Finding the Perfect Stain for Our Red Oak Floors

The Stain we chose for our red oak floors

Hey friends! Today I’m finally sitting down to explain the stain mixture that we used on our red oak hardwood floors!

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Deciding on the right stain color for these 100 year old oak floors was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve EVER done design wise. 

When you pick a stain for a dresser or small side table – that’s one thing. But when you’re deciding on a stain for your hardwood oak floors throughout the entire main level of your home?

Let’s just say I’m glad this part is behind me, haha!

I tried SO many stain combinations, guys. SO. MANY. 

I think I had about 15 red solo cups sitting on my kitchen counters with Sharpie labels as to what stains I had mixed. 

No matter what stain combination I came up with, we ran into the same problem. 

Pink-y orange floors. 

The the color of the wood red oak floor sanded raw was stunning, but almost every stain that I tried brought out way too many warm tones that got me right back to the orange primary color it was before. 

I wanted a rustic, beige toned color with gray undertones. Was that too much to ask?!

Stain Sample and color choices on red oak

Apparently it is, if you’ve got red oak flooring.

My Mom and I kept trying different samples, though, and we finally found one that was perfect. Before I share the stain that I went with, here’s a few tips I discovered during the sampling process. Staining your floors is a lot of physical work without having decide on a stain color! Thankfully, there are easier ways to choose the perfect stain for your floors.

Stain Samples for Our Oak Floors – A Few Tips

First off, try the stain in a few different areas. There were some combinations that I LOVED in one corner of my home. 

You can see in the photo below how beautiful that center square is – light and neutral, the perfect warmth. 

Stain color samples on sanded refinished red oak flooring

But when I tried that SAME stain in another area? It turned pink/orange immediately. 

Sample stain colors on hardwood flooring in home

Obviously every board will look and react different to stain due to imperfections in the wood, so try your sample in a few different areas to make sure you really love it everywhere. 

Secondly, don’t choose your stain color based off of photos you’ve found on Pinterest or even friends who have the same flooring as you. 

A sweet friend of mine chose a lovely stain for her red oak floors, and I was SO excited because it looked exactly like what I wanted. 

Turns out, her flooring had way less red/pink boards than mine did. What looked stunning on her hardwoods looked way too orange on mine. 

Choosing a Stain for Our Oak Floors

Just a side note – I purposely did not edit these photos to show you the true color of these stains on our floors.

I was feeling pretty frustrated at this point and a little discouraged, but my Mom kept doing research and told me that I needed to choose a stain that had green undertones to balance out the red. 

Green is the opposite of red on the color wheel, so apparently when applied to red oak flooring, it theoretically should neutralize the pink/orange tones and leave you with a beautiful brown rather than enhancing the red. 

It seemed kinda crazy – obviously I didn’t want green floors. But when we stopped in at a Sherwin Williams store and spoke to a paint expert, he immediately told me the SAME thing. 

To look for a stain that had green in it! 

I then asked the expert – “how do you find a stain that has green it it?”

Buying different stain samples to test in our home

His answer?

“Well you can tell just by looking at it.”

Great. That helps a lot. Haha!

But that’s what we did. We picked up a few more samples by Minwax, then we took a trip to Menards. 

It was there that I discovered a stain called “Aged Wheat” by Varathane

The color caught my eye immediately because against all the other color samples, it looked GREEN!

What stain to buy to neutralize red in hardwood

When we got home and opened the can, it was almost scary. It legitimately looked like straight up green stain and I was a little nervous about trying it on our floors, but I was desperate. 

Trying different stain samples and colors to test which one is best

We tested a small spot, and my husband and I stood there staring at it. He spoke up first.

“I kinda like that.”

I did too, but I was trying not to get excited. We tried it in four different spots, and it consistently stayed the same. 

The only issue was that it seemed a little dark for me. 

That’s when I remembered something else that the paint expert at the Sherwin Williams store had told me. 

He said that if I liked a stain but it was too dark, that I could simply mix it with mineral spirits to lighten it.

