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How To Stain a Hardwood Floor

by Canadian Sanders

Why Not Stain Hardwood Floors

DIY enthusiast


 Staining hardwood floors is finicky. 

Before you stain your floor, keep in mind that it can highlight even the smallest flaws in your sanding job. The pigment particles in stain can get stuck in scratches, gouges, and pores in the wood, making them more visible. If you’re not an experienced sander, you may leave deep cavities in the wood that stain will accentuate. The edger is also likely to create cross-grain scratches that can be highlighted by stain. So, staining a poorly sanded floor can make it look like a big, unsightly tattoo. It’s best to ensure your sanding job is done properly before considering staining.

Not all wood can be stained evenly.

Not all wood can be stained evenly. Maple, birch, pine, and fir are difficult to stain due to their tight grain and uneven pore wall density. Oak floors absorb stain uniformly, but earlywood and latewood density can create a zebra-striped look. Clear-coat finish is a better option for those seeking a flawless finish.

Staining Flaws Can Look Ugly

To avoid bleedback when staining wood floors, use compatible stains and finishes. Excess amounts or multiple coats can cause the stain to wick back up, leaving a cloudy streak. 

Staining Hardwood Floors Take More Time

Staining wood floors takes time. Stain needs to dry for at least 48 hours before applying protective finish. Low temperatures, high humidity, using too much stain, and inadequate wiping can increase drying time. Be patient and plan accordingly.

Not using Stain

Protect your wood floors with a clear coat for a natural look. Stain only changes color, not protection. Clear coats are a safe choice for DIY refinishing.

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How to Stain Hardwood Floors.

Sand meticulously

When sanding your wood floors, it’s important to be meticulous and strive for perfection. Stain can accentuate any imperfections from the sanding process, so make sure to use all the recommended grits in the proper sequence for both the drum and edger. This means starting with 24-grit and progressing to 36-grit, 60-grit, and 100-grit, changing your paper frequently. After you’re done, inspect the floor closely for any scratches and use 100-grit sandpaper to sand with the grain until the scratches are no longer visible.


After you have used the recommended grits to sand your wood floors and inspected them for scratches, it’s important to do a light sanding to blend everything into one even texture. To achieve this, you may want to consider using a buffer. Buffers are great for sanding right up to the wall and reducing the “picture-frame” effect that can be caused by over-edging or palm-sanding your perimeter. Using a buffer will also help limit stain absorption and make it easier to control blotchiness. For best results, use a 175 rpm floor machine that’s 13 or 16 inches in diameter.

Water Popping

Have you considered water-popping your wood floors to achieve a darker and more uniform stain color? This method involves misting the wood with distilled water to open and widen its pores, which allows it to hold more pigment. Once the wood is allowed to dry, the stain is applied, which penetrates deeply into the opened grain for a more consistent color. 

Apply The Stain

When staining your wood floors, it’s important to apply the stain carefully to avoid lap lines. We recommend applying the stain in columns 3-5 boards wide and wiping it off thoroughly. If possible, have one person apply the stain and another wipe it off for consistency. Using a buffer with a clean towel can also help maximize color saturation and coverage while minimizing the risk of lap marks. Be mindful of spraying stain towards walls and trim.


Protecting your floors with a clear coat can be a great option. It’s important to keep in mind that applying stain is mainly for enhancing the appearance of your flooring and not for protection. If you’re new to DIY refinishing, using clear coats could be less stressful and allow the natural wood grain to shine through. Three coats of high-quality polyurethane are recommended for best results. Regardless of your approach, make sure to take the necessary precautions to protect your floors and achieve the desired outcome.

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