Testing Whitewash Finishes On Red Oak Hardwood Flooring

Well, y’all have spoken, and the overwhelming majority of you believe that I should whitewash my red oak hardwood flooring in the studio and adjoining areas (half bath, back entry and storage closet). For some reason, I expected it to be a closer race between the two options, but whitewash ran away with the vote. So last night before I went to bed, I tested out some whitewash options.

I’ve been researching how to whitewash hardwood floors for a few weeks now, and let me tell you, the info you find online is all over the place. Some people say just used watered down paint. Others say don’t EVER use paint. Some people swear by Bona products, like their white stain, or their NordicSeal. But after reading reviews and seeing pictures, I wasn’t convinced that it was the answer.

So I decided to try out some good ole Varathane water-based white stain, right off the shelf of Home Depot.

Varathane white stain used to whitewash red oak hardwood flooring - 4

To be clear, the can says it’s not recommended for floors. But things like that generally don’t stop me from trying. 🙂 I figure that the topcoat will be the most important part of this equation anyway, so as long as I get that right, the “not-intended-for-floors” stain will be just fine.

Anyway, I did three test patches last night before I went to bed. Keep in mind that these tests are done on wood that hasn’t been sanded yet, so it’s pretty rough and soaks up the stain differently than sanded wood will. But it’s still a good start for getting an idea of where I’m heading. Here are the samples…

Varathane white stain used to whitewash red oak hardwood flooring - 1

The top one is the white stain straight from the can. To be clear, I knew from the start that that option was NOT going to work. Putting white stain over red oak will just turn my floors pink, and not in a good way. But I still wanted to see what it looked like just to have a baseline from which to make some changes by tweaking the color. It also looked like the actual stain in the can had just a tiny bit of a red undertone to it, so red undertone stain on top of red oak isn’t really a good combo. Unless, of course, you like pink wood floors.

So for the second sample, I added just a bit of green tint to the stain to try to cut the red undertones of both the stain and the floor. It did tame some of the red, but not quite enough for me.

So I added a bit more green and tried again. The third sample (on the bottom in the above picture) is definitely more to my liking. But I was looking at it under bright white LED lights at night, so I wanted to wait and see what it looked like this morning in the light. The natural sunlight made it look not quite so white and bright.

Varathane white stain used to whitewash red oak hardwood flooring - 3

That was a little shocking to me, because that sample on the right looked SO much whiter at night. So I decided to try a second coat on that last sample. Here’s how that looked in the daylight…

testing whitewash colors on red oak hardwood flooring - how to eliminate pink undertones - Varathane white stain

It’s hard to know exactly what any of those will look like on 540 square feet of flooring as opposed to these small samples, so I think I’ll just have to take it one step at a time. At least I do know for sure that adding green tint will cut the pink undertones. That was my main concern. But whether or not I end up with one coat or two will have to be decided once I actually get one coat of stain on the whole floor.

Right now, I am really liking the two coats on the sample, though. I really like how light and bright it is.

Varathane white stain used to whitewash red oak hardwood flooring - 8

But again, after seeing one coat on the entire floor, I may decide that that’s enough.

Varathane white stain used to whitewash red oak hardwood flooring - 7

Choosing a flooring color like this is just about as effective as choosing a wall color from a tiny swatch. Sometimes the end result is a complete surprise, even though you had that swatch in hand.

Varathane white stain used to whitewash red oak hardwood flooring - 5

And it also doesn’t help that it looks slightly different from every angle, and at different times of the day.

But at least I’m on the right track. And I’m very relieved that I won’t have to live with pink floors. I’m excited to get the floors sanded and get on with the staining!

By the way, if you’re wondering what I used to tint the stain, let me show you…

green added to white Varathane stain to whitewash red oak floors without pink undertones

Yes, that’s craft paint. 😀 I’m using water-based stain, so it can be tinted with acrylic paint, and I just happened to have this on hand. It took more than I thought it would to get the desired effect, but again I think that’s because not only did my floor have red undertones, but the white stain appeared to as well. If I had to guesstimate, I’d say that I used about a tablespoon of green acrylic paint in the quart of stain for it to have the desired effect on my floor.

