When it comes to hardwood flooring, oak is one of the most popular types of flooring. And if you’re buying oak floors, you’ll likely find two variations, red oak and white oak. Since Red Oak is typically cheaper, it’s more common in homes, but that doesn’t always mean it’s right for you. As we explained during our stair refinishing project, the type of oak flooring matters!
In this blog post, we will discuss the key differences between red and white oak floors, including the different looks and how they react to stains so that you can choose the right wood for your home.
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What are Oak Floors?
Oak floors are made from, you guessed it, the oak tree. And there are two main types of oak trees – red oak and white oak. Red oaks grow in the eastern United States, while white oaks grow in the central and western US.
Oak floors have a Janka hardness rating of 1290 to 1360, which is harder than maple but not as hard as walnut. This means that oak floors can withstand a good amount of high traffic but can still get damaged over time. (We’ll talk more about durability later).
Types of Oak Floors Available
Today, Oak floors are available in solid hardwood or engineered wood. Engineered wood is made of a layer of real wood on top, with multiple layers of plywood below. And as we explained in our comparison of hardwood, engineered hardwood, and LVP, engineered hardwood is also more resistant to changes in temperature and humidity.
What Do Red Oak and White Oak look like?
Red oak floors have a pinkish undertone with heartwood that ranges from light brown to reddish brown. White oak floors have yellow or beige undertones with heartwood that tends to be darker, ranging from tan to dark brown. You can see these color differences in the image below:
While both floors are oak, they have different characteristics that you’ll want to be aware of before choosing. Keep reading as we compare the differences between red and white oak flooring.
Red Oak vs. White Oak: Key Differences to Know
- Color – As we mentioned, white oak has a yellow/green undertone, while red oak has a pinkish undertone.
- Grain Pattern – White oak is a closed-grain wood that has mild-to-medium patterns, while red oak is an open-grain wood with stronger grain patterns.
- Staining – White oak is better for lighter and grey stains, while red oak will show more pinkish hues through these lighter colors. For darker stains, you won’t notice much of a difference between woods.
- Durability – White oak is stronger than red oak, but only slightly. Between the two kinds of wood, you likely won’t notice a difference in durability.
- Water-Resistance – White oak is more water resistant thanks to its closed grain compared to red oak.
- Cost – Red oak is typically cheaper than white oak.
Keep reading as we explain each of the differences in more detail so you can understand exactly which flooring is right for you.
As we mentioned above, red oak tends to have pink undertones, especially if you apply lighter stains. In comparison, white oak has yellow undertones, which give it a lighter appearance.
If you’re trying to achieve a light modern look, you’ll want to go with white oak. While (with a lot of effort) you can get red oak to look similar, there is no replacing the real deal!
We installed white oak floors in our home after purchasing it and couldn’t be happier with how it has transformed our home.
It’s also important to note that red and white oak will darken over time. This happens as they are exposed to sunlight and other elements in your home. Technically, red oak will darken faster than white oak. But this isn’t too noticeable and will happen over many years.
White oak is a closed-grain and typically has more mild patterns, while red oak is an open grain that tends to stand out more.
When we say grain pattern, we’re referring to the way the wood looks when it’s cut. For example, red oak will show more of the tree’s growth rings, while white oak will have a calmer appearance. You’ll want a stronger grain pattern if you’re looking for more character. In comparison, if you want a cleaner, modern look, you’ll want a mild grain.
If you’re staining your floors, it’s important to know the color of stain and the end look you’re trying to achieve before choosing a wood. That’s because red oak and white oak react differently to wood staining.
Not only do red and white oak have different undertones, but they also have different densities. This means they absorb stains at a different rate.
For lighter stains, white oak is the better option since it will show fewer undertones in the finished wood. In comparison, red oak will show red undertones that can give lighter stains a pinkish color. When we refinished our red oak stair treads, we tried 10+ stains to get a lighter color and were never able to match our white oak floors.
As mentioned above, red oak has a Janka hardness rating of 1290, while white oak is rated at 1360. While white oak is officially harder than red oak, you probably won’t notice any differences in everyday life.
We installed white oak flooring in our house, and we’ve only noticed a handful of dents after two years. And most of these are from where we’ve accidentally dropped a pot or pan.
If you anticipate a lot of wear and tear from small kids or large dogs, we’d recommend checking out Luxury Vinyl Planking (LVP), which has surged in popularity in recent years since it’s resistant to scratches and water.
What is Janka Hardness?
The Janka hardness scale test is a way of measuring the hardness of wood. The test involves measuring the amount of force required to push a steel ball into the wood.
As mentioned above, white oak has a Janka hardness of 1360, while red oak has a Janka hardness of 1290. This means that white oak is harder than red oak, but you likely won’t notice too much of a difference in everyday life.
White oak floors are also more resistant to water than red oak floors. Since white oak is a closed-grain wood, it doesn’t absorb as much water as red oak. While there isn’t a big difference between the two kinds of wood, if you have pets, small children, or are water, white oak is the better choice.
White oak floors typically cost 20-30% more than red oak floors. You can usually buy red oak floors for $3-$10 per square foot, depending on the type, grade, plank width, and retailer. In comparison, white oak floors sell for between $4 and $15 per square foot.
We purchased our engineered hardwood white oak floors for $4 per square foot. But that did involve some negotiation. Check out our full post on installing hardwood floors in our house to find out how we were able to get the price down.
When to Use Red Oak Floors?
If you are looking for a hardwood floor on a budget or are planning on a dark stain, we’d recommend red oak. That’s because red oak is typically less expensive than white oak and will look similar with darker stains.
Red oak is also a good choice if you want a floor with more character. Since it is an open grain, red oak tends to show more knots and other natural features in the wood.
Red oak and white oak are both beautiful choices for any wood floor. But depending on the look you’re trying to achieve, you’ll want to select the wood for your flooring project carefully.
If you’re still trying to decide which wood to choose for your home, we recommend taking a sample of each wood and testing it out in your space. You can also speak with your installer and have them test stain colors and clear coats so you can understand how the finished product will look.
If you have any questions about red oak or white oak floors, let us know in the comments below!