Project Description

Wood Floor Stains

Feeling dark and modern or light and airy? Learn all about wood floor stains and what is right for you.

Photo: Angies List


Wood stains are the perfect way to add character to your house, whether it be flooring, millwork or furniture.  Dark and modern or light and airy, you have many options when it comes to wood stains.  All wood stains are not created equal and you have different types for different applications.

What is in a stain?

A stain is a pigment dissolved in a solvent. The solvent is either water or a VOC (volatile organic compound). The solvent determines what type of stain you are using – oil based or water based. Oil-based stains can have a high VOC content, upwards in the 400-500 g/l. Advancements have been made in the industry to develop lower VOC oil-based stains as well as more durable water based stains. If you do work with a high VOC stain, wear a P-95 or P-100 respirator. No if ands or buts.


Stains are typically applied on unfinished wood. If you are staining existing wood, you want to make sure all existing stain and protective finish have been removed. Stain cannot permeate these existing layers. A lint free cloth or a lambs wool applicator is used to apply the stain. Typically 1-2 coats of stain are applied to the floor. Anymore than that, you run the risk of the stain not absorbing. If it doesn’t absorb, then it “sits” on top of the wood, creating an unstable layer for the protective coating to penetrate, i.e. it could all peel off. A protective finish such as wax or polyurethane is applied on top to lock in the color. Check out our Bauen article on protective finishes.

How to get the look you want

Each type of wood absorbs stain differently. You have softwoods and hardwoods and within those two types, you have a big variation when it comes to absorbency. Without getting into a classroom lesson on wood, softwoods have a more open cell structure, i.e. they will absorb much more stain than hardwoods, which can sometimes lead to blotchiness and oversaturation.  Hardwoods have a denser cell structure, which leads to a more even absorption.

Many stores that sell wood stains will have small plastic samples showing what the stain should look like. Typically they will show an oak sample and perhaps a pine sample.  We advise always testing a piece of wood before starting.

In many cases you can increase the richness of the stain by ‘water popping’ the wood. Water opens the wood’s pores and increases the amount of stain it can absorb. There is a remarkable difference when this is done. However, ‘water popping’ must be done with great care. Water needs to be applied evenly so that the stain is absorbed at an even rate. Bauen suggests you leave this to the professionals.


As you can see in the image above, a cat decided to water pop the floors for us with his paws.  Definitely be careful of moisture when working with unfinished wood.


ottom Line. Know what type of wood you have and test the stain before applying. Find a good balance between durability and VOC content.