Beautiful home interior with gorgeous hardwood flooring

The Complete Guide To Hardwood Floors: Choosing, Staining, Refinishing & More

Want gorgeous wood floors? Whether you’re thinking about hardwood for the first time or you’re a do-it-yourselfer looking for information on cleaning, staining, and finishing, we’ve got you covered. Here are the fundamentals.

Why Hardwood Floors

When comparing options for flooring in your home, hardwood flooring can seem expensive compared to other options. The cost is for a reason; hardwood flooring is safe, clean, and requires low maintenance throughout the years.

Hardwood flooring is proven to be more sanitary than other types of flooring. Carpet can absorb germs, dust, and anything else that gets dropped on the floor. Hardwood leaves no place to hide, exposing the dirt and dust.

Once installed, you also rarely (or never) have to replace hardwood flooring. The surface is sealed with a protective layer of finish, protecting it from stains and general wear and tear. If there is an area that gets scratched or damaged, you don’t have to replace the entire floor. Hardwood floors can be sanded, smoothed, and refinished to make them look new again.

The Complete Guide To Hardwood Floors: Choosing, Staining, Refinishing & More -
homeowner Installing new hardwood floors in their home

Hardwood floors are also more environmentally friendly than other types of flooring. Because trees growing are exceeding usage, wood flooring is the most abundantly renewable flooring material available today (U.S. Forest Service). Wood floors also require less water and energy to produce than other options and can be recycled when they reach the end of their lives. Carpet is made up of synthetic materials and treated with various chemical finishes. On top of that, carpet needs replaced every 10-15 years while hardwood lasts a lifetime.

The final benefit of having hardwood floors is the unmatched beauty and uniqueness that it brings. It never goes out of style, and there is a vast selection for choosing a finish. Most homeowners instantly remove the carpet when they buy a home, so hardwood only increases the home’s value.

What To Consider When Choosing A Floor

Common Species Of Wood

When considering what wood species to choose for hardwood flooring, it is essential to view all of the market’s most popular options. Trees that grow in North American forests (the U.S. or Canada) provide the hardwood floor material.

According to the American Hardwoods Information Center, the most common hardwoods used for flooring are red or white oakmaplehickory, black walnut, cherry, beech, and ash. The majority of floors in the United States are made with oak.

Although exotic woods may seem appealing, domestic hardwoods usually have a warmer look and feel. Exotic woods, such as Brazilian cherry, can have their place; however, they are more expensive and cannot be locally sourced.

Factors Affecting Wood Floor Price

One of the most significant factors in price determination is the type of wood that is chosen. Exotic flooring or flooring meant to last a lifetime can be more money, so here is a guide to a few different factors that can affect wood flooring price.

Although bamboo isn’t considered a hardwood, people have found that it works just as well and is a less expensive option. Bamboo is more unbreakable than hardwoods, even though it is grass. It comes in two shades: a natural light-colored shade and a boiled (carbonized) darker shade. Including labor, bamboo flooring averages between $5 and $11 per square foot.

Oak flooring is the most common type of hardwood flooring in America. It is solid wood with high resistance from dents and scratches, so area rugs are optional. Oak flooring also comes in a variety of stains and has visually appealing grain patterns. Red oak averages $8 to $13 per square foot, including labor. White oak averages $8 to $15.

Cherry is another popular choice when it comes to being cost-effective. Cherry has a luxurious look and even darkens as it ages. Including labor, cherry costs $5 to $12 per square foot.

Similar in name, the Brazilian Cherry is an exotic species that comes with a higher price. It has a rich burgundy color and is identical to ash wood. The pricing varies greatly, but expect to pay between $8 and $18 per square foot and more for installationInstallation averages $4-$8 per square foot.

If you want solid hardwood flooringwalnut could be the way to go. The strength and durability are a popular choice when you have a little more money to spend. It comes in a light brown to dark chocolate brown color variation. Many people adore the streaksknots, and swirls that embellish it. The boards cost between $4 and $9 per square foot, with installation being between $6 and $11.

