White Oak versus REd Oak flooring

If you have oak hardwood floors in your home, then the odds of identifying if they are red or white oak can be difficult if they are already finished. So let’s look at the key factors that affect your floor; whether they are being refinished, installed, or repaired.


Oak flooring is universally chosen for many homes because of its versatile nature and predictable behavior when properly installed. A significant amount of oak sub-species exist, but the two most prominent are red and white. A number of factors influence the true color rather the common designation of “red” or “white”. Why does it matter?

Repair accuracy

If your home has existing wood floors and you are remodeling or repairing areas of the floor, then material choice is critical. As you can see below, someone blended white oak flooring into a red oak floor.

So how does something like this happen? Often contractors assume they know more than they do and overlook their due diligence on research. While it can be difficult to distinguish, white oak flooring does contain quite a bit more tannic acid in the wood. For this reason, it is entirely possible to test whether a floor is red or white oak.

What is tannic acid?

Tannins are natural compounds found in oak flooring. The tannin content of flooring can vary, but is useful for creating unique colors on a floor. A number of contractors and manufacturers use solutions to react with the tannin to create amazing color. A unique benefit of tannic acid for homeowner is that termites do not like the taste!

Harvesting region

While wood flooring is graded and milled into specific looks, where it is harvested impacts the flooring as well. Red oak flooring from the Ozark hills does not look the same as flooring harvested in Canada. The soil in which the trees grow is different as well as the climate. Shorter growing seasons generally result in tighter annular growth rings, which helps dimensional stability of they flooring. Oak flooring from a more “swampy” region can be dramatically darker in color because of tannins. It is very important that you ask your contractor where your flooring is harvested if you want to avoid a communication dilemma. Often the cost of flooring harvested from some regions of the US can be considerably less, which influences material choice for many contractors.

Staining and color

Staining red and white oak tends to be equally effective. But, some purists will argue that a white oak floor stains better. Really what matters the most is how a contractor considers the base color in relation to the applied stain. For customers who have red oak and want the red color removed color choice is critical. In order to remove the red base color, choosing a darker color (possibly with more green) will mask the issue. But, keep in mind that red oak is still red in color and to completely eliminate the red is impossible unless you want to replace the floor. Bleaching a red oak floor is an option that can help alleviate the red color. But the procedure can be done only one time and generally softens the wood fibers of the flooring.

The essentials

  • Repairing or extending your oak floors requires careful attention to detail when purchasing new wood flooring
  • White oak tends to have a slightly higher cost than red oak, but it is relatively minimal.
  • Both species of wood stain and color well. White oak is much more suitable for smoke treatments and reactive stains.
  • The origin of harvest affects the color of either red or white oak. Knowing the mill is essential to match existing flooring.


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