Two hardwood flooring trends are converging to make reactive staining more popular in the 21st century. First and foremost, more people are choosing hardwood floors for their home. They have greater access to hardwood flooring than ever before because there are more suppliers and more options. That means that many people are looking for more unique ways to make their own hardwood floors stand out. Furthermore, the trend towards rustic and farmhouse looks has been growing as well. Many homeowners are choosing distressed wood or genuine reclaimed barn wood for their homes. That look can be replicated somewhat by a reactive stain.
What Is a Reactive Stain?
The typical type of stain is a pigmented stain. It’s a set of pigments that are suspended in a solution. When applied to wood, the pigment seeps into the pores of the wood and stains it a certain color. That’s how most floors and wooden products are stained. A reactive stain doesn’t actually have any pigments. Instead, it is a series of chemicals that will react with natural tannins in the wood to turn the wood different colors.
Tannins are organic compounds naturally evident in wood. They change the color of wood over time. Tannins give red wine its color, stain your driveway when acorns sit for too long, and pigment the grains in your hardwood floor. A reactive stain can be tailored to react to certain types of tannins in certain woods. The reaction will dictate what it does to the wood and how it alters its appearance.
Which Woods React?
All woods contain some levels of tannins and will thus react to a reactive stain. However, no two pieces of wood are alike, and thus, each reaction will be different. White oak contains some of the highest levels of tannins of any commonly-used hardwood. Therefore, it is often the choice when people are applying reactive stains. Reactive stains typically react with tannins to produce one of two outcomes; they either bleach the wood or they darken the grain. Oftentimes, they do both.
You can emulate the look of weathering on hardwood floors with a reactive stain that bleaches the wood. It will leach color from the growth wood, which is a similar effect that one might expect from years of wind and rain.
If you’re looking for a uniformity of color, a reactive stain might not be for you. However, if you want something that looks rustic and unpredictable, that could be the best option.