How to Choose the Best Hardwood Floor Stain Color

Choosing the best hardwood floor stain color creates your space’s desired aesthetic. We can break down natural stain colors into three categories: light, medium, and dark.

Hardwood Floor Stain Color

Light Stain Colors

Light stain colors range from pale, almost white, to warm, honey-like hues. Lighter hardwoods are trendy and create a bright, airy space.

1. Natural or Clear Stain

A clear stain, also known as a natural or transparent stain, has minimal to no pigment. It adds a protective layer to the wood while maintaining its natural look.

Best Natural Stain: Valspar Pre-tinted Clear Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer

2. Golden Oak

Golden oak imparts a warm, golden hue to the wood. It’s best for homeowners seeking a light but warm tone.

Best Golden Oak Stain: Varathane Premium Semi-Transparent Golden Oak Oil-Based Stain

3. Classic

Early American features reddish-brown hues. It balances a classic, more natural appearance and the deeper tones of darker stains. Early American creates a warm, inviting look without going too dark.

Best Classic Stain: Varathane Early American Classic Wood Interior Stain

4. Weathered Gray

Weathered gray is a cool-toned stain that mimics aged wood. The tone falls within the light to medium gray spectrum. The exact shade may vary depending on the brand and application method.

Best Weathered Gray Stain: Weathered Gray Varathane Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain

5. Whitewash or Pickled

Whitewash or pickled stain refers to a light and semi-transparent finish. The stain creates a white or pale, washed-out effect on hardwood floors.

White-washed hardwoods introduce a light, airy, and beachy atmosphere, making them ideal for rooms lacking natural light. They’re also suitable for homeowners who want a coastal or Scandinavian-inspired look.

Best Whitewash or Pickled Stain: Varathane White Wash Interior Wood Stain

6. Pine

Pine comes in various shades ranging from beige to golden yellow. Most shades of pine offer a more traditional look for hardwood floors.

Best Pine Stain: Minwax Wood Pine Interior Stain

Medium Stain Colors

Medium stain colors offer a balance between light and dark shades.

1. Jacobean

The jacobean stain offers a deep, dark brown color with hints of black. The dark hue of jacobean provides a strong contrast against lighter elements in a space. 

Best Jacobean Stain: Dura Seal Quick Coat 2-Hour Penetrating Hardwood Floor Stain

2. Special Walnut

Special Walnut is a medium brown stain with warm undertones. It isn’t as dark as a Jacobean but provides a noticeable color change to the wood. The medium brown hue adds warmth and character while maintaining a natural appearance.

Best Special Walnut Stain: Old Masters Oil-Based Fast Dry Stain

3. Provincial

Provincial stain is a medium brown color with slight golden undertones. It enhances the hardwood floor’s natural characteristics, offering a traditional and timeless appearance.

Best Provincial Stain: Minwax Wood Finish Oil-Based Provincial Interior Stain

4. Antique Brown

Antique Brown stain is a deep, dark color with hints of red or amber undertones. It creates a sense of depth and richness, allowing the wood’s grain patterns to show through.

Best Antique Brown Stain: General Finishes Antique Brown Stain

5. Chestnut

Chestnut stain is a medium brown color that adds richness and depth to wood. It enhances the natural grain patterns while giving the wood a classic finish.

Best Chestnut Stain: Varathane Red Chestnut Classic Wood Interior Stain

Dark Stain Colors

Dark stain colors create a dramatic and sophisticated look.

1. Dark Walnut

Dark Walnut is a dark brown with light brown highlights. It doesn’t have the orange glaze coloring found in many wood stains. Instead, it has slightly noticeable red undertones. Dark walnut creates a warm and inviting atmosphere, showcasing the wood’s natural grain patterns.

Best Dark Walnut Stain: Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain, Dark Walnut Oil-Based

2. Ebony

Ebony is a popular stain color with a deep, rich black finish for wood surfaces. It provides a dramatic and sleek look, creating a bold contrast against lighter elements in a space.

Best Ebony Stain: Bona DriFast Premium Quality Oil-Modified Quick Dry Stain

3. Espresso

Espresso is a very dark brown, almost black, resembling the color of brewed coffee. It creates a warm and luxurious feel, adding depth and intensity to hardwoods.

Best Espresso Stain: Varathane Espresso Classic Interior Wood Stain

4. Mahogany

Mahogany is a deep reddish-brown color.  It imparts a sense of elegance and sophistication, often associated with traditional and luxurious aesthetics.

Best Mahogany Stain: BEHR Bombay Mahogany Satin Water-Based Interior Stain

5. True Black

True black is pure black and void of any undertones or variations. It imparts an ultra-sleek look. A true black floor can be a great alternative if neutral color schemes don’t match your interior design.

Best True Black Stain: Dura Seal Quick Coat Penetrating Finish

How to Choose a Hardwood Floor Stain Color

Complementing Wood Species

All wood species have distinct natural colors and grain patterns. Stains may appear different depending on your wood species. Some woods take stains more evenly, while others have variations in color.

Consider the natural color and characteristics of the wood species. Check if the stain will enhance or alter its appearance.

Understanding Your Space

The design and style of your space should match the stain color you choose. Examine the existing elements in the room, such as wall colors, furniture, and décor.

Assess how the stain color will complement or contrast with these elements. Decide whether you want the flooring to blend in or make a statement as a focal point.

Natural light and artificial lighting also affect how the stain color appears. Consider the amount of light, its direction, and color cast from nearby walls or furnishings. Test stain samples in different lighting conditions to see how they look.

Aesthetic Preferences

Determine the overall aesthetic you want to achieve in the space. Decide whether you prefer a traditional, modern, rustic, or contemporary look. Understanding your design preferences helps guide your stain color choices.

The Room’s Function

Darker stains create a formal atmosphere, ideal for living rooms or dining areas. Lighter stains provide a casual, relaxed vibe in family rooms or informal spaces.

The room’s function also influences the practical aspects of stain color selection. High-traffic areas like hallways or entryways may benefit from darker stains. They camouflage dirt, scratches, and wear over time.

Lighter stains with cool undertones create a soothing atmosphere. They’re ideal for spaces where you aim to promote a calm and serene environment.

Warm vs. Cool Undertones

Warm undertones include red, orange, and yellow hues. They create a sense of warmth, energy, and coziness in a space. Cool undertones are blue, gray, and greenish hues. They evoke a calming and soothing atmosphere.

Warm wall colors such as creamy whites or earthy tones complement warm undertones. Pair cool undertones with cool wall colors like light blues or pale green.

Some wood species may have neutral undertones. They work well with both warm and cool color palettes. Examples include natural oak or birch.

Impact of Finish and Gloss

The hardwood floor’s finish affects the perception of stain color. Matte finishes have minimal shine and reflect less light, making stain colors appear darker and richer. Semi-gloss finishes have moderate shine and reflect more light. They enhance the depth and vibrancy of stain colors.

High-gloss finishes create a formal look, intensifying warm undertones and crispy, cool-toned stains. Obtain samples from a flooring supplier to test stain colors with different finishes.