Must Hardwood Floors Change Color?

Must Hardwood Floors Change Color?

Yes, but don't worry too much about this universal phenomenon, because it's just something hardwood does. That means that the lovely floor you saw that first gave you the idea of how beautiful a real hardwood floor can be - it did this. They all do this. It's just part of the process.

What brought this up is another good customer question, this one posed to our Hayley, who helped out in the comments section of our Engineered Hand-Scraped Hardwood post. Shannon writes:

Hayley, I understand about the hardness rating, Janka, but what are the best woods and wood finishes to minimize fading in the hardwoods? Is there a rating system for this aspect?

Thanks, Shannon

Hardwood Floors Before and After by Shawn Thompson - Lake Superior Photographer

Hardwood Floors Before and After by Shawn Thompson - Lake Superior Photographer

Thanks for asking, Shannon, that's a great question which lead to a great discussion for Hayley and me. Being a product of nature, most wood used to make flooring planks will change color to some degree over time. When it happens in a way that leaves a rug print, we call it 'fading', because we don't like it, and when it happens to the entire floor it's just called aging or a 'patina', because we do like it - but it is the same process.


Expecting Natural Changes

While a lot of urethane floor finishes will become more amber over time, this is different. The change is due to

a mix of photochemical processes (the kinds which also gave us photography and sun tanning) and oxidative changes (the same type fought in our own bodies by the eating of red kidney beans and blueberries). The culprits are air and ultraviolet light. The rate of change differs mainly from species to species, and then based on the temperature and the intensity of the light in the room. Even trace chemicals in a specific forest can have an impact. The color change process happens in the cell walls of the wood, only about 1/100th of an inch into the surface. Theoretically, you could sand and refinish a solid hardwood floor and restore the original color. But only for a while, because the shift will happen all over again.

As many things that are rated in flooring, I hate to say it, but there is no rating or test for hardwood color change, neither for degree of difference nor for time taken to get there. "Get there?" Yes, you see, it does stop. While the timing can vary, usually the greatest changes happen within the first two to three months, a little more happens by the sixth, and by the end of a year it has mostly settled into the color it will stick with.

To plan for or around this inevitability, we're left with only anecdotal human experience to guide us. Fortunately we have a few hundred years of it.

Species To Look For

Some species change dramatically, and some subtly. Some get lighter and others darken. The change may happen at different rates. For instance, Brazilian Cherry, American Cherry and both True and Pecan Hickories shift pretty quickly, while American Oak takes more time than those.

Generally, exotic species, which means those imported into the country, start out already being darker than most domestic woods, then get even darker over time. Most exotic wood floors are purchased with this in mind - it is both expected and desired. Brazilian Cherry is supposed to turn a deep red color. Other Cherry woods, even American Cherry, become a rich red over time as well. Species to consider when you want to plan on a change to a final color include the above, Oak, Pine, Merbau, Purpleheart and Brazilian Koa.

Now, whether you want a great change or slim to none, you should talk with your flooring person about the product you're looking at to make sure you buy with the right expectations.


Handling Obvious Sun-Faded Areas

A 'faded' wood floor

A 'faded' wood floor

Remember how I said that the color changing has a stopping point? This can be good for unmatched fading, when a rug or piece of furniture has left a lighter patch of flooring. Covered areas will change much more slowly than the exposed parts of your floor, but you don't have to have a permanent ghost rug in your family room. Moving rugs and furniture around will help even out the color changing. The formerly covered areas should start to catch up to the rest of the floor once they have been exposed, and the whole floor should stop at the same, final tone. To eliminate having this problem in the first place, try the following:

1 - For at least the first three months that your new floor is in place, avoid using large area rugs. If it's safe and possible, move the furniture frequently during this time. Once most of the floor has made most of its changes, any leftover area fading should be subtle until it's finally matched the rest of the floor.

2 - You can also use blinds, preferably horizontal ones, to keep the sunlight from hitting the flooring directly. Bounce it off the ceiling instead, spreading it out nice and evenly. This will slow the process, so that as you move your things around even in the beginning, the patchy look can be less pronounced.  

Shop Smart

As we said above, you'll want to talk with your customer service or sales person about a hardwood floor purchase. Ask about patinas, does the floor darken or lighten? How much? How soon? Plan on the final result. If you like the color of a floor you've seen which has just been put down, have them find you a floor that will end up being that color, even though it may not start with the exact hue you're after.

Likewise, if your new floor doesn't match a sample you used to decide on your selection, remember that the sample should be the final color of the floor, and yours should become that color over time.

Shannon, I hope we've helped here. The answer to your direct question is that no, there is no system to scale or rate these changes, but that doesn't mean you have to be subject to some random phenomenon. It can be understood and planned for, becoming a positive thing.

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David has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with  W. David Lichty


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