Sampling different stain choices to refinish hardwood in cottage style home
“Aged Wheat” is the second stain up from the bottom on the right side. The stain below that is the same color, lightened by 50%.

I had never heard of that before, but a quick Google search showed me that it was a thing, and  that other people had done it before successfully. 

I asked my Dad to grab some mineral spirits from the hardware store, and this is what he grabbed –

low odor mineral spirits to lighten stain choice for flooring

Odorless would have been SO much better, but this was all they had. I mixed it with the stain 50/50, and the color was PERFECT. 

Not a dark stain, but still a warm medium stain that enhanced the beauty of our fixer upper hardwoods. 

We bought a few more cans of stain (I could only find it in quarts, but since we were mixing it with mineral spirits anyway we didn’t think we would need as much). 

In order to cut down on fumes, we bought a bunch of odorless mineral spirits and tried the stain with that first, instead. 

Sadly, the odorless didn’t lighten the stain as much as the low odor mineral spirits did. 

I could have kept messing with the concoction (and probably should have) to make the odorless work, but we decided to just go with the low odor option and get the floors done.

Also – one thing I should mention about the mineral spirits.

It goes on darker because the stain has been thinned out, but it dries much lighter – so don’t be afraid haha!

Staining Our Oak Floors

My husband purchased a plastic pail from the hardware for mixing the stain, and we started on a Friday evening to test out the color in the sunroom

Testing final stain choice on flooring before final stain color decision

We used staining rags (also purchased at our local hardware) to apply the stain. My husband applied the stain and I followed behind, rubbing it in with another rag. 

By the time we finished, it was too dark to keep going. We decided to stop, taping off between the sunroom and living room

Stain mixture we used when we began in sunroom

The next morning, this is what the stain looked like – 

Taped off stained sunroom flooring compared to sanded living room flooring
Dried stain choice on red oak flooring


It was so beautiful, exactly what I had imagined in my head. 

We began working on the living room, and since the fumes were pretty strong we wore masks and cracked windows. Thankfully it was a sunny day and the wind wasn’t too bad!

Eventually my husband and I both decided to stain to keep things moving faster. One rag to stain, one to rub it in. 

We worked our way through the house and into the kitchen where we could escape out the back door

DIY staining floors after sanding and prepping

Sealing the Oak Floors

The next day (Sunday) we stopped by after church to check on the floors. They were beautiful, and I was so pleased. 

We decided to seal the floors with a water based poly in a flat finish. This is what we used, only because it was what was available at our local hardware. I think any water based poly will do – I wanted to avoid anything oil based because of the way it ambers over time and turns orange. 

Red oak floors after poly finish

Personally, I feel like the poly warmed up my floors a bit. My husband thinks I’m crazy, but I swear it did. Not in a bad way…they are still beautiful. 

But even though the poly dried clear and flat, that soft sheen just ever so slightly warmed up the gray/brown tones. 

Oak flooring after water based matte poly applied

It scared me so much that I told my husband no more poly…even though every blog I’ve ever read recommends three coats for protection. 

I’ll probably regret that choice, and I’ll have to follow this post up with another to let you know how the floors are holding up. 

Since our home is small and rugs cover so much of our floors, I think it’ll be ok, but we may end up going over the high traffic areas with a few more coats for more protection. 

I’ve also put felt pads on the bottoms of all my furniture to avoid any scratching.

We are waiting two weeks to put area rugs down, and we waited a week before moving any furniture back on to the floors.

PS – we didn’t even use 2 quarts of the stain for our main level (which is about 600 square feet of hardwoods). Only about 1.5 quarts of both the stain and the mineral spirits did the job! The coverage was great and went really far.

Here’s a few before and after photos to show you just how beautiful this stain is –

Before photo of red oak floors prior to refinishing
Restored Oak Hardwood Floors
Refinishing hardwood floors and the floor prep involved in the process
Refinishing Red Oak hardwood floors
Taping off everything as part of floor prep to refinish
Final finish of stained neutralized red oak floors

Now remember – we chose not to do the bedrooms downstairs. We plan to in the future, but here’s a few shots of the new floor vs. the old as you enter those rooms…

Difference in floor finishes after refinishing hardwood oak floors
Different red oak floor finishes before and after stain

So there you have it! My novel, all about our stain choice haha! 

