What’s the Best Wood Flooring for a Kitchen?
The best wood floor to install in a kitchen is one that is tough and well-sealed. Both solid or engineered hardwood are suitable although engineered hardwood is the most stable and hard wearing. Choose a hard wood like oak, hickory and maple, rather than a dent and scratch prone soft wood like pine.
Hardwood flooring in the kitchen is the first in a series of posts looking at the best use of hardwood, both solid and engineered, in every room of your house. After our post about Laminate floors in the kitchen we had few emails asking what our opinion was of a kitchen with wood floors, so here is our Home Flooring Pros report.
Hardwood flooring shouldn’t be ruled out of the kitchen. It’s true that moisture is hardwood’s nemesis, but most kitchens aren’t as humid and wet as full bathrooms or damp basements, two locations where solid hardwood isn’t the best option. Still, it’s worth noting that there are advantages and disadvantages that hardwood brings to the busiest room in the house.
But let’s start by taking a look at the different types of hardwood flooring options available.
HARDWOOD FLOORING TYPES FOR YOUR KITCHEN
There are two broad categories of hardwood flooring to consider for your kitchen: solid hardwood and engineered hardwood.
Solid hardwood flooring is exactly what it sounds like. Each plank of wood is made entirely of hardwood. The plank’s surface can be stained different tones, and usually a topcoat layer is applied to seal or “finish” the wood, providing extra protection such as UV resistance. There are several different kinds of finish: wax, acid-cured, oil penetrating, aluminum oxide, water-based or oil-based polyurethane. Each finish brings different qualities to the solid hardwood.
Further Reading: Oil Vs Water Based Polyurethane
Because the plank is solid wood through and through, you can sand it back and refinish it as often as you want during its lifetime (which can be up to 100 years!)
Engineered hardwood flooring is similar in some ways to a laminate floor. It has a solid wood top layer over a composite wood base. The base is less susceptible to warping and expansion/contraction caused by absorbing moisture and then drying out. The downside to engineered flooring is that the hardwood layer isn’t as thick as solid hardwood, so it can only be refinished once or twice compared with three to five times for genuine hardwood. As with full solid hardwood, engineered hardwood can be stained – though usually this is done in-factory (whereas natural solid hardwood can be stained on-site after installation) and different finishes are applied to seal engineered hardwood flooring, for added protection and character.
Both solid hardwood and engineered hardwood are available in many different domestic or exotic wood species. Each species has unique looks and aesthetic qualities, so it is as much a question of taste as anything else.
Because of high traffic and the likelihood of moisture and spills, the most important aspect to consider for hardwood flooring in the kitchen is durability and stability. Therefore engineered hardwood is ideal for stability and a hard wood species, like oak, hickory and maple, are better than a soft wood like pine.
Choose a species with a high Janka Hardness rating. The hardest domestic woods are hickory (1820), hard maple (1450) and white oak (1360). Exotic imports to consider are Ipe/Brazilian walnut (3680), Santos Mahogany (2200) and Jarrah (1910). Avoid pine and other coniferous woods due to their softness and water absorption.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF WOOD FLOORS IN A KITCHEN
Here are the pros and cons of wood flooring for kitchens. The section concludes with tips and suggestions to consider if you decide to install kitchen wood floors.
PROS OF WOOD FLOORS IN KITCHENS:
- Lots of Options
You have multiple hardwood species and style options for the kitchen, and they are all naturally beautiful.
Wood floors in the kitchen maintain consistency in a home with an open floor plan where the hardwood flooring is used in adjoining areas.
- Competitively priced
Wood flooring is more affordable than tile and polished concrete, and competitive with LVT, when the cost of materials and installation is considered. DIY installation is easier than tile and concrete too.
- Longevity and Value
Kitchen wood floors offer outstanding value over the 50-100 years they last, and homebuyers are drawn to hardwood.
- Warmer than tile
Hardwood floors in kitchen settings are warmer and easier on feet compared with stone and ceramic tile, especially when you’re standing during prep and cleanup.
- Easy to clean
Wood kitchen floors are easily maintained.
- Not very problematic
Properly sealed wood resists staining and water damage, and kitchens aren’t as wet and messy as sometimes perceived.
CONS OF WOOD FLOORS IN KITCHENS:
- Water Damage
Lengthy exposure to moisture from leaking pipes or appliances probably will damage hardwood floors in the kitchen when tile and concrete would not be harmed.
While they will last indefinitely, kitchen wood floors should be lightly sanded and recoated every 4-7 years for moisture protection and refinished as needed, perhaps every 12-17 years depending on wear, if their beauty is diminished.
HARDWOOD KITCHEN FLOORING TIPS:
- To protect against scratches and dents, use hardwood in the kitchen that has a high Janka Hardness rating (see types of hardwood flooring above).
- Seal hardwood floors in the kitchen after installation (site finished vs. factory finished hardwood), so that a layer or two of sealer bridges the gaps between planks to prevent moisture from seeping between them.
- Consider an oil-based polyurethane sealer because it will allow the wood to “breathe,” releasing moisture. Water-based polyurethane traps moisture.