Anyway, I’m planning for a very productive weekend! Let’s hope that I have some real progress to show come Monday!



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      1. I was thinking the same thing!!! Those countertops came out so very beautiful -why not go with that I’d say.

  1. I didn’t weigh in yesterday, but I think you made some really good arguments for white washed floors which probably influenced people! Dark floors do tend to show a lot more than light, and your colors in the entrance and bathroom would probably not look great with the dark stain.

    I thought dark floors would look great in your studio space- they would create a nice ground to all the lightness and brightness. But I don’t think they would look good with the emerald or the warm bathroom colors (although, the two colors look pretty on your bathroom vanity in the hallway, so maybe not! :)) I also love the idea of one type of flooring throughout, but ultimately I think you made the best decision.

    I can still remember the first time I learned that adding a touch of the complementary color mutes the shade. I think I was in middle school or something, but it was life-changing for me. Black never worked!! X-D

  2. I assumed, since you’re wood-filling it, that you were planning to bleach it first like you did with the pantry countertop. That might help a lot, even though it’s a pretty big extra step. That red bothers you so much, I think I’d totally take the extra time to bleach it.

    1. Yes, I’d like to hear too if the bleaching Kristi did on the counters is something that could be done on floors before whitewashing.

    2. I ALSO thought you would be doing the bleaching thing. I can imagine it would be quite labor intensive.

    3. Yes, that was my idea too – that it needs some sort of treatment, otherwise it looks like semi-painted wood. It is DEFINITELY on the right track and will look lovely when done, it just doesn’t look exactly white-washed now…

  3. hmmmm I have a new house with hickory cabinets…would this work? My husband loves them…so I am thinking happy medium..he gets his “wood” and I get white!

    Thoughts? Or should I do the lime wax? (What is difference in White Wash and Lime Wax?

  4. Holy pink undertones, Batman! I’d not considered that – presumed you might bleach – see others thought the same. Love the green paint addition to cut the reds – looks great! Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing some random greener streaks added in the flooring mix… Optimistic about the end result – and looking forward to seeing your weekend progress.

  5. Totally with you – I like the more green tinted version of your stain which effectively kills the pink, and yeah, do one coat and see how it feels before deciding on a second layer or not.

  6. so glad you decided to go with the white, for projects in a work shop it isn’t part of your house and should be as durable as possible. I like the middle one it is just enough without looking too white like the side of a house!!

  7. Is the whole room painted yet? Having the blue walls and ceiling complete may also change the color of the floors, giving them more of a blue-green tint. It may change how much green you want to put into white stain.

    If it is not too much work, I would also consider bleaching the floors before whitewashing because it worked so well on the pantry countertops.

  8. I know it’s already been decided against…..but I really think those woods floors should be stained like the rest of your house. When you add a brown stain to oak floors, you intensify and truly bring out the beauty of the wood….the white, just covers it up. Just my honest opinion.

  9. love your thought process and the helpful comments from your talented readers. Thanks for sharing!

  10. GREAT choice in choosing white! I’m so happy that you are going to make a decision after one coat… as I’m concerned that a second coat might eliminate the lovely grain that seems to show so beautifully in the one coat sample. BTW… you are a color genius, Kristi!

  11. I was thinking you might use the same technique as you used on the pantry countertops….that turned out beautifully! And you know what to expect….no 540sf surprise!

  12. I’m 66 years old and do many of the things you do. I love to build and do maintenance, but I have to tell you…….I want to be just like you when I grow up!!!! I love your posts. I learn so much and you give me confidence!!!!

  13. I love the studio more every time of see it! Can’t wait until Monday or Tuesday to see your progress!! Nicely done!

  14. As an artist that spills all over the place I would feel inhibited with white floors. I suppose you could use a drop cloth but that might slow down the urge to get started. A studio is usually grunge.

  15. I would try to find a white stain that did not have a pink undertone first. I would want the floor to show the grain.

