Using a color neutralizer like Bona Red Out is a great way to achieve that Nordic, minimalistic, light look that’s trending right now across the country, and achieving the look and feel of white oak without breaking the bank. 

If you want to learn more about changing the color of hardwood floors, installing or refinishing hardwood floors, or where to find quality red oak hardwood flooring for your next product, reach out to First Atlanta Flooring and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible!