Staining Hardwood Floors: From Choosing the Stain Color to Applying the Final Finish

Staining hardwood floors

Staining hardwood floors is a fantastic way to elevate their natural beauty and protect them against wear and tear. While it can be a time-consuming task, the end results make it all worthwhile. 

With the right tools and top-notch materials, you can turn an old or lackluster wood floor into a stunning and durable surface that adds warmth and character to any space.

At First Atlanta Flooring, we’ve helped countless professionals breathe new life into their floors through expert refinishing. Whether you’ve chosen unfinished wood or are looking to revamp your current flooring, remember that it’s essential to be well-prepared before staining hardwood floors. Keep reading to discover the key considerations when diving into this process.

Choosing the stain color 

To pick a color that complements your space, you need to consider the room’s overall theme. For instance, if you want your living room to have a more dramatic ambiance, go for a darker stain. On the other hand, if you’re aiming for a more open and airy feel, a lighter stain is the way to go. You can take a look at our wood stain offerings and reach out if you need any assistance or a personalized order.

Stained wood generally adds warmth to a room. It’s also helpful to gather inspiration from home magazines and local flooring showrooms.

The actual process  

When staining hardwood floors, there are several key factors to consider:

  • The species of wood
  • The lighting in the room
  • Whether you’re refinishing existing floors or staining for the first time 

1. Make sure you have the right tools and materials

Before you begin, make sure you have all the necessary supplies:

2. Prepare the room

Clear the room of all furniture, rugs, and other items. Cover any vents with plastic sheeting and painter’s tape to keep dust out of your HVAC system. Use painter’s tape to protect baseboards and other areas you don’t want to stain.

3. Test the stain  

Certain species, such as maple or pine, typically don’t take well to stains. 

Test the stain in a concealed area on the floor first. That won’t be a perfect match to the final result, but it can give you valuable insights for adjustments. 

If you’re planning to water-pop, make sure to do this on the test section too, as water-popping generally makes the stain appear darker.

4. Sand the floor

Sanding is a crucial step in preparing your floor for staining. It removes the old finish and levels the floor, ensuring the stain applies evenly. 

Start with coarse-grit sandpaper (40 or 60 grit) to remove old finishes and scratches, then progressively move to finer grits (up to 120 or 150 grit) to smooth the floor. 

Use a drum sander for the main floor area and an edge sander for corners and edges. Always sand along the grain of the wood, not against it.

5. Screen the floor

Use a random orbital buffer to screen the floor. This step smooths out any scratches left by the sander and ensures a more even final appearance.

6. Remove the dust

Vacuum the dust, then wipe down the floor with a rag or microfiber cloth and mineral spirits. 

Take your time with this step to ensure no dust is left behind, as any remaining dust could affect the appearance or adhesion of the stain.

7. Water pop the floor

This process helps ensure an even appearance by opening up the wood’s pores, making the stain less likely to be blotchy. It’s especially useful for darker stains or if you want the stain to appear darker. Avoid water popping if you plan to finish the floor with water-based polyurethane. 

To water pop, use a t-bar to apply water evenly across the floor. Allow the floor to dry for 1-4 hours, or longer if the humidity is high. 

Using purified or distilled water is recommended to avoid any chemical interactions that could alter the stain’s appearance. 

After this step, the floor will feel gritty. Ensure the water is applied evenly to prevent a blotchy stain.

8. Apply the stain

Make sure there is proper ventilation to avoid trapping vapors in the room. Wear appropriate protective gear, such as a mask, to shield yourself from fumes. 

Apply the stain with a buffer and carpet pad or a lambswool applicator. Work in small sections, wiping away any excess stain with a rag before moving on to the next section. 

Avoid letting the wet edge dry. It’s best to have a partner who can wipe up the excess stain behind you or go over the floor with a rag underneath the buffer to mop up the excess stain.

9. Allow time for drying

Let the stain dry completely. The time will vary based on the type of stain and the conditions of the space, but usually, 24 hours is sufficient. 

Avoid walking on the floor during this time.

10. Apply the finish

Once the stain is dry, apply a polyurethane finish to protect your floor and give it a glossy or semi-glossy look. 

Use a high-quality natural-bristle brush, a lamb’s wool roller, or a water-based applicator. Start at the corner farthest from the door and work your way back, applying the finish with the grain of the wood and maintaining a wet edge to prevent lap marks. 

Let the finish dry for several hours, then lightly sand the floor with 220-grit sandpaper to remove any bubbles or imperfections. Clean the floor again and apply a second coat of finish.

Extra tips for staining hardwood floors

Here are some additional tips to help you stain your wood floor like a pro:

  • There are various types of wood stains available, including oil-based and water-based stains, each offering different colors and finishes. Select one that suits your taste and matches the vibe of the space.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using stain and finish products. This will help you achieve the best results and avoid potential problems.
  • Apply the stain and finish carefully and evenly to avoid streaks and blotches. If you’re not confident in your ability to do this, consider hiring a professional.
  • Staining can produce strong fumes, so ensure your work area is well-ventilated. Open windows and doors, and use fans to circulate the air if necessary.
  • Wear protective gear, including gloves, goggles, and a dust mask, especially when sanding and applying the stain and finish.

With a regular maintenance routine, the color and finish on your wooden floor should last 7-10 years, depending on usage and exposure to sunlight. It’s essential to regularly clean and polish any wood floor. We recommend using our professional cleaners to keep your wooden floor in top condition.