A quick read of our guide to hardwood color trends will soon reveal that, while there are some diverse and adventurous trends to be seen, the traditional color brown continues to be a firm favorite across the country. Dark brown hardwood floors in particular never seem to go out of fashion, they are always trendy and still in style. There’s something about the contrast between dark wood floors and bright, light walls, white kitchen cabinets, furnishing etc. that epitomize a sophisticated and upmarket style.
We have heard many realtors say that show homes with spotless dark hardwood flooring are always very appealing to buyers, but they do stress that this is only the case when sensibly installed in a light and airy home, with complimentary light colors throughout to balance the darkness of the floors.
Realtors also re-stress the point that the floors must indeed be spotless, overly scuffed or dusty dark floors will have the exact opposite effect on buyers to the one you are looking for. Indeed it is this need to keep them looking their best that homeowners need to think long and hard over before installing dark hardwood floors…can you live with them?
The Difficulties of Dark Hardwood
Dark hardwood floors are notoriously hard to keep clean and maintain, having a well-earned reputation for showing up every little scratch, smudge and speck of dust. Homeowners try to get round the first problem of scratches by installing an extra hard dark wood like Brazilian Cherry, but this is to overlook the reality of all wood floors, which is that none of them are indestructible. Over time you are going to pick up some scrapes and nicks on your hardwood floors and while steps can be taken to avoid, repair or cover them up, these scratches are going to be far more noticeable against a dark background than they would on a light colored hardwood floor.
Take a look at the image below of a truly stunning staircase and entrance hall from Clawson Architects, yes it sure is impressive, but can you imagine how careful you would have to be to keep it looking that way? We certainly wouldn’t allow shoes in the house unless you want to be mopping up footprints and don’t even think about bringing in children or pets!
Avoid Glossy Dark Hardwood Floors
So what are your options if you have your heart set on a dark hardwood or engineered floor? Well on a practical level you can mitigate some of the problems by avoiding dark floors with highly glossy finishes. Dark tones, by their very nature, will always show up scratches and dirt more easily than lighter tones, but a glossy finish will only exacerbate the problem because any light hitting the floor’s shiny surface will then be reflected back, highlighting every fleck of dirt even further. A satin finish is a step in the right direction and the further you go towards a matte finish the less light reflection you will encounter. Look at this dark solid hardwood from Shaw floors, it is both matte, hand scrapped and distressed making it a more forgiving option… but don’t kid yourself…not by much!
Of course another idea is to ease back on the depth of hue you are choosing, does you need black hardwood flooring to create the same effect? Perhaps a chestnut brown floor would be just as agreeable as a coffee brown one, and a lot more forgiving. Similarly consider a hardwood with some variation of tone and pattern rather than a uniform block darkness throughout. A floor with some degree of patterning will also make marks or dirt less noticeable. In the image below, from a beautiful traditional interior by Aneka Interiors, the floor has both a lighter dark brown tone and plenty of variation from plank to plank. Everything looks perfect and spotless, but the overall feel is one of being nicely worn-in and the floors could probably take a few dinks and dents without losing anything in style.
Be Honest About Your Cleaning Regime
On an emotional level you have two options. Either be that uber-proud house owner, with a cleaning schedule of almost military precision, or become a lot more Zen and accept that wood floors are natural and organic and should be allowed to age gracefully! If you think you can go with the latter mind-set then perhaps also consider a distressed or hand-scrapped dark hardwood floor. This option works well, but mainly if you like a rustic hardwood look. Notice in the image below from architects Clayton & Little, how the dark floors have that rough worn look which is perfect for the overall rustic Mediterranean interior; you almost want to have someone walk through the room with muddy boots fresh from the a nearby field!
As hinted at above, dark hardwood floors and pets is asking for trouble, continual pet hair and dander will need constant hoovering and dog claws are often a cause of noticeable scratches on dark wood.
The Best Way to Clean Dark Wood Floors
If you are planning to install dark hardwood floors then you are going to need some kind of decent cleaning schedule. Caring for your floors needs to be broken down into different cleaning tasks and some will need to be done more often than others. Let’s take a look at how to keep your floors clean week after week…
1. Hoovering – You will want to hoover your floors at least once a week and maybe more depending on the traffic in your home. A high quality hoover with strong suction is desirable but most importantly you will want one with a hardwood floor attachment to avoid scratches.
2. Mopping – Typically we follow a hoover with a light mopping, so once a week should be fine. Remember that you don’t want to get much water on the floors at all so if you’re using a regular mop then it should be wrung out thoroughly before use. These days the best option is to use a respected brand of microfiber mob in conjunction with a wood floor cleaning spray and avoid using water at all. An all in one mop like the Bona Spray mop is a good example of the best way to keep floors clean.
3. Dusting – Taking the surface layer of dust off your floors is something that can be done quickly and easily several times a week as needed. A Swiffer dust mop or similar is perfect for the task.
Read our hardwood floor cleaning report for a run down of the different cleaning routines suitable for hardwood floors.
Check out our step by step guide on how to shine wood floors
Where Will Dark Wood Floors Work Best?
Of course the other thing worth considering is location, while dark hardwood flooring could be asking for trouble in a kitchen area (high traffic with lots of spills and mess) in a master bedroom it could be perfect (low traffic and no shoes). So when should you use dark flooring? The image below shows a wonderful contemporary bedroom from interior designer Cathy Hobbs, where decorating with dark floors looks great against a primarily white room and you can’t imagine any problems looking after that floor other than a light hoover each week!
Finally, if you do decide on dark stained hardwood floors, will you go for solid hardwood planks or engineered wood flooring? As you will see from our in-depth guides, both options have their pros and cons. Most pre-finished engineered flooring comes with super hard aluminum-oxide finishes which will offer a great deal of protection from scratches, compared to a polyurethane finish applied to a solid hardwood floor on-site. That said much engineered hardwood can only be sanded once if your lucky, due to the thin wear layer, so hopefully any damage is only to the finish which can be repaired without sanding. You have no such problems with solid hardwood, where you have the comfort of knowing that you can sand and refinish your floors over and over if necessary. Click here for our DIY guide on refinishing hardwood floors.
It’s worth pointing out that the tips above can be applied just as easily to dark laminate wood flooring or dark wood look tile…basically all dark floors are prone to the same problems.
Please let us know what your experience has been with dark wood floors by leaving a comment below or drop us an email. We always love to hear first hand what works for you.
About the Author:
Jamie Sandford is the Owner and Chief Editor of Home Flooring Pros (find out more). After 12 years’ experience in screen and stage set construction followed by a further 15 years working in the home renovation/remodeling business he now writes and curates online home improvement advice.
“Buying and installing home flooring should be a fairly straightforward process, but often it isn’t. After more than 15 years’ experience in home flooring and remodeling, I started Home Flooring Pros in 2013 to help homeowners navigate the often-over complicated process of choosing, buying and installing a home floor. The aim is to save you time and money by helping you to make better floor buying decisions.”