How to Stain Wood Floors

While staining a hardwood floor is most often done as an application to bare wood, all of our wood flooring comes already stained and finished. It is, however, possible to change the color of an existing floor by staining over the old finish if you find yourself in a position where you no longer love the existing stain color. In either case, using wood stain and a rag will always be your best bet. This application technique requires you to rub the stain color into the wood grain with a clean rag and then use a second clean rag to wipe up the excess after the product has had the chance to penetrate the wood grain.

So, once you've decided on what color you like that coordinates well with your walls and furniture, shopping for the stain color is the easy part. Wood stains are available in either oil-based or water-based forms, but virtually any wood stain will work.  As you are applying either type of stain, make sure you have plenty of ventilation because these products are not completely odor-free.

Can you stain any wood floor?

Not every type of hardwood floor is a good candidate for staining.  Floors that are best left natural are ones with close-grained wood (like maple, birch, pine, and alder), wood species that already have an attractive tint to them (such as mahogany, cherry, and walnut), and floors that have been poorly maintained. Floors that have deep ridges and valleys in the surface will not give you the results you are looking for. While these marks may not be obvious when the floor is dry, after you apply stain color they will show up much more clearly. 

When is the best time to stain wood floors?

The answer: as soon after sanding it as possible. We do not recommend staining your wood flooring unless you have just finished sanding it and before you have applied the finish. Wood that has been sanded but not finished becomes exposed to weathering from different atmospheric elements quickly. Moisture will start penetrating the surface, the wood may discolor, and the grain may rise and create an uneven surface. 

Staining alone doesn’t prevent these things from happening to the wood but it provides just enough protection to maintain its color and keep the texture stable until you can apply a finish. 

As we mentioned earlier, it is possible to stain a floor that’s already finished and the stain can be applied as part of a finish restoration as it will help to even out the color. 

The Wood-Staining Process

We bet we can guess how you reacted when we said that the best route when staining a wood floor would be using a rag, requiring you to apply some serious elbow grease on your hands and knees. It certainly can be daunting and tempting to use an applicator or something - anything! - with a long handle. But the problem here is that they will not give you the most even application. Applying the stain with a clean rag and then wiping away the excess about 5 minutes later will eliminate the possibility of ending up with a patchy stain job. 

Step #1: Clear the floors

This means not only removing any furniture that’s on the floor but also vacuuming the floor to remove any dust that may be left from sanding or just from everyday traffic in the case of staining already finished floors. Make sure to get the dust that’s gotten between the floorboards too as the seams will just appear darker if you go over them without taking this step. 

Step #2: Stain in sections

Starting in the farthest corner of the room and working towards the door, stain in sections long and wide enough to allow you to wipe the stain up about 5 minutes after applying it without walking on it. When applying the stain, use a swirling motion but when wiping off the excess, only work the rag in the direction of the wood grain to avoid cross-grain swipe marks. 

Step #3: Allow to dry

Your freshly stained floors will need at least 8 hours to dry before you apply the finish. We recommend waiting overnight but not too much longer than that because you don’t want dust or footprints to ruin the finishing job. If you do have to wait a bit longer to apply the finish, just clean up the floor with a damp cloth before applying the finish. 

The Floor Trader Showrooms are independently owned and operated. Prices, products and services provided may vary by location.

The Floor Trader Showrooms are independently owned and operated. Prices, products and services provided may vary by location.