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5 Common Reasons Why Hardwood Floors Turn Yellow 

Hardwood floors are durable, suit most decor themes, and are very beautiful, but sometimes they can become discolored and can even turn yellow. If the homeowner or resident doesn’t know the reason for this, they may think the flooring is defective, or that they’ve done something wrong. The truth is, there are many reasons why hardwood floors turn yellow.

Here are 5 common reasons why hardwood floors turn yellow: 

  1. Overexposure to sunlight
  2. The floor has an oil-based polyurethane finish
  3. The wood is aging
  4. Mopping issues
  5. The hardwood floors are painted white

The rest of this article explains why each of the above reasons can result in yellowing floors and offers solutions. So, if you want to solve your yellow floor woes, keep reading! 

Common causes of yellowing hardwood flooring.

1. Overexposure to Sunlight 

If you get a lot of natural sunlight coming into your room, there’s a good chance that the UV light from the sun’s rays is changing the color of your hardwood floor and causing it to fade or yellow. 

The color change in hardwood flooring from sun exposure is due to overexposure from ultraviolet light, visible light, and infrared light. Wood is photosensitive, and domestic woods such as maple and hickory become lighter when exposed to the sun.

Additionally, the kind of finish you have on your wood influences how it reacts to light. Infrared light, when combined with UV light and visible light, reacts with the finish and turns it yellowish (source).

Unfortunately, there’s no single solution to this problem, but there are some steps you can take to limit this kind of damage. 

One way to prevent sunlight from yellowing your floor too much is to keep the sun’s rays off the wood as much as possible. Drapes, curtains, and blinds can reduce the UV and infrared light reaching your flooring.

My favorite curtains are these BGment Blackout Curtains (link to Amazon). They’re available in ten different colors and ten different lengths, so you’re sure to find the right set for you.

They can block out 90%-99% of sunlight (the darker the color of your curtain, the more sunlight they will block), so your floors will be protected from the damage sunlight can cause. As an added bonus, these curtains are thermal insulated and balance your room’s temperature, so you’ll save on energy costs, too! 

Motorized screens, shades, and blinds are another great option for blocking out the sunlight and avoiding the yellowing of your floor. With these, you can set a timer so they’ll automatically extend when the sun is at its strongest (and, therefore, most damaging). You can also time them to retract so they let more light in as soon as the UV rays aren’t as strong.

These Allesin Motorized Blackout Cordless Shades Blinds (link to Amazon) are the best motorized shades you can buy. With eight different color options and sixteen size options, you’ll be able to find blinds that suit your window and your decor theme. The battery motor is rechargeable, and one charge can last for half a year! 

Another way to reduce the impact of UV and IR light on your floors is to apply a special film to your window screen that’s designed to cut down the light coming in.

I use the KESPEN One Way Window Film (link to Amazon). This film blocks out 91% of solar rays by reflecting it away from the window, preventing your hardwood floors from turning yellow. It’s also extremely easy to install as long as the glass is completely clean. 

A final, more expensive, option is to change to Low-E glass windows. These windows have coatings that limit the UV and IR light that gets through the window and into your home, yellowing the floor. 

Rugs can also protect your floor from turning yellow as they protect the floor from sunlight, however, something to keep in mind is that your floor will then fade or discolor unevenly. The area of your floor that is underneath the rug will likely end up a completely different color than other areas.

One way to combat this is to move your rug frequently, but the design of your room may not allow for this, and it could be an unwanted hassle. 

2. The Floor Has an Oil-Based Polyurethane Finish 

Oil-based polyurethane is one of the most common finishes on hardwood floors. The polyurethane finish resists fungus, mold, and mildew, is waterproof, and dries to a hard finish, which makes it good at resisting scratches as the years go on. 

Oil-based polyurethane forms a yellow pigmentation on light surfaces. This is due to the materials in the polyurethane. This finish is created by the use of an aromatic isocyanate, which will yellow following sunlight exposure due to the oxidation in the core of the polymer. 

In the manufacturing process of polyurethane, there’s a reaction between polyol and water to form a urethane polymer. If an amine forms on the isocyanate groups, the resulting amine, when oxidized, forms quinone. Quinones are yellow in color, and the more this compound is formed, the more yellow your hardwood floor will appear. 

One way to prevent the discoloration of your floor but still have the benefits of a polyurethane finish is to use a high-grade waterborne finish instead of an oil-based one. Water-based finishes aren’t as durable as their oil-based counterparts, but the product remains colorless, even after sun exposure.

So, using water-based polyurethane, like this Miniwax Water Based Wipe-On Poly (link to Amazon), is a good alternative to the oil-based finish, especially if you’re worried about your hardwood floor yellowing. The best way to apply this polyurethane to a wood surface is to wipe with a microfiber cloth.

Something to note about this product is that it has an ultra-fast drying time, so you need to work fast to blend your strokes together. 

If your hardwood floor is already discolored, you can sand your floor until you uncover the grain of the wood, then use a water-based polyurethane to avoid dealing with this issue again. 