  16. We own a hardwood refinishing company, and we would always recommend white oak for a white washed floor. But since you already have the red oak, it was a good idea to tone down the pink with green. We always use Dura-Seal stain for floors and its comes in Country White which is what we use. It holds up much better than Varethane ( we used that to stain my staircase, painter did it) and it not durable at all. good luck!!

    1. My ex was a hardwood floorman (and probably one of the best at stain mixing/matching). We had white stained floors in our bedroom but the floors were white oak. They were beautiful.

  17. I think the one coat with green tint allows the grain of the wood to come through, so I look forward to seeing the ‘bigger picture’ on Monday.

  18. Personally, when it comes to a white glaze, I wouldn’t go there. Bleached oak and blond oak are prettier and don’t obscure the natural beauty of the grain. Maybe the glaze would look better in actuality than the picture.

    1. I’m just happy that you’re going with what YOU wanted, and not let anyone persuade you to go with something you’re not really wanting! In the past, when you allowed us to change your mind, you were never happy with it and ended up redoing it! (After a lot of turmoil in your heart)! So hooray Kristi! You go girl 😋

  19. I love the look of the floors in the natural wood colour. If you could seal them and have them still look like they look now I think that would be awesome. It’s light but not white (too much white for my taste). Have you looked at Rubio monocoat for a floor finish.

  20. The two coats with the green looks like you did a crappy paint job or used whitewash. the single coat with green looks smoother and more finished even without sanding. I vote for the middle sample. It takes out the red undertones but allows the wood to show better since red oak is a beautiful wood to start with. The prettiest oak floors I ever saw were in my Mom’s house. They were mixed red and white and no board longer than 2 ft since they were inexpensive bundles called shorts. The room was 11 x 26. It took 3 of us pounding the nailer to lay it. No, we didn’t have the pneumatic nailer back in the early 60s. Sanded and high gloss clear varnish. Sadly that house was torn down last year so all I have is the memories.

  21. Love the red oak, so I know I’m just a little prejudiced, but wouldn’t the first one[1 coat] go with your wall paper better. I’m not a pink, anything person, but I’m thinking you might really like the floor more natural, lightly white washed, even if it is pinker, which we know red oak is. The color it will be would go great with your beautiful wall paper, IMHO. So I vote #1

  22. I think the versions with paint added will end up looking very splotchy … excess paint will unavoidably pile up where your brushstroke ends, and there will be lots of brush strokes. Also, in my opinion, the two versions with added paint make the wood look like the color is sitting on top of the wood rather than *being* the wood. If it weren’t for the pink undertone, I’d say version #1 is the obvious choice (no splotches and the wood itself looks like it is lightened rather than a color just sitting on top of the surface). But given the resulting pink coloration with version #1, I think you should give the floor the same bleach treatment that you gave the wood countertop in your pantry room, which resulted in a truly beautiful finish that allowed the natural grain of the wood to come through without the pink hues.

  23. What if you sanded the floors, then sealed them, and then white washed them, and then do a final topcoat of sealer? Would that keep the floors from looking pink and eliminate the need to add green?

  24. You are on the right track! I agree with you. Option 3 and one coat, to see if it works seems best. I can tell opition 2 has green in it, and it looks off slightly. Option 1, yes is pink in a bad way.

    To reply to the above lady, the floors would look pinkish unless the sealer was colored somehow. I agree with Krist that it’s more effective to stain the base coat vs altering the color by laying a colored top coat. Easier to control the color that way, especially since the top coat is clear. And adding craft paint to customize the color? Great idea!

  25. Why not to try to sand it after whitewash? This will make the grain more pronounced and you still have the color on floor. And it will help to get rid of brush interlaps. I did almost the same route with mine old red oak floors and it looks so natural. I just have the grain stained in more gray color. It is a bit more work but at the end it does not look like just a paint on the wood floor.

  26. Kristi, have you heard of Woca Oil? It’s a Danish oil product for hardwoods and comes in several colorways with a bleaching (lye) kit for oak. I love mine; it has a matte finish.