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Choosing and Caring for Dark Hardwood Floors

There’s no denying the beauty of dark woods and dark stains.  Especially with younger generations and those seeking an upscale, sophisticated look, darker flooring like Brazilian Cherry, Mahogany, and dark-stained Oak or Walnut hold a strong appeal.  But there are a few things to keep in mind when deciding on a darker wood.  They can require a bit more maintenance than more forgiving mid-tone woods, a reality that dark wood fans need to prepared to live with.

Dark wood or dark stain?

Ariege-Navarre hardwood floor collection

A medium tone wood with a darker stain, like this Ariege Oak from the Navarre collection, will likely be less costly than a naturally dark species.

If you’re looking for a darker hardwood flooring, deciding whether to go with a darker species or a dark stain can be difficult.  In most cases, darker woods tend to be less abundant and therefore more costly.  Darker planks generally come from heartwood, which represents a smaller portion of the tree than lighter sapwood.  Moreover, species that produce truly dark heartwood are not as common and those that produce more medium shades.   Consequently, these woods can cost as much as twice what you might pay for a more common wood with a darker stain.

On the other hand, a lighter wood with a darker stain is far more likely to show scratches and dents, since these remove the dark stain from the damaged area revealing the much lighter wood beneath and causing a starker contrast than you would get with a darker species.

A compromise might be to choose a medium wood like Black Walnut with a darker stain or a wood that is a little lighter than, say, Mahogany or Wenge, like Brazilian Cherry or even Jarrah, which can produce a similar effect but tend to be less costly and still mask scratches.  Similarly, while a very uniform super dark floor certainly creates a striking and beautiful effect, variation will always be more forgiving when comes to dents, scratches, or other damage.

Finish

Regardless of whether you decide to go with a stain or a naturally dark wood, the finish you choose will make a big difference both in how well your floor hides damage and how much it shows dust and other undesirables.  Dark wood owners commonly complain of two things: dust and footprints.  While a regular cleaning schedule will certainly help to keep this under control, the finish you choose can be your greatest ally in keeping your dark floors looking beautiful all the time.

High gloss finishes are typically a no-no with dark wood floors unless you intend to clean them several times a day and they get virtually no foot traffic (from people or pets).  Dark, glossy hardwood will unforgivingly display every speck of dust that lands on it, along with oils from bare feet, pet hair of any kind, shoe prints, and even streaks from floor cleaners.  The best way to avoid this is to go with a finish no shinier than semi-gloss.  The most satisfied dark wood floor owners tend to be those who go with a satin or even cashmere finish.

To avoid visible scratches, especially on stained woods, consider purchasing a prefinished wood.  Because it is tougher than any site-applied finish, a factory-applied urethane will protect against scratches better and will camouflage those that occur, since the scratch will damage only the clear finish rather than tearing through the stain.

monterey-caballero-full

Darker floors look great against the contrast of pale furniture and walls.

Lighting

Another thing to consider when deciding how dark you floors will be is the lighting in the room or rooms you are considering.  Bright natural light is by far the most unforgiving when it comes to darker floors.  If your home has a lot of large windows, you might want to go in another direction.  Low-light rooms will hide dust best, but of course a dark room will be made even darker by a dark floor.  Fortunately, dark floors do best with contrasting room features, so the lack of light can be easily countered with pale furniture and cabinetry and contrasting walls and rugs.  This will also serve to enhance the striking, sophisticated look that dark floors serve best.

 Cleaning

The key to keeping your dark floor looking spiffy is regular cleaning.  If possible, try to run a dust mop (or Swiffer pad) over the floor at least once a day.  This does not need to be a proper cleaning—a dry dust mop will serve just fine.  If you find that your dry mop isn’t getting everything, you might try vacuuming instead on the same schedule.  Make sure, though, that you use a vacuum cleaner specially designed for hardwood floors or with a hardwood floor setting—the brushes and wheels on many vacuums will damage the finish of a hardwood floor.  Among dark wood owners, Roomba machines seem to be popular to automate the daily vacuuming process.  Miele also makes some popular models.  You can check out our earlier post on hardwood vacuums for pet owners to find some other recommended machines.

In addition to daily dust-mopping or vacuuming, you will also want to clean your floors with a cleaner recommended by the manufacturer about once a week.  With dark floors, it is especially important to use the right cleaner, as solutions not recommended for the purpose can leave streaks and dull spots, which show up starkly on darker floors.  It can also help to turn on a fan or open the windows while the floor dries, to eliminate streaks and discourage potential damage from excess moisture.

A word of caution: Though much advice on cleaning hardwood floors can be found on the Internet, recommendations found in forums and similar places often fail to take into account long-term effects.  Two examples that recur frequently in this context are steam mopping and vinegar solutions. Though the immediate results of these may seem satisfying, repeatedly exposing wood to steam will eventually cause it to warp while long-term use of vinegar solutions often results in the gradual dulling of the finish of your floors, an effect that is difficult to reverse.  It is for reasons such as these that it is generally best to consult the manufacturer’s instructions or a hardwood flooring professional before trying a new product or method on your floors.

nine kinds of slippers

Having a basket of fun slippers by the door can make guests more comfortable removing their shoes.

Shoes

More and more, people are opting for removing shoes upon entry to their homes, largely to avoid tracking in the many nasty things they might tread through on the streets and sidewalks outside. Many dark hardwood floor owners are taking advantage of this trend to ask family and visitors alike to remove their shoes at the door.  To make this more comfortable (and to avoid sweaty sock or barefoot prints on the floor), it can be fun to provide a basket of slippers at each entrance.  If you choose to go this route, as you are out doing your regular shopping, keep your eyes peeled  for fun slippers that might be added to the collection.

There is no doubt that darker hardwoods are a thing of remarkable beauty.  But if you choose to have them in your home, choose wisely and know that they may take a little more TLC and require a bit more tolerance for imperfection than their more forgiving mid- and variegated-tone alternatives.