White Oak vs Red Oak Floors: Which is Better? (9 Key Differences)

by | Dec 14, 2021

White Oak vs Red Oak Floors: Which is Better? (9 Key Differences)

Your choice of flooring options is one of the most critical decisions when renovating your home. Most people opt for wood floors, specifically oaks. Oaks are affordable, durable, and their beauty elevates any home, big or small. In this article, we pit white oak vs red oak floors together and find out their differences. Both hardwoods may come from the same genus of trees, but they actually have different characteristics and applications. 

What are white oaks and red oaks

A full-grown white oak tree is distinguishable from red oak through its round-lobbed leaves.

White oak (Quercus alba)

White oak, also known as the American White Oak, is an enduring oak tree native to North America. Many think that a white oak’s wood is white, but it is actually light grey. In fact, its name derives from its leaves, which have a unique whitish underside.   The white oak hardwood is also highly sought after because of its versatility and contemporary finish that is compatible with most furniture sets. Aside from that, white oak floors are durable, moisture-resistant, and affordable.  Overall, the white oak is an all-rounded flooring type that you can use in many parts of your home.   The leaves on a red oak tree has sharper edges.

Red oak 

Red oak is a native North American tree that you can find in many parts of the US. There are two types of red oaks, northern red oak (Quercus rubra) and southern red oak (Quercus falcata). Despite being of the same red oak family, northern and southern red oaks have different characteristics and, in turn, different uses.  The northern red oak is adaptable to most environments, making it one of the most readily available hardwoods on the market. Its growth rate is also quicker than the southern red oak, which causes it to have tighter growth rings and more consistent color gradings.  Southern red oak is highly similar to northern red oak but has a longer growth rate, is softer, and less durable. Thus, it’s considered to be somewhat of an inferior version to northern red oak. However, some people prefer using southern red oak for furniture because it isn’t as dense. 

White oak vs red oak floors

There is an ongoing debate on white oak vs red oak floors. Both white oak and red oak floors have distinct characteristics that are easily mixed up by the untrained eye. However, 9 key differences separate white oak and red oak floors.

White oak floors Red oak floors
Darker with brown and yellow tintColorLighter color with reddish undertones
1,350Janka hardness rating1,220
SmoothGrain patternsRough
ExcellentRot resistanceInferior
Excellent Water resistanceSusceptible to water stains
Slightly more expensivePriceAffordable
Low carbon footprintEnvironmental impactLow carbon footprint
Suitable for contemporary lookCompatibilitySuitable for rustic settings
Flooring for areas with high foot traffic, water-prone surfacesCommon usesFurniture, tool handles, flooring for areas with low foot traffic

Color and stains

White oak floors is darker than red oak floors.

Credit: The Wood Database

Contrary to their names, white oak actually has a darker tone than red oak. White oak comes in beige, brown shades with a yellow tint, whereas red oak has a slight red undertone to its color.  As a result, both oaks result in different colors after staining them. If you apply the same color stain to both oaks, white oak will turn out darker than red oak. Also, you can still see red oak’s pinkish hue when you apply a light stain on it. Regardless, the color differences will diminish the darker you stain both oaks.

Hardness

Janka hardness refers to how much force is required to embed a dent into a wood via a coin.

Credit: The Wood Database

White oak is harder than red oak, but that does not necessarily mean it is better than the latter. Manufacturers commonly use it for flooring since white oak is more impervious to scratches and dents. On the other hand, people prefer using red oak to craft furniture because it is softer and easier to bend around.  Red oak has a Janka hardness rating of 1,220, whereas white oak has a Janka hardness scale of 1,350. Note: The way to measure the hardness of wood is the Janka hardness scale. It refers to the amount of force required to imbed a 0.444” (11.28mm) diameter steel ball into the wood until half the ball’s diameter. 

Grain patterns

Red oak floors have more defined grain textures and they also have reddish hues.

Credit: The Wood Database

White oak has a more seamless grain than red oak. In contrast, red oak’s grains have a rougher look which may not be to some’s liking. Both white and red oak have coarse grains with uneven textures. The two oaks also have straight grain patterns.  

Rot resistance

White oak has high decay and rot resistance. The white oak’s durability makes it highly suitable for tight craftworks such as wine barrels, boats, and flooring. On the other hand, red oak is more susceptible to rot and has poor insect resistance. 

Water resistance

White oak is more impervious to moisture and does stain easily because of liquid spills. Since white oak is watertight, manufacturers love to use it on surfaces that frequently come into contact with water—for example, bridges, boats, and fences.  Unlike white oak, red oak is susceptible to water stains and should not be used in outdoor furniture. However, do note that there is no such thing as 100% waterproof hardwood and should be kept dry regularly. 

Price

Both oaks are affordable hardwood with negligible price differences. Red oak has a shorter growth rate and thus is more available, making it slightly cheaper than white oak. That said, the prices of specific hardwoods heavily depend on the wood grade, seller, and plank width. 

