“We don’t want orange floors.”

When we first help a typical DIY floor refinishing customer, we ask about their hopes and dreams for their refurbished floor. Their most common wish is to “take away the orange.”

We hear that and can help.

Many hardwood floors still look orange for a good reason.

Most of the coating products that have been used on floors from the late 19th century through about 1990 had a strong yellow undertone. So almost all old floors, regardless of wood type, have a distinctly golden tinge. When you take that yellow and apply it over the pink tones of red oak, color theory says that makes orange. This was further amplified in the baby-boom era when millions of homes were built most of them were floored with red oak which was coated with a yellow finish. Voilà: acres and acres of orange wood floors across America.

But maple, pine, and even white oak floors with aged finishes can have that golden glow.

You may not know what kind of wood you have or what exactly the source or extent of your orangeness is until you sand.

But trends change.

For decades, this is was the look that everybody associated with hardwood floors – a warm golden color that brought out the grain contrast. It was considered beautiful; until it wasn’t.

Now every flooring trade mag, Pinterest page, and Insta post shows grey or beige floors. Warm colors, browns, and especially oranges have fallen out of favor.

What complicates things for the average homeowner is that most of those wishbook photos are showing WHITE oak, not red oak.

White oak in its raw state isn’t exactly white, but it certainly isn’t pink. It is much easier to avoid orange if you have a floor that doesn’t have any red tones in its grain. If you have fallen in love with a beautiful cool beige or grey floor in a photo, it’s dollars to donuts it is NOT a red oak floor. But, for the average US homeowner living a house that was built before 1990 they have inherited red oak. 

I have had customers legitimately ask if they should tear out their red oak and install white oak instead! Let’s say it loud for all of you at the back: red oak is NOT an inferior wood. It simply has a color that is not currently in fashion. Red oak makes a hard, reliable, timeless floor that can work with any taste and era. We can help you take the worst of the orange out so that it will not look like your grandma’s floor, but not so white that you’ll hate it when the inevitable white-oak backlash starts.

 

So the first step for reducing the orange in your life is:

Sand your floors back to completely bare.

No, you can’t just change the color by applying something over the existing coats.

Yes, we know there are many Pinterest post out there on how to stain over existing finishes on floors. These are almost all sponsored by MinWax or Varathane and they are not to be trusted.

If you want to change the color of your floor, you need to sand it first. This entire website is devoted to DIY floor-refinishing. We know you can do it.

Your sanded wood will look much lighter than it did before.

Many people love this bright, raw look so much that they just want to leave the floor and live on it in its bare state. This, my friends, is crazy talk.

Your naked floor will absorb every little bit of dirt and water you walk in from the outdoors. It will have dirty paths that mirror your walking routes within weeks. So a raw floor is not realistic – you have to coat it with something. Which brings us to the next step for keeping orange out of your life?

Once the floor is sanded, do not use any oil-based polyurethane, “Neutral” stain, or shellac on your floor.

All of these will just add back the gold that you worked so hard to remove.The finish being applied the photo above is old-school oil-based polyurethane, and you can see how much gold is going right back onto that beautiful light floor. The easiest way to keep the gold out of your floor is to coat it with a clear waterborne floor finish.

Will this keep the floor as raw as it looked when completely unfinished? Alas, no.

Even applying the most modern, crystal-clear finish over your slightly pink red oak will darken it again.

But the darkening is slight, and it is a “cool” darkening – it does not resurrect the gold.

Will it look like the white oak floors in the pretty magazines? No, but it will look fresh and contemporary at one-tenth the cost of tearing out your red oak and replacing it with white.

But what if I really, really want to take every last trace of red out of my red oak floor? Can’t I bleach it or something?

As we said before, what complicates the no-red-at-any-cost stance for the average DIYer is that most of the floors they are trying to recreate are WHITE oak, not red oak.

Getting red oak to appear “greige” like white oak is like trying to dye grey hair blonde; it’s an uphill battle.

