I'll never forget the day my floors were sanded during our months-long (and torturous) remodel. As I walked into the living room, my contractor presented his labor of love: pink-hued oak floors. With a sweep of the hand, he said, "How do you like your new floors?" I replied, "They're red!" I’m not sure if he detected the disappointment in my voice, but he said, “Of course, that's because they're red oak.”
At this point, my floor contractor realized he wasn't dealing with a typical client. To resolve the "red" problem, he suggested a range of dark stains: ebony, walnut, and chestnut, which are commonly used on red oak flooring. None of the above reflected my vision; I was adamant that I wanted an all white house with white floors and I was prepared to go to battle for them. But according to my contractor, if we whitewashed the floors we would risk producing an even more pastel pink floor.
"Have you ever bleached floors before?" I asked (in my research on creating whitewashed Scandi floors, I had discovered designer Betsy Brown's foolproof Recipe for creating white wood floors).
The contractor looked at me bemused, and after a pause informed me of potential damage to the fibers of the wood caused by the bleach. Apparently, I was asking him to break a sacred oath of the wood finisher’s union. He also made it very clear we would be entering into a contract from this point forward, without the standard "satisfaction guarantee." We were past the point of no return.
I handed him a printout of the instructions, which called for a tedious process of bleaching the floors (twice), mixing a stain, and finishing with three layers of water-based poly (oil-based polys can turn amber over time). He also needed to lightly sand in between the first and second poly layer—oh, and factor in endless hours of drying time in between each layer.
Interested in how the project turned out? Read on.
Above: My dream white-bleached floors realized; for step-by-step instructions, go to How to Create a Whitewashed Scandi Floor.
Above: About 70 percent of our floors were old, and in the other areas, new floor boards were added to match the old floors. This image shows an old bedroom floor completely sanded. We added a small patch of clear poly to see how the old floor would look with a clear coat; I was shocked to see how the finish intensified the pink color.
Above: The floor contractor patiently bleached a series of sample red oak floor boards to see what the floor would look like with three different stains: white, gray, and clear.
Above: These test boards were bleached twice. When I saw this, I knew there was hope.
Above: The floors after two rounds of wood bleach. You can still see a hint of redness. We ended up bleaching the floors three times to get the look we wanted. After the bleach dried, our contractor applied a Duraseal Country White stain to the old floors (leaving the new floors without the white stain). This process gave us the best matching result between new and old. A sealer was applied to keep the wood bleach from changing the color of the floor after the process was completed (apparently, without the sealer the bleach can cause the wood to change colors), and finally, two coats of Zenith Matte Waterborne Polyurethane Finish (for commercial use). My husband was relieved when we discovered this is the same product used on basketball courts (needless to say, our floors are child proof).
Looking to add a little remodeling stress to your life? Get advice from our Remodeling 101 posts, including Five Things to Know About Radiant Heat Flooring. Considering bleached wood floors? Have a look at World's Most Beautiful Wood Floors. And for more approaches to lightening wood floors, see our book Remodelista, A Manual for the Considered Home.
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on March 13, 2013 as part of our Do-It-Yourself issue.