Choosing A Staining Or Finishing Method

The Sanding Process

To begin having beautiful, finished wood floors, you have to sand the existing foundation to get it ready. It will take at least four passes, each time using a different sized grit to get the exact right size. The grit sequence is everything; you begin with more abrasive grit and then go more delicate and refined until you reach a perfect, even finish. Grit is a thicker tool, similar to a piece of sandpaper used as a floor leveling and sanding tool.

How to Sand and Refinish Hardwood Floors

After determining the size grit you are using, sand all the areas with the drum sander. Use the edger to sand all the room edges that the drum sander can’t reach. If you have the luxury of having both, ensure both machines are used separately.

Next, sweep or vacuum the room to see your progress. Next, you will sand again using a finer grit and follow with the edger. You repeat the process until the floor is sanded at 80 grit. Once done, hand-sand all areas that you couldn’t get before.

Next, buff out the bottom, so there is no difference between the edging and the main floor.

Lastly, vacuum the entire area (maybe even twice) and then use a dry microfiber cloth to get all the dust off. It will be beneficial not to have dust residue when staining begins.

The Staining Process

Staining a hardwood floor can create a warm look for much less than replacing the entire thing. Start by ensuring the area is adequately sanded and cleaned. It is essential that all the dust is vacuumed, wiped, and gone. The floor needs to be “water popped.” It is a method in which you run a wet cloth or mop over the newly-sanded base and let it dry for about 30 minutes. The moisture raises the grain and causes the wood to accept the stain better.

The next step is to apply the stain. Dip a rag or sponge into the color and apply to the floor. You want to go with the grain and work from one side of the room to the other. Wring out the rag or sponge frequently, so the coverage is equal and does not allow it to pool on the floor.

 After 5-10 minutes, the stain should be ready to be wiped up. Instructions will usually be provided on how long to leave for what results. These same instructions will let you know how long the product needs to dry before applying the polyurethane finish.

Hardwood Flooring Sealants And Finishes

Wood flooring finishes make a difference. Most of the hardwood you purchase to get installed comes from the manufacturer already finished in modern times. They will always provide information on the pre-finish and give extra recommendations and information on additional finishing.

A professional who works closely with architects and builders states that it is unusual to see bamboo with a stain because it doesn’t keep the stain very well due to its hardness rating. It comes in natural, yellow color or medium-brown, with horizontal and vertical grain patterns.

A good rule of thumb is to use one coat of sealer and at least two protectant finishing coats. Sealing is vital to the entire process, especially when the finish is polyurethane. The seal prevents the boards from separating from each other or the floor later on. Experts don’t recommend staining most exotics or maple because of cell structure and hardness.

 After stain and/or sealer, you must apply a water- or oil-based finish to protect the floors. The manufacturer will provide details on which one is best to use. The choice is dependent on the type of wood, color, grain pattern, and intended results.

Water-based finishes are fast-drying, so you must focus on avoiding brush marks. The natural color shines through because of the water, and it is preferred for exotic wood species. It is also considered environmentally conscious since it is water-based.

Oil-based polyurethane finishes add a different depth and color to the majority of woods. Drying time takes 12-24 hours, so there is more wiggle room on the amount of time it takes you to apply it. The oil-based finishes also enhance the wood of certain species, such as walnut or birch.

 The last option would be a satin finish. It offers a natural look that shows less wear, while high gloss will reflect easily.

Care And Maintenance of Your Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floors can be one of the most significant purchases that a homeowner buys. Because of the money that goes into them, care and maintenance of the floors is a must.

By cleaning up spills immediately, the least amount of moisture gets into the hardwood. By switching from a wet or steam mop and banning wet shoes, those hardwood floors stay away from water. Keeping the home’s temperature between 60 and 80 degrees and between 30 and 50 percent humidity will also help immensely. As the moisture levels rise, the damage to the hardwood becomes more apparent.

To minimize scratches, use furniture pads on any furniture that could potentially be moved. Use specialized wood cleaner when cleaning them, and sweep every day. It is also recommended to vacuum once a week to ensure all the dust is removed. Depending on the amount of foot traffic the floor receives, it may need to be refinished every 3 to 5 years. Keeping up with maintenance provides a lifetime of beautiful hardwood floors in your home.

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