Can You Lighten Dark Hardwood Floors?

AUG 03, 2022 by SHAUN BEZUIDENHOUT  

lighten hardwood floors before and after

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While you're happy with the hardwood floors in the home, it would be nice if the stain wasn't so dark. The idea of finding a way to lighten wood floors has come to mind, but you're not sure how to go about the process. 

 

While it is possible to learn how to lighten hardwood floors as a do-it-yourself project, a better solution is to call in professionals. Along the way, you can learn a great deal about the quality of the flooring in the home, what can be done to alter the shade, and even how long the job will take. Here is some information that will help you make the right decision.

Is It Better to Have Light or Dark Wood Floors?

Generally speaking, is it better to have hardwood floors with a lighter stain, or should you go with something that's darker. A lot depends on the attributes of the space involved. It's also good to consider the amount of direct sunlight that the room receives. 

 

To begin, it helps to know how to match wall color with wood floor stain. This aspect is a matter of a person's taste. Some people like the idea of walls with a light color while having wood floors with a darker stain. Others prefer light colors paired with lightly stained floors that allow the wood grain to show through better. 

 

Along with the degree of contrast that you want, consider the dimensions of the room. You'll find that a small living room with dark wood floors may tend to accentuate the smaller area involved. By contrast, opting to go with light wood floors in a smaller living room may help the space to feel more expansive. 

Reasons Why Homeowners Would Want to Lighten Their Floors

light wood floors

There are a number of reasons why a homeowner would want to make a change to their wood floors. One is to eliminate the look of the white walls and dark floors combination. Choosing to lighten the floor is likely to result in allowing the space to feel more open and airier. 

 

There's also the matter of determining how to make the most of whatever natural light is found in the space. In general, darker wood will absorb light. With lighter wood, that natural light is reflected. The latter definitely makes it easier to take advantage of sunlight and how it helps the room look for most of the day. 

 

Another reason has to do with general cleaning and upkeep. People may choose to lighten wood floors because a lighter stain is likely to show dust less than a darker counterpart. While all floors need to be cleaned using a dust mop daily, the lighter floor is likely to continue looking tidier in between those cleanings. 

 

You may want to lighten hardwood floor because it's been in place for quite a few years. Even the most resilient hardwood floors will sustain tiny dents and other imperfections over time. Darker stains tend to make those more visible. By contrast, lighter stains will do a better job of hiding them. 

The Pros and Cons of Lightening Hardwood Floors

 Before you move forward with any changes, it's a good idea to consider the drawbacks as well as the advantages of choosing to refinish dark wood floors to light tones. As you weigh them, you may find that sticking with that dark stained oak floor is best, or you may decide that the pros outweigh the cons. Here are some to consider. 

 

One has to do with the type of hardwood you have in the home. Opting for a stain that's more in line with the wood itself is a good idea. In general, lighter stains will provide a more organic look that's natural. If that fits into the way you want the home to look, lighting is definitely a good idea. At the same time, darker tones are more traditional and may fit in better if you prefer a more formal look. 

 

Another point to ponder has to do with the ease of cleaning. You already know how to clean dark hardwood floors, but will the same rules apply once the floors are lightened? Much of what you already do will still be part of the cleaning routine, but there are a few changes that will need to be made. Learn about them before you proceed with the project. 

 

How often do you design to redecorate a room? If that doesn't happen every couple of years, and what you have now would contrast well with a lighter stain for the floors, then go for it. When you tend to redecorate often and routinely move from light to dark colors for the major elements, leaving the floor as it might be in your best interests. 

 

It's true that lighter stains on hardwood floors show less dust and other debris in between cleanings. At the same time, water stains, tiny gaps between sections, and any knots in the wood grain will stand out more. It's up to you to decide if those are issues that would be bothersome in the future. 

 

Which type of floor is likely to fade faster? The answer is lighter stained flooring. That means you will need to have the floor stripped, stained, and sealed more often than with the dark wood.

Basic Steps Used to Lighten Dark Wood Floors

dark hardwood floors

The most common way to lighten dark wood floors involves removing the present stain and applying a different one. You start this process by clearing everything out of the space. Once that's done, it's important to mop the floor and ensure as much residue is gone as possible. 

 

A sander is used to gently remove the top layers of the wood that contain the darker stain. This is something that should be done while wearing goggles and a mask to ensure none of the residues can get in the eyes or the nose. Sanding is a meticulous process that takes time and patience. The goal is to remove all the old stains and leave a smooth surface to work with. 

 

Next, the residue needs to be removed. This can be done with the aid of a shop vacuum, followed by sweeping. No dust needs to remain before the new stain is applied. Remember that the application must be done in the direction of the wood grain if you want the best results. 

 

Once the stain is in place and dried, you can apply a coat of polyurethane to keep the floor looking great for a longer period of time. This is also something that should be done while wearing a mask. Remember to have the windows open so fresh air is constantly entering the space. 

 

Can you sleep in the house after polyurethane? It's not recommended. All types of polyurethane tend to emit gases for a minimum of 24 hours. The best scenario is to find somewhere else to sleep for a couple of days. 

 

If you've updated the flooring in the living room and you can seal the space off from the rest of the house, you may be able to safely sleep in the bedrooms on the opposite side of the home. However, this is not something you should try without getting expert advice first. 

How Can I Lighten My Hardwood Floors Without Sanding?

There are other solutions that may apply in your case. Instead of sanding, you may want to consider the idea of bleaching the flooring. Keep in mind this is more complicated than taking the household bleach you use for other things and pouring it on the floor. 

 

There are bleaching compounds made to use on flooring. You want to choose one that's made for the type of wood in your home. As you learn how to bleach wood floors, it will become apparent that you need to wear protective gloves, goggles, and a face mask to keep yourself safe during the process. There's also the need for something to use as an applicator, such as a sponge mop or cloth. The coating must be even, and it must be removed in a timely manner. 

 

You can also lighten dark hardwood floors using a stripping compound designed for this purpose. Apply an even coat using a paintbrush, then allow it to remain on the wood for the recommended period of time. Follow the instructions for removing the residue, and you should have a bare floor that's back to the natural grain. From there, you can decide to seal the wood or find a stain to make it slightly darker than the natural hue. 

Understanding Why It's Best to Leave Lightening to a Professional Service

can you sleep in house after polyurethane

All methods for changing the stain on hardwood flooring will require the use of equipment, patience, and the commitment to doing the job without attempting to take any shortcuts. It also involves making sure that you take steps to keep yourself safe. Even then, the fact that this is not something you do on a regular basis increases the odds of ending up with a look that's not what you envisioned. 

 

Rather than trying to do it yourself, it makes sense to call in a professional who can turn those darker floors into light wood floors. A professional will know what must be done and in what order. Best of all, that pro will bring along everything that's needed for the job. All you have to do is decide where you will spend your time until the polyurethane coating is no longer emitting higher levels of gas. 

 

See calling on a professional as more than a convenient solution. You can expect better results, don't have to round up all the supplies and equipment on your own, and can rest assured that a pro knows what safety precautions to take. 



For those who love their dark oak wood floors, feel free to leave them as is. Any property owner who thinks that lighter stains on their hardwood floors would improve things in some way, feel free to call in a professional. After examining the floor and getting an idea of what the owner would like to do, it will be possible to come up with a plan, settle on the exact type of stain to use, and then determine a schedule for getting the job done.