Red Oak vs. White Oak Flooring: What’s The Difference?

Kenneth Wilson

With dozens of oak tree varieties, there are only two main distinctions you need to keep in mind– red oak vs. white oak.

Fortunately, oak wood floors are easily accessible and cost-effective. Both oak floors are considerably a crowd-favorite choice in the country, especially among hardwood flooring enthusiasts. (Related: Oak vs. Maple Flooring: How Do They Stack Up?)

While the general crowd favors white oak over red oak– let's discuss why you should consider both varieties equally.

Major Differences of Red Oak vs. White Oak Floors

Don't worry. Pointing out the difference between red oak and white oak can be relatively easy– as you can expect several distinguishing features between the two wood types.

For starters, red oak stains rather really well. It can finish relatively easily and far more evenly. Meanwhile, white oak is more moisture and rot resistant with a less grainy pattern.

Let's discuss the differences between red and white oak floors more, especially in color variations, grain patterns, hardness, water resistance, etc.

White Oak Floors

Red Oak Floors

Tight, linear graining

Dramatic grain patterns

Has a yellow undertone

Has a red/pink undertone

Stains rather well

Harder to stain than white oak

Fit for modern homes

Suitable for traditional homes

More water-resistant

Has a weak water-resistance


Although it’s quite understandable to assume red oak is naturally darker than white oak floors– this may not be always the case.

White oak floors combine the colors of brown and tan, while red oak features red and pinkish hue tones. At first glance, both oak varieties may seem to be similar in appearance, but the difference can be more distinct depending on your preferred stain type.

Grain Pattern

The next factor to help you distinguish the two flooring types is their unique grain patterns. Red oak has a robust and vibrant grain pattern compared to white oak.

Three main red oak grain patterns depend on their woodcut. These are:

  • Plain-sawn - Offers a flared or plumed grain appearance. It has the most noticeable grain style for standard red oak floors.
  • Rift-sawn - Low-figure and tighter grain pattern boards. Its grain visibility has a more subtle appearance.
  • Quartersawn - These boards are somewhere in the middle regarding grain visibility. Most feature a flake pattern, commonly known as butterflies or tiger rays.

With its stronger graining, you can easily conceal dents and scratches over time. If your household has quite heavy foot traffic, with several kids or furry pets running around, you can benefit from this.

Aesthetic-wise, several homeowners consider the wide graining to be relatively warm and welcoming to the eyes. You'll find it particularly blending well with traditional furniture as well as cozy rugs.

In contrast, white oak floors feature small and tight grain lines– so it's visually smoother (more uniform) than its red oak counterpart. It also features a modern design aesthetic.

That said, white oak may appear to be a more solid floor due to its uniform grain and number of swirls– but red oak is just as durable.


Both types of oak hardwood floors are notably durable. However, white oak may have a slight edge at the hardness level than its red oak counterpart.

White oak has a rating of 1360 on the Janka hardness scale, while red oak only has a 1290 rating.  Although this difference doesn't seem too significant, white oak is your best bet if you look for harder floors. It's commonly used in outdoor spaces, such as patios, as it can stand up to different seasonal changes.

Red oak is known for its unique visual appeal, so if the absolute hardness of the wood isn't your top priority– you'll still be fine choosing them instead.


On hardwood floors, possible water damage is always a huge concern of many. There's no hardwood flooring type that's completely waterproof– so both red and white oak can be prone to water damage.

However, white oak does a notably better job withstanding water as it is a closed-grain wood type. It's better to choose white oak for areas that will be more exposed to spills and other types of water exposure.

Fun fact: This is why white oak is primarily utilized for beer/wine barrels as well as boats.

If you're installing floors in an area where water leaks will not be a significant concern, you can still opt for red oak flooring.


Both types of oak hardwood floors are considerably cost-effective. However, you'll find that red oak floors are cheaper to install than white oak floors.

This is primarily because red oak trees are more abundant throughout the country, making them more affordable.

The prices of the two tend to fluctuate often, depending on the lumber availability in your area. Other factors influencing the price are the brand, wood grade, and plank dimensions.

Red Oak vs. White Oak: Which One is Best for my Floors?

Now that we've covered the significant differences between red oak and white oak floors– you'll find that both oak floors are considerably stunning and highly durable.

Before you choose a specific oak floor type for your home needs, weigh the pros and cons of each to ensure you're making the right choice.

Each of these varieties has its unique features, pros, and cons– making it easier for you to distinguish the correct choice for your situation.

White oak floors are perceived to give you a more beautiful finished appearance, but once you apply darker stains– you'll find the difference between the two (in terms of visual appeal) doesn't matter that much.

If you're working with a tight budget, red oak may prove to be the better choice. It is also widely available in most parts of the country, saving you the hassle of sourcing them.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What do white oak floors look like?

When properly installed, white oak floors can give you visually appealing flooring in any look you want. This material can be finished in several ways, including a refined look to rustic vibes. It's why white oak is considered an excellent choice for your hardwood flooring needs. Whether you choose to apply a dark stain or leave its natural appearance, it will undoubtedly look stunning!

What is the main consideration in choosing white oak floors?

In considering the unique advantages and setbacks of white oak floors, consider important factors such as their hardness. Though this makes it quite challenging to work with, this innate hardness is why white oak is highly durable and long-lasting. However, white oak will also be susceptible to cracks (despite its hardness), especially with poor maintenance.

Which is better: Pre-finished or unfinished red oak hardwood floors?

This question boils down to a matter of preference. If you choose to go with red oak floors, you must select between pre-finished or unfinished red oak planks. Some brands offer pre-finished red oak flooring planks conveniently stained with a color of your choosing. This will also cost you a bit more. Meanwhile, other manufacturers provide red oak floors with unfinished surfaces. Homeowners are free to customize a finish of their preference, giving them a more consistent and resilient colored floor.

Final Thoughts

Undoubtedly, oak hardwood floors continue to soar in popularity for good reasons. It’s durable, readily accessible, and can last you up to 100 years (given proper maintenance)!

Both red and white oak are great flooring options to consider. If you’re wondering which one is best for your home needs, it will most likely depend on your personal preference.

Kenneth Wilson
January 4, 2022

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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