If you’re interested in refinishing your own floors, be sure to check out my last few posts! I have an entire blog post dedicated to the prep work as well the sanding process

I hope this post sharing all the details of our stain we chose for our red oak floors was a help to you, friends. I am still putting the house back together, and I can’t wait to share a few more up dates that I’ve made with you very soon!


The Stain we chose for our red oak floors


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      1. Hi Andrea, this is the color scheme we are looking for would you please share what stain products you used to get the end finish,

        1. Hello! I shared the process in three different blog posts, this was the third one, but if you take a look at part one and two they will show you everything we did before we got to this step we described in part three! I hope this helps!

  1. Green stain, brilliant! I wish I would of seen this before staining my red oak staircase. Your floors are beautiful!!

    1. Thank you so much, and I hope your staircase turned out beautifully for you! I am sure stairs were a lot of work!

  2. The floors turned out beautiful! I don’t know what I would do without Sherwin Williams. The staff is so helpful and their paint is excellent. P.S. the picture of the floor with that sweet baby on it is the best shot! ❤️

  3. Thank you for sharing the products and the process with us. So gracious of you to take us on this journey with you. In the near future we have to redo the floor in our small country church auditorium. This is a valuable help!

  4. Did you ever consider just applying the poly without first staining? I just wonder how that would have looked.

  5. THANK YOU!! We’re in the process of a full kitchen/dining renovation and have red oak that’s stained orange. My hairdressing skills kicked in, because in color theory, we use green or purple to neutralize and tone out reds and oranges. I’m so glad this works on floors as well. I was hoping for this exact color…we will be trying it out next week.

  6. Andrea, Thank you so much for relating your story. I don’t have red oak floors but new heart pine. Heart pine has beautiful graining but when its new it reads red. Like you I tried 6 different stains and all combinations there of. None looked right. The closest I could find was Provincial, which, like your stain, pulls green. The “problem” with the provincial is that it is too dark. Viola! The mineral spirit trick. You are a lifesaver.

  7. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for posting this! I also have red oak in a century home and was dreaming of these same stained floors you have! I’m so happy to have a good direction with what you’ve done here! Thank you thank you!

  8. Hi! We are remodeling our 1960s home and laced in new red oak to match the existing red oak floor. I changed plans in the middle from matching the existing stain to refinishing all the floor.
    I came across your blog and can’t say thank you enough. We just applied a test coat of aged wheat with a 50/50 blend and we love it! We will trying one more test of 25/75 to see how light we can get it.
    Thanks for all your research on how to tame the pinks and reds. We couldn’t be more pleased!

    1. This is so encouraging to read! I am so happy that you found my post and it was helpful, the research to find the perfect shade took so long, but I am so happy to read it is helping others! Thank you again for sharing this with me!

    2. PLEASE tell us what ratio you used was wondering about using 25% stain to 75% mineral spirits to see if it was lighter……please reply

  9. I’m trying it for our floors. Did yours look quite green at first in comparison to the surrounding unfinished floor when doing the test? Your finished product doesn’t look green at all. I’m hoping ours won’t look green once more is applied.

    1. No it did not, did you use mineral spirits in it? We mixed those in as well which I shared in the post to achieve the look we hoped for. I hope this helps!

      1. We did mix the mineral spirits. I think it was just hard to get a good feel for it in the test spot. We went for it and are so happy with the results!! I’ve already shared your post with someone else who also wanted lighter red oak flooring. Thank you!

  10. Andrea
    Your post was amazing and just what I was looking for! The floors are great! I will try this on my red oak table top!
    Thanks so much for sharing!!

  11. Love that color, nice job and thanks for sharing. I’m wondering if instead of diluting with mineral spirits it was mixed with the clear natural stain. Would the color have come out similar? Using mineral spirits worked for you but is an unconventional process, not to mention the smell.

