3 Factors That Impact the Lightness (Color) of Hardwood Floors

Rod Lorenz

Many homeowners love the look of light-colored hardwood floors. They often ask; what is it about certain hardwood floors that makes them look so light? There are several ways to answer this question. Here are the three main factors.

  1. Species

  2. Stain
  3. Finish

The lightest colored hardwood floor species are:

Red Oak

Many are surprised to learn that Red Oak is lighter than White Oak. It has pinkish undertones and also has a stronger grain than White Oak, giving it a more traditional look.

White Oak

White Oak is smoother in comparison and has golden / green undertones. Compared to Red Oak, it is slightly harder.


Maple is generally the lightest colored hardwood. Its grain is very smooth, giving it a modern chic look. Maple is the best choice if you’re looking for super blonde wood in its natural form. The color variations of Maple also vary greatly depending on the grade.  

When you sand and refinish wood floors, they regain their raw hardwood appearance again. So if you have solid hardwood floors, you can get them to look lighter even if your floors currently have a dark stain on them. Even certain dark or red species such as Walnut or Cherry, can be made to appear lighter with the right stain treatment.


Natural stain is essentially clear. Applying this on a light-colored wood allows the natural color of the wood to shine through. Therefore, it will look different depending on the wood's various species, grades, and ages.

White Wash

Whitewash gives the wood a refreshed and contemporary look. It complements well with cool-toned walls, such as whites, grays, and light blues. Using whitewash is a great way to add more light and brightness to your home.

Light Grey

Light grey is a version of whitewash. It is a mixture of white or grey and ebony, allowing for options that range from light grey to dark grey. Depending on the wood species it is applied to, light grey can give a home a refreshed look and may even turn out slightly lighter than natural.

We use two broad classes of finish:

  • Swedish
  • Water based

Water-borne will be lighter than its oil-based counterpart. Over time, oil-based finish will darken certain species and colors, which is not necessarily bad. But if you would like to avoid seeing your hardwood floors darken over time, it’s better to go for a water-borne poly.

You can use either water-borne or oil-based poly for the Red Oak unless you are using a white or grey stain; in this case, you would need a water-borne poly. White Oak also works well with either polyurethane, except again if you use white or grey stains.


Beautiful light-colored hardwood floors are possible with both newly installed floors or preexisting floors. With old floors, you can refinish the wood and go natural or use a whitewash stain. And if you want to go even lighter, consider a water-borne urethane.

If you are considering light colored floors, talk to one of our hardwood floor experts. They can help you make all the right choices to get the floor of your dreams.

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