Home » Can you Lighten Dark Hardwood Floors? What to Know

Can you Lighten Dark Hardwood Floors? What to Know

Sometimes a home needs some sprucing up to keep its interior engaging. A floor is an often overlooked aspect of a home’s decor, but it can dramatically impact the mood, look, and simple vibe of a room or house. So, if you’ve got wood floors and want to change their appearance, fear not. Dark, stained wood floors can be lightened to give your home an exciting new look.

It’s possible to change the color of your hardwood from dark to light and back again — any way your heart desires. However, a perfect outcome will depend on the condition and the natural color of the wood.

Color change requires sanding to remove the top finish layer of the floor. This is followed by staining or lightening before applying a protective polyurethane layer.

Sanding only applies to a solid hardwood that is still intact or on engineered hardwood floor that is attached to the substrate. You cannot sand thin, detached, old, or floating engineered hardwood floors.

Applying a stain or paint on top of a finish is a temporary and unprofessional way of changing the color of a hardwood floor. The top coat is highly likely to wear and fade, making the old coat underneath show its true colors.

Unfortunately, this will give your floor surface an unattractive and uneven appearance when the color peels off.

While there are various products that can be used to restore or change the color of your wood, the natural color of the wood will also play a big role in the end results.

Experts recommend leaving it natural or bleaching to attain a lighter color.

In most cases, the lightest color you can go is the natural color of the wood. If you want to go beyond that, the only choice is to bleach or use a whitewash stain.

Homeowners with oak are likely to use this option since this type of wood is naturally dark.

With some knowledge on how to change the color of a hardwood floor, it is something you can do yourself.

If you’re not sure, consider hiring or consulting a wood flooring expert. Testing your wood stain or color on a small section during sanding will help you to envision the outcome before applying the stain to the entire surface.

How to Lighten Dark Hardwood Floors – Steps

There are several steps to a nicely lightened wood floor. They include the following:

Step 1: Preparation

Ensure the nature of your wood is appropriate for sanding. Clear the room of everything including furniture and rugs.This will give you suitable safe working space. Remove any curtains and open the windows to allow enough light and air into the room. 

Inspect the floor to ensure that no nails or pins are protruding. Nails and pins can damage your sanding machine or cause you an injury during the sanding process.

If there are any, use a nail set and hammer to depress them without damaging the wood floor. Sweep the room to remove any dirt or debris and get set for the next step.

Step 2: Sanding

This is a critical stage where you use a sanding machine and sanding pad with different grit levels. Usually, 3 levels of sanding are done using 60 grit, 80 grit and 100 grit respectively.

By the end of the process, you will get a smooth wood that will easily take and maintain the stain and the polyurethane coating.

Attach 60 grit sandpaper to a drum sander and turn on the machine as you tilt the sanding base off the floor.

Always begin from the furthest corner from the entrance. Work with the grain of the wood as you move from one end of the surface to the other.

There are areas such as corners where the drum sander may not reach. You will need to use a palm sander with the 60 grit pad to work on them.

In the process of sanding the wood, the dark stain will begin to lighten significantly.

When you are sure that all dark stains are removed, use an 80 grit pad with both the drum and palm sander. Finalize with 100 grit pad for a perfectly smooth surface.

Step 3: Dusting/ Vacuuming

The varying methods of cleaning a hardwood floor after sanding can have an effect on the polyurethane coating that will follow.

Therefore, choose carefully the appropriate cleaning method. Use a vacuum to remove all the dust after sanding.

You can also use a broom to sweep — but note that it will cause a cloud of dust.

An expert may recommend a sweeping compound, although using a lot can cause abrasion that will prevent the polyurethane sealant from effectively adhering to the wood.

To remove more dust on the wall and around the windows, use a microfiber cloth that traps and collects fine dust particles.

Once your room is clean, it’s time to prepare for the application of a lighter wood stain or paint.

Step 4: Staining/ Coloring

You can decide to stain your wood using a lighter-colored stain or go natural. After sanding, some types of wood may have a lighter natural appearance, so there will be no need to stain.

There are plenty of wood stain colors you can choose if you want something more conspicuous.

Once you have selected your stain and tested during sanding, apply it using a rag as directed by the manufacturer.

Working along the grain will give you a smooth and even surface. Apply starting from the furthest side of the room as you move towards the entrance.

Give your stain enough time to dry without allowing any traffic in the room. Most products take at least 4 hours to dry.

Leaving it to dry overnight is a good option that ensures complete drying. Once you are sure that your wood color stain is completely dry, it’s time to apply a polyurethane finish.

Step 5: Polyurethane Coating

In the final step, you’ll want to add two to three coats of polyurethane finish to protect the wood and its new color. Allow the finish to dry for at least 24 hours before adding another coat.

Once the process is complete, think about protecting your hardwood floor from furniture scratches and scuff marks.

There are two commonly used types of polyurethane: oil-based and water-based. While both types are durable, there are slight differences.

Oil-based finish tends to change color over time — usually to umber — while water-based remains clear and maintains the wood color over a long period of time.

Water-based polyurethane dries faster than oil-based. In terms of cost, a water-based finish is more expensive than oil-based.

The above differences can help you to determine the right choice of polyurethane for your floor.

How much does it Cost to Lighten Hardwood Floors?

Lightening a hardwood floor can be a costly process, especially when you hire a professional flooring expert.

On average, the cost of refinishing a 300 square feet surface is anywhere between $100 and $1500.

However, the cost will vary depending on various factors such as:

  • Refinishing or recoating
  • Total square footage to be covered
  • Condition of the floor or wood
  • Quality of finish or coating to be used
  • Number of finishes or coats required
  • Stairs (higher cost)
  • Carpet or other flooring removal
  • Accessibility of the service


Other than changing the color, refinishing your wood floor every five to ten years helps rejuvenate the wood’s appearance and keeps it looking its best.To make a hardwood floor last longer, ensure it is properly cleaned and protected and well maintained. When well taken care of, a quality wood floor can truly make a house a home.

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