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Why Do Oak Floors Turn Yellow?

A hardwood oak floor build outdoors turning into yellow.

Hardwood floors are much-coveted by homeowners and designers. Thanks to their sturdiness, aesthetic appearance, and longevity, they make an ideal flooring surface for homes. But if you have noticed your hardwood oak floors turning yellow, there is no need to despair. Here are the top reasons that oak floors turn yellow and what you can do about it. 

Why Do Oak Floors Turn Yellow? 

1. Sunlight Exposure

The top reason that oak floors turn yellow is overexposure to UV light. Wood is photosensitive, meaning that it has a chemical response to light. Much like we get tan when we spend too much time in the sun, wood — especially commonly-used household woods like oak and hickory — changes color when overexposed to UV light. 

2. Age

As hardwood floors age, they all become discolored, no matter how much care they get. If your oak floor has been around for decades, it is likely to turn yellow. This is the case for both white and red oak floors

3. Cleaning Issues

A woman used a mop for cleaning a hardwoord oak floors.

Sometimes, oak floors can become discolored thanks to poor cleaning. If you use a regular mop, you might be spreading around more dirt than you realize. Flooring is good at catching extra dirt and grime and trapping it in tiny spaces. This can lead to yellowing even with regular cleaning and maintenance. 

4. Wood Finish

Some types of wood finish can affect the color of your oak floor, most particularly any wood finish that uses oil-based polyurethane. These compounds oxidize when they are exposed to natural light, leaving a yellow pigmentation. 

5. Paint

It might seem like a sin in this day and age, but once upon a time, painting floors — even hardwood floors — as standard. If your oak floor has a coat of paint, especially a light color like white or eggshell, it will become discolored with age. Painted floors can be especially difficult to clean, which will also affect their color as time goes by.

Do All Kinds of Oak Floors Turn Yellow? 

There are several types of oak, any of which may be used for flooring. The two most commonly used are red oak and white oak.  

The short answer is that any type of oak floor may be affected by UV light and change color. However, you are more likely to notice a change in white oak thanks to its lighter shade. 

How Long Does it Take Oak Floors to Turn Yellow?

A simple concept house with oak floors and walls outdoors.

There is no definitive answer for how long it might take your oak floors to be affected. It all comes down to how much light exposure they get (or whether they are also affected by another factor). 

It is recommended that you refinish your oak floors every eight to 10 years. So it seems fair to say that you can expect to notice some discoloration after roughly a decade, all other factors considered. 

What Can You do to Stop Oak Floors From Turning Yellow?

The solution to your oak floor turning yellow depends on what is causing the color change. As we outlined above, there are several reasons why oak floors might change color over time. The first step is to figure out the cause to find an effective solution. 

Problem #1: The Floors Are Overexposed to UV Light

An oak hradwood flooring on deck exposed to a UV sun rays.

The Solution: Unfortunately, there is no perfect way to block all UV light from your floors. The best solution is to make sure that you install blinds or curtains and ensure that they are closed during the time of day when the sunlight is most direct. You can also install UV-blocking window screens or films, which will reduce the effect on your floors. 

Problem #2: The Floors Are Yellow With Age

The Solution: Obviously, there is no way to turn back the clock. The best way to fight age-related discoloration is to make sure you refinish your floor roughly every 10 years. You can also slow yellowing by maintaining your floor, including cleaning it and protecting it from excess light.

Problem #3: You’re Spreading Dirt When You Clean

The Solution: The best way to combat spreading dirt around the floor is to make sure you use two buckets of water. Clean the mophead in one bucket, then submerge it in the other to get clean water. You can also mop more effectively with a high-quality mophead, such as microfiber. 

Problem #4: You Have an Oil-Based Polyurethane Wood Finish

The Solution: If your wood finish is discoloring your floors, the best solution is to refinish it. Instead of an oil-based finish, opt for a water-based finish and apply it carefully and thoroughly. Refinishing can be an arduous process since you will need to sand away the discoloration first, then carefully apply the new finish with precise strokes. 

Problem #5: Your Painted Floor is Becoming Discolored

The Solution: If your oak floors are painted and the paint is becoming discolored, you have a couple of options. You can always repaint them in a darker color if you like. However, most people prefer to strip the paint and refinish the floor with a wood finish that draws attention to its natural coloring.

Maintaining Your Oak Floors

A man refinishing an oak hardwood floor on deck exposed to UV rays.

Ultimately, there is no single reason why oak floors turn yellow — and to some degree, there is no way to avoid it. However, with the proper care and maintenance, you can keep your oak floors looking bright and attractive for many years to come.

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