All About Floor Finishes, Wood Dyes & Smooth Stains

When you pick out your hardwood flooring, there’s more to think about than just the species of wood and style of planks. It’s important to think about how you want the floors dyed, stained and finished. Fortunately, we’ve put together this handy guide about floor finishes, wood dyes and stains!

Wood Dyes & Stains

There’s a basic difference between wood dyes and stains:

  • Wood dyes penetrate the floor to give a deep, rich color to the grain; stains are more like paint
  • Wood dyes can be used to enhance stain

First the flooring is dyed, and then a couple of days later the stain goes on. Depending on what color you want, you may need two coats of stain to get the shade just right. Once the stain is dry, the finish is applied to protect your floors for years to come.

There are two types of dyes (aniline and water-based), although at San Jose Hardwood Floors we only used water-based dyes because they’re much better for the environment and comply with VOC standards. Many years ago, bleach was actually used to dye floors. In addition to being very volatile, this method is really bad for the environment and releases a lot of VOCs into the home.

Dyes are very concentrated out of the bottle and then mixed with each other and water to get the exact shade you want. In fact, it might surprise you to know that despite countless hues for your floors, there are really only 4-5 dye colors used to make each tone.

When you’re ‘popping the grain’ – or transfusing the dye into the flooring – it’s important to know what species you’re dealing with. Some floors, like hickory, are difficult to stain because they become blotchy. Even if you’re working with an easier species, hiring an expert is important because working with dyes is so tricky. The dilution and mixture have to be combined just right, and if they’re not then the dye and stain won’t bond properly, which in turn means the finish won’t adhere correctly either and your floors won’t be protected.

Fortunately, San Jose Hardwood Floors has a dye specialist! Not all hardwood flooring companies provide this service because of the complexity and difficult learning curve (it takes 2-4 years to learn how to do it well!), but our owner, Butch Kirk, was taught by a specialist formally educated in dyes, so you can rest assured your hardwood floors are in good hands!

Although the wood dye and stain method is great for some floors, for others it’s best to only use the dye. Some manufacturers use a complex dying process to create very artistic statements for your floors. Lengo dal Dio, for example, embeds water-based dyes, water-based pigments and water-based metallic pearl pigments before applying a commercial finish to create a shimmering, elegant floor design. They call it, “Metallic Dusting.”

What else can you do with wood dyes? They can also help create a very dark color, even on woods that stain evenly like Oak. To do this, you apply the wood dye and then the stain to really saturate the wood with color.

Floor Finishes

Applying finish is the next step once you’ve used wood dyes and stains to create the shade you want for your floors (this includes the natural choice of not using dyes/stains).

There are two types of floor finishes:

  • Water-based
  • Oil-based

Oil-based finishes are much richer and darker, whereas water-based floor finishes will create and maintain a lighter color with little to no ambering. To see an example of the difference between water and oil finishes, stop by our showroom; we have the two compared on the same wood type.

Water-based finishes are tougher, which is why they tend to be used more for commercial flooring. They are, however, generally more expensive.

Oil-based finishes also tend to be less expensive and preferred on natural floors and red oak floors. It provides a warmer, golden feel to the overall finish and will amber more over time. The oil-based finish we use is professional grade and still less expensive than water-based finishes.

Want to know more about floor finishes, wood dyes and stains? Come visit our showroom to see what they look like for yourself. Our experts are happy to answer your questions, too! Also, remember to contact us for a free in-home estimate today.