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Does Oak Flooring Darken With Age?

Background of an antique, naturally darkened room made of wood, with a beech-textured, untidy, cracked floor.

Most types of oak flooring will become darker over time.  This is due to several different factors.

If you’re in the market for new flooring, you probably want something that will last for years.  Flooring can be one of the more expensive home improvements that homeowners can make, so it only makes sense to think about how long your new floors will last.

Hardwood floors, such as oak, are often sold as materials that will last a lifetime. While it is true that oak floors will last for decades if cared for properly, it is important to really understand the material that you’re putting into your home or office.  

Oak floors have a tendency to turn dark after prolonged exposure to light, which can disappoint people who spent hours selecting the exact right shade of flooring.

Why Do Oak Floors Turn Dark?

Background of an old, natural wooden interior that has been abandoned and neglected. It has wood, shadows, and a dull, dim light.

Like many hardwoods, oak is a wood that is photosensitive; that is, it changes color when exposed to light.  In the case of oak, it doesn’t matter if the light is UV (such as from the sun), visible light, or infrared. There are chemicals in the wood that will cause the wood to turn darker once light has been absorbed.

This is often evident in older homes that have oak floors that are decades or even hundreds of years old. The floors in these homes are often significantly darker than new oak floors.

How Can I Prevent My Oak Floors From Darkening?

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to slow down this process.  Be aware, however, that these methods do not guarantee that the wood will never turn darker.  Given enough time, oak floors will gradually move to dark brown or even black.

Rugs and Carpets

Very cozy, lovely living area with high heels worn by a businesswoman.

By covering the wood with a rug or carpet, you’re preventing light from reaching the wood.  This can help to delay the darkening process, but be aware that some light will still reach the floors.  In some cases, there may even be discoloration as moisture seeps through the rug, picks up the dyes, and deposits them on the wood.


Modern minimalism, sofa and curtain in the living room.

Light-blocking curtains will also prevent most of the light from reaching the wood floors.  This is why many new homes constructed with oak floors will be shown with heavy curtains.

Of course, curtains will only work if you don’t turn on lights to make up for the lack of sunlight.  Remember all types of light will darken oak floors.

Stains and Varnish

A close-up paintbrush is used in a carpentry workshop to apply paint or varnish to a wooden board.

There are several types of stains and varnish that are sold with the express purpose of preventing oak floors from darkening or fading.  In the case of staining, however, it is very difficult to treat the wood without the color changing.  Even clear varnish will cause some small amount of color change in the flooring.

Furthermore, clear varnish will likely not help with blocking light from reaching the wood.  In general, if your eyes can see the wood, that means light is reaching it.  Since clear varnish allows you to see the wood underneath, it will also let a lot of light through to the wood. 

The varnish will not allow air to reach the wood, however, which is an essential part of the process that turns wood dark.  This means that as soon as the varnish is removed, the wood will turn dark very quickly, but it will not darken as long as the varnish is intact.

Related: Can You Stain Oak Floor Grey? How?

What Can I Do to Lighten My Oak Floors?

If you have older oak floors that have already turned dark with age, there are several things you can do to turn them lighter.  


Hardwood floor sanding with a grinding machine.

Sanding your floors will remove the layer of dark wood and expose the wood underneath that has not yet been exposed to light.  Of course, this layer will also turn dark unless you do something to prevent light from reaching this layer.  Furthermore, most floors can only be sanded once or twice before they become too thin.

Chemical Abrasion

These are store-bought kits that essentially use cleaning products to strip away the layer of dark wood that has built up on the floors.  Just like with physical sanding, however, you will need to put something down to protect the floors, or they will turn dark again.


Staining will hide some of the natural beauty of oak floors, but it will also provide a lot of protection.  If your floors have reached the point where they cannot be stripped anymore, staining will give them a small layer of protection and help to extend their life. 

Stains come in a wide variety of colors, so you have a lot of options when it comes to what your floors will look like.

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