- Put pads on the bottom of chair and table legs to prevent dents and scratches; pick up and move rather than drag heavy items.
- Clean up spills promptly.
- Don’t allow wet shoes or an umbrella to sit on hardwood.
- Never use a steam cleaner on hardwood because moisture can be forced into the joints between planks.
- Shut off the water, call a plumber and your hardwood flooring specialist immediately if you discover a leaking pipe or a refrigerator or dishwasher that is wetting the flooring.
- If you’re still leery of wood floors in the kitchen, consider engineered hardwood which is more structurally stable.
Further Reading: How to Clean Hardwood Floors
The bottom line is that there is no reason to avoid using wood floors in kitchen areas. One of the leading experts on home renovations agrees. Tom Silva, of This Old House, is a fan of wood floors in kitchens. While he’s been misquoted elsewhere, his full comment on the subject is,
“While some feel it’s an unusual choice now that there are so many different flooring options, I personally think hardwood is an excellent choice for the kitchen. Everybody ends up spending a lot of time there, and wood floors can add a great deal of ‘homeyness’ to the kitchen.”
KITCHEN WOOD FLOORING COST
There are a number of variables that will affect the cost of hardwood flooring in your kitchen. Generally speaking, you’ll find that domestic hardwood flooring is cheaper than exotic hardwood flooring; and that engineered hardwood is cheaper than solid. Here is a very simple table that gives you an idea:
|Type||Cost Range||Average/ sq. ft.|
|Domestic Solid||$3.30 – $8.00||$5.60|
|Domestic Engineered||$1.50 – $6.50||$4.00|
|Exotic Solid||$4.50 – $14.00||$9.00|
|Exotic Engineered||$4.00 – $12.00||$7.50|
Bear in mind that unfinished hardwood planks, that you then finish on site, are cheaper than pre-finished hardwoods.
As well as the actual wood, you’ll also need to factor in installation costs. Hardwood installation costs are generally around $4.50-$7.00 per square foot. Our cost to install hardwood flooring report gives a much more in-depth review of all the variables; but here are specifics considerations for hardwood installation in your kitchen:
Kitchen Layout – The more complicated the layout of your kitchen is, the higher the installation cost will be; so, if the wood flooring will need to be trimmed around a kitchen island, or transitioned through several doorways, then your contractor will be adding more to his quote to allow for the extra labor involved.
Kitchen Size – Counterintuitively, often the larger your kitchen the lower the hardwood installation price. This is because your contractor is also allowing for overheads such as travel costs, set up and clean up – which tend to be the same no matter how large a kitchen you have.
Subfloor preparation – If you need the existing kitchen floor to be removed, and/or subfloor to be prepared, then this will also add to the overall installation costs.
HOW TO BUY THE BEST HARDWOOD FOR YOUR KITCHEN FLOOR
Here are a few Home Flooring Pros tips to a smarter hardwood kitchen floor purchase:
- Choose a hardwood flooring product with rich and varied character, so accumulated dings and scratches won’t stand out. This will delay the need for refinishing.
- Only consider hardwood floors where you can get a sample first to take home and see in situ; different kitchen lighting – both natural and electrical – can really affect our perception of colors. If you’ve already decided on kitchen cabinets and worktops, then you’ll be maximizing your investment by ensuring your kitchen hardwood matches aesthetically.
- Understand the importance of your subfloor type, as this could determine the type of hardwood flooring you can choose, and which installation method would be best. A plywood subfloor can easily accommodate both solid and engineered hardwood. A concrete subfloor, however, would need a plywood subfloor layer before installing solid hardwood; engineered hardwood can be installed direct onto concrete provided it’s absolutely even.
- Be aware of any height restrictions, particularly if you’ll be needing to add both an extra plywood subfloor and then the hardwood flooring on top. This is especially important if your kitchen has an exterior door coming off it, as changes to flooring height may mean that you need to trim your doors – not always cheap or easy if your doors are metal.
- Ensure that your flooring contractor gives you an itemized and thorough quote so that you know exactly what you’ll be paying for. Note that some jobs – such as removing existing flooring and prepping subfloors – could be done yourself to minimize the final installation quote.
HARDWOOD KITCHEN FLOORING BRANDS
There are numerous hardwood flooring brands on the market, offering both solid and engineered hardwood. Prices vary according to both hardwood species and quality.
The best solid hardwood brands have a track record of offering great value for beautiful authentic wood planks that stand the test of time.
These include Bruce and Blue Ridge in the budget/ mid range ($3.30 – $7.00 per square foot); Mullican, Johnson, Mohawk SolidWood and Somerset Flooring in the mid to upper range ($4.30 – $9.00 per square foot); and Anderson Solid Hardwood at the top of the range ($8.00 – $12.00 per square foot).
The best engineered hardwood brands get good reviews for offering well-produced products with a large range of styles, colors and wood varieties.