So, if you are a risk-taker, we have some options for you.

But be warned, if these options go sideways, the solution is to sand off the failed coat. Very few of these suggestions can be spot-fixed.

1. Use a white-tinted sealer coat under your clear waterborne finish.

The easiest way to cancel out the slight darkening that occurs on wood, even when a clear coat is used, is to use just the right amount of white. These products aren’t as common in the big-box stores because they are notoriously difficult to apply evenly.

But we sell four different options that are offered primarily to professionals. And when they are applied well, they give the look of a truly invisible finish.

Pall-X WhiteSeal – Made by Pallmann, known for their technological advances in self-leveling waterbornes. They sell two different intensities of white sealer – this is the whiter of the two.

Pall-X NatureSeal – the Pallmann white sealer with slightly less white pigment.

Bona NordicSeal – Essentially Bona’s version of WhiteSeal

Bona NaturalSeal – You guessed it, Bona’s less-intense white sealer, and their version of NatureSeal

Using a white-tinted sealer is more successful if you have higher, clearer grades of wood.

More rustic wood has more roughness and torn grain that don’t always sand out, which can catch the white pigment. You don’t want to see areas of concentrated white pigment in the wood – you want it to just disappear, and take the red with it. But you can’t always control what grade of wood you have to work with.

But this also means that you need to sand you wood much more carefully if you plan to use a tinted sealer.

It’s much like preparing wood for stain; the scratches from the sanding process must be completely erased. Even the tiniest drum mark or bit of edger swirl will fill with white pigment and accentuate the blemish.

These sealers are known to be difficult to apply evenly.

Don’t set your applicator down on the wood and keep all applicator strokes with the grain.

 

2. Use a white or grey-tinted single coat penetrating oil finish like Rubio Monocoat Mist 5% or Smoke 5%.

This achieves the same end as the white sealers – the small amount of pigment cancels out the natural darkening that would be caused by the untinted oil. These finishes do not require a separate topcoat – the color and protection are applied as one.

This finish has the advantage of having lower VOCs and being easier to spot fix, but should also receive more regular maintenance coats than a typical 3-coat polyurethane finish.

3. ADVANCED USERS: Use Rubio Pre-Color Easy in Mint White to the red tones of the red oak.

In color theory, the opposite of red on the color wheel is green. Green is often used to balance or correct for red. For example, people with skin reddened by rosacea will often use green-tinted makeup to mask it. Similarly, with red-background wood, small amounts of green will erase the red without making the wood appear green. Rubio Mint White used as a pre-treatment achieves this for red oak. BUT, while Rubio promotes the use of the Mint White for just this purpose, it is not as easy to use as the title would suggest, especially on anything larger than a countertop.

Yes, we know it looks like toothpaste, but the green is not visible in the finished wood.

Be prepared to have a team of three people to be able to apply in evenly.

And it will still need a topcoat of the Rubio Oil Plus 2C over the pre-color coat. If you really are interested in this option, call the store at 651-698-5888 and schedule a chat with Kadee.

4. ADVANCED USERS: Bleach the floor with flooring bleach (not laundry bleach) before applying finish coats.

Because this will take much of the pink out of the floor, it may not be necessary to use a white-tinted sealer. But you can’t rule it out either.

But bleaching the floor should be a last resort.

It is difficult to do evenly, can affect adhesion to your protective coats, and certainly adds extra time and steps to your coating process. This is not for the faint of heart and should be considered a last resort.

Do you need advice for your specific hardwood floor problem?

Get a one-on-one phone consultation with a hardwood flooring expert. For a small fee of $25, we can provide the wisdom and knowledge that you need to complete your hardwood flooring project. When you don’t know what you need to do next, that’s when it’s time to call Pete’s Hardwood Floors Help Hotline.

Pete's Hardwood Floor Help Hotline button

Here are more common floor issues.