Environmental impact

The IUCN has classified oaks as a species of least concern. Their low carbon footprints make white and red oaks more environmental-friendly than other flooring and building alternatives. Not to mention that their abundant numbers make them a naturally renewable resource, thus using them causes little to no effect on the environment.  However, while oak is a sustainable raw material, the overall sustainability of the manufacturing process still depends on the manufacturer. Eco-friendly hardwood flooring and construction companies will ensure that every step of their work process produces as little carbon footprint as possible. 

Compatibility 

White oak exudes a more contemporary feel because of its sleek graining. The brown and olive undertones also make it a great match for furniture in neutral colors such as grey, brown, white, or black.  On the other hand, red oak’s red or pinkish hue creates a “woody” overtone in the home. So, we recommend you pair red oak with other furniture made of wood. Homeowners also prefer using red oak in transition areas like stair treads and banisters. 

Common uses

Both red and white oak are great choices for flooring. While both slightly differ in price and density, oak is generally a perfect blend of affordability, beauty, and durability. Since white oak is watertight, it’s commonly used on bridges, wine barrels, and boats. White oak is also the preferred choice for flooring due to its durability, allowing it to withstand high foot traffic. On the other hand, red oak is softer and is an excellent choice for furniture, tool handles, and small boxes. Some people also use red oak floors, but they usually reserve them for low-traffic areas such as bedrooms.

How to tell the difference between white oak and red oak 

Some homeowners make the mistake of using red and white oaks on the same floor. White and red oaks will never blend seamlessly despite both hardwoods being of the same genus. At a glance, both hardwoods may be hardly noticeable. However, a floor with two different shades can be an embarrassing sight! One way to differentiate between the two oaks is to look at their color. Red oak has a salmon, reddish undertone, whereas white oak is darker with brown or yellow hues. You should also pay attention to their grains: white oak has a smoother texture as opposed to red oak’s rough finish.  The differences between their natural colors are also more evident with lighter stains. However, both hardwoods appear almost the same in darker stains. So if you ever mixed up on white oak and red oaks, you know what to do!

Other types of hardwood 

While oak is the favorite among homeowners and flooring companies, it isn’t the only type of hardwood available. There are plenty of alternatives available and many of these options are native woods here in the US.

maple wood floors

Credit: Gemini Floors

Maple: Maple wood is often harder than oak and has a variety of grain patterns. It is commonly used on floors because of its resistance to scratches and dents. Moreover, maple wood’s natural colors provide a clear finish and are suitable for contemporary homes. 

hickory wood floors

Credit: Gemini Floors

Hickory: Hickory wood has an intense knotted grain pattern common among homes with wood-centric themes. You can also use hickory wood in rustic settings or high-traffic areas because of its high Janka hardness rating. 

walnut wood floors

Credit: Gemini Floors

Walnut: American walnut (not to be confused with Brazilian walnut) is soft and elegant, making them perfect for low-traffic areas such as living rooms. Its natural colors vary from light to dark brown. 

cherry wood floors

Credit: Gemini Floors

Cherry wood: Like the American walnut, cherry wood floors have lower Janka hardness ratings. However, what if lacks in sturdiness it makes up with its beautiful natural color. Moreover, cherry wood has great dimensional stability, meaning that it has low shrinkage when exposed to temperature changes. 

birch wood floors

Credit: Gemini Floors

Birch: Birch is another abundant and highly affordable flooring option, making it a popular choice among homeowners. This hardwood varies in hardiness ratings and color, allowing Birch to be a versatile option for any home setting. 

bamboo floors

Credit: Gemini Floors

Bamboo: Bamboo is the only flooring in this list that is not hardwood – bamboo is actually a type of grass. Manufacturers harvest many strips of bamboo and compress them into bamboo planks. Bamboo is also an eco-friendly flooring choice because of its rapid growth rate, with some species growing 3 feet every day. 

Key takeaways

There are many types of oak trees, but the two most common ones are white oak (Quercus alba) and red oak (Quercus rubra). White oak is harder and more scratch-resistant than red oak. Moreover, white oak is less susceptible to rot and water seepage than red oak.  Oak is also an eco-friendly option for flooring materials because of its low carbon footprint. Since oak is readily available, it is budget-friendly and is a favorite option among new homeowners.  Do you know of any other pro tips that will be useful for others who’re considering using oak floors? Let us know in the comment section below!

Jason Beischel is a Remodeler by profession and is always ready for the challenge and surprise that the next remodeling job throws at him. And given his extensive knowledge in real estate, contracting, and interior design, he provides actionable DIY tips online and has consolidated extensive excerpts with details on how to go about the various home repair activities. Enthusiasts will also access information on the best products that they can use in the process. Jason leads a team of renovators, he loves traveling and does not shy away from challenging opportunities that present away from familiar ground. According to Jason, every human deserves a comfortable home from where they can build their future.

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