These include budget ranges such as Jasper, Pergo Max Flooring and LM Flooring ($1.50 – $5.00 per square foot); mid-range options from Mohawk TecWood, LifeCore, Mullican, Johnson and Somerset Engineered ($4.00 – $8.50 per square foot); and top-end flooring from Kährs Hardwood and Anderson Engineered ($6.00 – $14.00 per square foot).
You can read in-depth reports for many of these brands in our flooring brand section.
KITCHEN WOOD LOOK FLOORING ALTERNATIVES
If you have considered all the variables – location, budget, ease of installation, humidity – and still feel that solid or engineered hardwood is not suitable for your kitchen, there are a number of alternative options that – though never exactly like the real deal – will nevertheless give you the classic look of hardwood. Let’s have a look at some examples.
WOOD LOOK LAMINATE: TIMELESS AESTHETIC, WITH WARM BROWN STAIN
A truly classic look, opting for solid hardwood with a warm brown stain is an aesthetic that works with both traditional and modern furnishings, making it a great choice for flooring that can adapt as styles and tastes change.
Here’s the perfect example from Armstrong, an oak floor from their Paragon solid hardwood collection – here in the Bending Creek colorway.
But if the price of solid oak is beyond your budget, then a cheaper option would be a good quality wood look laminate, which frankly only the very trained expert could tell apart from a true solid hardwood. Here is an example of a gorgeous warm brown laminate with a hint of red tone, also from Armstrong, but this time featuring acacia wood in the Cayenne Spice colorway.
Pros of laminate over hardwood:
Usually much cheaper than hardwood; easy installation.
Cons of laminate over hardwood:
Can warp in very humid conditions, choose the best quality you can find and ensure it is properly sealed.
WOOD LOOK LUXURY VINYL PLANK: TRANSITIONAL AESTHETIC, WITH GRAY UNDERTONES
If you’re looking to bridge the gap between classic and modern, then you’re aiming for transitional décor which can be enhanced with a traditional hardwood floor in dark brown that has a hint of gray tone and texture to give it a more modern feel. A lovely example of this is the engineered maple from Mannington Maison Versailles collection in the Fountain colorway.
Now, as we’ve said, engineered hardwood is a good choice if you are somewhat concerned about humidity levels in your kitchen; however, if you are truly, very concerned then opting for kitchen vinyl flooring is the way to go. Here’s an example, also from Mannington, featuring a textured hickory design from the Adura Seaport collection in the Wharf colorway. You should also take a look at Armstrong’s Luxe plank range.
Pros of LVT over hardwood:
Very good for humid situations; modern technology allows good quality LVT designs to look very authentic.
Cons of LVT over hardwood:
Might lack that real feel of wood underfoot – LVT is essentially a product made of vinyl and high density fiberboard.
WOOD LOOK VINYL SHEET: CONTEMPORARY AESTHETIC, DEEP GRAY
Gray toned hardwood flooring is very much of the moment these days, so if you want to create a kitchen design that is resolutely contemporary then choose one of the many pre-stained and beautiful gray toned hardwood floors. Here is a great example from Shaw Floors, from their engineered Acacia collection, in the Cocoa colorway.
If you like this look, but have a very limited budget plus concerns about humidity then you might consider installing vinyl sheet. As with LVT, modern printing techniques makes the designs on today’s vinyl sheet look much more like the real thing. For example, have a look at the lovely details on the City Park vinyl sheet collection from Shaw Floors, here in the Signage colorway that mimics beautiful gray-toned hardwood planks.
Pros of vinyl sheet over hardwood:
Best for low budgets; continuous sheet of vinyl is a very good option in highly humid situations – no cracking and minimal likelihood of leaks causing damage.
Cons of vinyl sheet over hardwood:
You would need to see a sample up close to check how authentic it looks; definitely does not feel anything like real hardwood.
WOOD LOOK CERAMIC TILE: MINIMALIST/ SCANDI AESTHETIC, WITH LIGHT AND AIRY TONES
If the previous options seem too dark for you, then you might prefer the light and airy aesthetic of minimalist or Scandinavian interiors. The key to this look is to choose a floor that is as close to the natural wood state as possible, one that is just very lightly stained, or perhaps whitewashed. This one from Bruce Flooring – their solid oak in Snow Peak colorway – is a perfect example.
However, the one concern you might have about putting such a light wood in a kitchen environment would be potential damage from dirt and food spills that could stain. A decent polyurethane finish should be protection enough, but if your kitchen is going to be a seriously high traffic zone then an easy-clean, hard wearing, wood look ceramic tile could be a better option. Here’s an example from Marca Corona – from their Cottage collection in the Gray colorway – that captures the minimalist/ Scandi aesthetic perfectly.
Pros of wood look tile over hardwood:
Hard wearing and easy to clean; excellent for highly humid environments.
Cons of wood look tile over hardwood:
Whilst it will certain look like the real thing, ceramic tile does not have the same softness; the better quality wood look tiles are not any cheaper than decent hardwood flooring.
About the Author:
Jamie Sandford is the Owner and Chief Editor of Home Flooring Pros (find out more). After 10 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-overcomplicated 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.”