    1. I am not sure, we didn’t try that. We did low odor, but I do see what your saying. You could try it with a small sample space!

  12. Thank you, thank you for this post. I struggled to find a stain that gave me the look I was going for until the wonders of the internet lead me here. The stain went on today, and I’m so pleased with it.

  13. We refinished our red oak floors, job finished this week. We searched and searched for color ideas for at least a month. Considered Bona Nordic seal and a few grays and then we came across your post. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! We did the exact mix of 50% Varathane Aged Wheat and 50% mineral spirits and we absolutely love the result!! Our flooring contractor thought we were a little crazy at first but in the end he ended up really liking the result as well. We did do Bona Mega One satin finish as we wanted a bit of a sheen… also love it. Thank you again, so helpful!!

  14. GENIUS!!!
    I spent hours and hours, mixing stains of different colors, diluting with mineral spirits, putting them on the floor and sanding them up. Nothing looked right. Until I saw your blog, and I used the aged wheat 50% with mineral spirits. It is absolutely perfect! I can’t tell you how grateful I am to a stumbled across your blog!

    1. Oh my goodness, I am so happy to read this, I only wish you could have found it sooner! I am happy you love your floors!

  15. I absolutely love your floors. I’m wondering since you finished them, if you feel as though you needed more than the one coat of polyurethane you put down.

    1. No, I still love them. I do have area rugs covering most of our heavy traffic areas though, hopefully this helps!

  16. Andrea, I love the stain color for your hardwood floors. It warms up your home just right! When In 1980 my husband and I built our new home we had oak floors installed but used a type of white wash on them. Oh my, they were beautiful. We got so many compliments on them and it was ‘mind you 1980’. You picked the perfect one for your house. I have a question: Did you always have a stone wall at the end of the kitchen? Its truly lovely. I also want to use some pine beams here and there don’t know where to go for those? I also used a touch of copper in my kitchen. I just got the copper bowl for my white kitchenaid. I need to find a sink like yours also as I had one 40 years ago and wish I had kept it. The ‘old designer’ Laurene

  17. Andrea,
    Thank you so much for sharing! Your post saved me on a little 1930’s cottage I am remodeling. I wanted to tone down the red… I followed your instructions on the stain you chose and my floors turned out gorgeous! I will be following you for more tips and inspiration – thanks again!

  18. Love your floors. I’m hoping my floor guy will try adding the mineral spirits. Are you happy with your finish? I’m trying to decide between flat and satin. Thanks!

  19. I’m read your post 4 times, and I just want to confirm the combo you used was Aged Wheat by Varathane lightened up 50% with mineral spirits?

    Thank you for the really helpful post!

  20. This blog was SO very helpful! We were in despair over our organge floors, but now we have hope!

    1. Hello! It doesn’t show me in the comments which photo you are referencing, I probably won’t be able to remember all of the stain colors we tried, but if you can email me the photo I can try to help!

  21. I love, love your floors(!), but cannot find Aged Wheat anywhere at a local store (not online). I live in Atlanta, GA, so there is no shortage of home improvement stores. Do you happen to know if the color was discontinued?

  22. Thanks for the inspiration! We discovered unfinished hard wood floors under our carpet! We are so excited to do this with ours.

  23. Thank goodness I found this blog, your experience is exactly what I’m dealing with right now with a gorgeous desk. I am running to the hardware store immediately for this stain. I’m also planning on bleaching the piece with wood bleach prior just to tone it down a bit more!

  24. Hi! Right in midst of doing this on our 100 year old home! We applied Varathane Aged Wheat and (immediately)wiped off, still showing quite a bit of amber. How long approx did you leave on the stain before wiping off? You mentioned following your husband around but wondering an approximate! Also, Is there a drying period too that is factored in for when true color is apparent? Wet wood definitely shows more red

    1. I will check with my husband, did you apply the stain as is or did you mix it with mineral spirits like we did? I explained it in the post, but it did lighten the color quite a bit! Let me know!

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