3. The Wood Is Aging 

Natural wood continues to evolve and age even after it has been removed from a tree. Some types of wood that are used for flooring, such as oak, ash, and birch, turn more amber or yellow in color as they age. Ash tends to go from a sandy tone to more of a straw tone, and birch goes from cream to reddish-yellow (source). 

If you really want to avoid yellow hardwood floors, the best types of wood to use are those that don’t turn more amber with age, such as naturally dark wood like American Walnut. Another option is to use whatever wood you’d like, including pine or oak, and use a dark stain.

Staining your floor is a serious project. Before you stain, you must sand your floor carefully and thoroughly, at least three times. After you’ve done this and vacuumed up the dust from the sanding stage, begin staining with a lambswool applicator. If you’re really looking to disguise your wood’s yellow tones, you’ll need to apply a second, and possibly even a third, coat. When you’ve done all your coats and the stain is completely dry, protect the finish with a water-based polyurethane sealer. After applying two coats of sealer, you’ll need to wait at least 24 hours before walking on your floor again. 

If you do opt for a stain, even if you apply it really well, you’ll most likely need to refinish your floor from time to time. Refinishing involves sanding down the top layer of your floor and applying a fresh coat of stain and sealer to your floor to make it look new again.

Most experts recommend refinishing your floor every 8 to 12 years, but how frequently you do it depends on how heavily-trafficked your floor is, how much sunlight it’s exposed to, and the type of wood and stain you used (source). Here are some signs you need to refinish your floor: 

  • Your floor is filled with scratches. If you’ve stained your floor a dark color to avoid seeing the yellow hue of the wood, any scratches in the surface will be more noticeable. The only way to completely remove these scratches is to refinish your floor. 
  • You can see the wood’s natural color through the stain. Eventually, even the best floor stains begin to fade, especially if it’s exposed to sunlight. If you start seeing hints of yellow poking through, it may be time to apply a fresh coat. 
  • Your floor is showing signs of water damage. If you have hardwood flooring in your kitchen or laundry room, there’s a good chance that the floor has been exposed to moisture. Moisture can cause floors to become discolored over time, so if you begin to notice discoloration, bubbling, or warping, your floors may have sustained too much water damage and you’ll need to refinish. 

Beyond the effort needed to stain your floor and maintain its upkeep, there’s a downfall to having dark hardwood floors. While you may not notice any yellowing, dark wood shows the wear and tear of everyday life clearer than light floors. If you have a dog, children, wear high heels, drop things, or simply use your floor regularly, the dark wood will show every scratch and nick. 

Instead of refinishing your floor every other year, you can use wood markers, like these Dewel Furniture Touch Up Markers (link to Amazon), to reduce the appearance of damage. This kit comes with 8 touch-up markers and 8 wax sticks with plenty of color options, including maple, oak, walnut, mahogany, and black.

You can also rub walnuts over scratches in wood to camouflage the damage, as walnuts contain natural brown dyes that enhance the look of worn wood. 

Furthermore, darker floors show dirt and dust more, so your floor may appear dirtier than it actually is. You may need to sweep every day (source). 

4. Mopping Issues 

You have a gorgeous floor, so you want to keep it clean, right? Unfortunately, some of your mopping may be leading to yellowing floors. 

If you’re damp mopping your floor with dirty water, you’re really just spreading dirt around when you think you’re cleaning. Dirt damages floors in a lot of ways, and one way is discoloration. Over time, grime can work its way into small cracks in the floor, and even into the wood grain, which can cause deep discoloration (source). 

The best way to combat this issue is to change water frequently and to use a two pail system when you’re mopping, so you avoid spreading around dirty water on your floor.

Another way to ensure your floors are getting the best treatment is to use a high-quality mop, preferably one with a microfiber head. This will prevent damage to the floor’s finish, while still removing excess debris. 

The best microfiber mop I’ve come across is the Turbo Microfiber Kitchen Mop (link to Amazon). This mop has a soft head and a long handle, making it easy to push around the floors. The mop head is machine-washable and the swivel feature allows me to reach every corner of my home. 

5. The Hardwood Floors Are Painted White 

White floors are chic, can make a room appear bigger, and fit any home decor theme. However, the paint you used on your hardwood floor could be causing some yellowing.

Alkyd-modified latex paint, specifically, are most susceptible to yellowing where light doesn’t reach it, such as under a rug or furniture. However, yellowing can occur with any white paint, regardless of the formula (source). 

To reduce yellowing on painted floors, avoid vinegar, bleach, and abrasives in your cleansers. Instead, simply go over your floor with a dust mop or vacuum suited for hard surfaces. Make sure you do this frequently, as the more the floor stays free of dirt, the longer the paint will look good and not yellow. 

Use mild, general-purpose cleaners for spot cleaning mud or grime that mopping alone can’t remove. You can also use a topcoat to prevent damage to your paint and your floors, such as this Rejuvenate All Floors Restorer (link to Amazon).

This restorer dries in 45 minutes and makes your floors look shiny for months. 

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