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Sunlight, UV and Fading Hardwood Floors

Everyone with hardwood floors knows that direct sunlight can be a problem for your floors. Most of us have moved a rug or a piece of furniture and noticed the covered part of the floor is either lighter or darker than the surrounding wood.

The longer the wood has been covered up, the more noticeable the difference in color is. Why does this happen and what can be done about it?

Let’s start off discussing why it happens.

Why Hardwood Floors Fade and Change Color…

Fading, bleaching and darkening in hardwood floors because of sun exposure is a pretty complex subject. Ultimately, color deterioration in hardwood floors is the result of overexposure from 3 things: ultra violet (UV) light, visible light and the infrared (IR) light which causes solar heat.

UV light has the most impact on color change of the actual wood. Wood is extremely photosensitive – which means it reacts to sunlight. You only have to put a piece of unfinished wood out in direct sunlight for a short time with part of it covered to see how the sun’s ultra violet rays affect it.

How fast a timber reacts to UV light depends on the species.

For example many tropical, exotic woods used in flooring, like Brazilian Cherry or Tigerwood, react to UV exposure very fast and they turn a much darker shade. On the other hand domestic woods, like Red Oak, Maple and Hickory, generally bleach out and become lighter, and at a much slower rate.

And it’s not only the wood itself that is subject to discoloration – the type of finish on the floor can also play a big part in how the wood will react.

Infrared light, combined with UV light and visible light, reacts with the finish and slowly turns the finish darker or yellowish. That’s why over a long period of time certain types of hardwood floors with oil based polyurethane finish turn that orangey/yellow color that no-one likes.

Think of how the sun reacts with wood it in terms of our skin.

Direct exposure to sunlight affects different types of skin in different ways. Some of us get darker or tanned in the sun’s rays fast and others much slower, while others will burn very quickly. The type and quality of sunblock used can also play a part in those slowing down those outcomes, but not indefinitely as it will eventually wear off or start or break down. Ultimately, overexposure of harmful rays on all kinds of skin will cause damage.

It’s the same with the paint, rubbers and seat fabrics in your car, with your curtains and blinds, carpet and rugs, the tiles or shingles on your roof, as well as the fabric on your sofa… and yes, your hardwood floors.

So What Can Be Done to Stop Sunlight from Damaging my Hardwood Floor?

Unfortunately the issue of fading and color change from exposure to direct sunlight does not have a single fix-all solution. But there are a number of different steps you can take, that if done all together, will greatly minimize the amount of direct sunlight your hardwood floor receives and slow the process down.

Some are affordable and easy, others not so much.

Here’s the list starting with the easiest and most affordable…

1. Move rugs and furniture: From time to time, rearrange your furniture and floor coverings to allow sunlight to hit the previously covered areas of your floors. This will equalize the UV and IR light exposure and even out the fading process so a consistent color will be achieved within the entire room.

If it’s not possible to move furniture, consider removing at least the area rugs during the sunnier months and replacing them in the darker winter months.

2. Window Coverings: It makes sense that if you can keep sunlight off your floor it won’t fade as much. Drapes, curtains, shutters or blinds are some of the best defenses against fading hardwood floors. If you keep them closed on the side of your house when the sun is hitting the windows it will drastically cut down on any UV and infrared light reaching the floor.

If you have mini blinds or other types of horizontal louvers and you don’t want to shut them completely, position the slats so that they angle upwards allowing the sunlight to be directed towards the walls and ceiling instead of towards the floor.

Upgrade: There is also the option of motorized screens, shades and blinds that can be fitted to the inside or outside of windows. While these will be a bigger investment initially, they make up for it in convenience. You can set a timer so they will automatically extend during the hotter part of the day (when you’re most likely at work) and then retract afterwards to allow more light in when the UV and IR rays are not so strong.

3. Finishes with UV inhibitors: Finish manufacturers are continually trying to find solutions to this problem of fading and color change. Unfortunately at the moment there isn’t a finish that can completely stop this process. That’s the case with prefinished as well as site finished.

There are finishes though that will slow the fading process down and it’s definitely worth looking into using one of these products.

The best finishes to slow down fading at the moment are high-end water-based systems. We use and suggest Pallmann finishes for this purpose because they help reduce ambering and fading and at the same time are extremely durable.

Staining: If you’re going to have your floors stained then ask for a pigment based stain instead of a dye stain.  Pigment stains are more colorfast than dyes. A floor with a pigment based stain and a high-end professional water-based finish will keep its color far longer than a dyed floor with an oil-based finish.

4. Window films: The next step up is to apply a specialty film to your windows. These thin multi-layered films are designed to drastically cut down the UV and IR light while allowing different percentages of visible light to come in. There are endless brands and companies that manufacture and install these coverings so do your research well before committing. 3M is one of the biggest and most reputable, you can see some of the options they have available here.

5. Awnings: One of the best ways of stopping the sun’s harmful rays from damaging your floors is by blocking them before they even get to your windows. Awnings work great in this regard. You can get them in retractable or stationary designs and there are many different types of materials and styles to suite all kinds of houses.

6. Low-E glass windows: If you are doing an extensive renovation and are swapping out windows, or you’re building a new home, you should look into low-E (low-emissivity) glass windows. These windows have special coatings that do a great job limiting the amount of UV and IR light that passes through the panes. There are a few different types of low-e glass windows and you need to talk to a glass professional to see which ones are suited to your home.

Instead of going into a big discussion about them here I’ll let you watch a video that explains the basics of how they work…

If you follow the 6 suggestions above you should be able to greatly reduce the fading of your floors and furnishings. The added bonus of most of those suggestions is that they also offer great energy savings during our hot summers and cold winters, which over time will help defray the initial cost.

What if my floors are already faded? 

If you’ve tried moving and/or removing the rugs and furniture and it isn’t helping blend the areas together as quickly as you like, or if the color difference is very dramatic, then the only option you have is sanding and refinishing the floors. This is the fastest and best solution to the problem.

We definitely suggest putting into practice some of the suggestions above first before having them refinished so it doesn’t happen again so quickly.

In Conclusion…

Fading is an inevitable part of having hardwood floors.

Unless you install hardwood flooring in a room with no windows, or you completely board over your windows, there is no way to completely avoid Ultra Violet and Infrared light exposure. All you can do is delay the process.

What you can do though is 1) minimize the amount of damaging light your hardwood floors are subjected to and 2) balance the amount of light each part of your floor gets so all areas blend well together as the whole floor changes slowly over time.

 

50 Comments

  1. Marge says:

    Your photo of the rug lifted off the floor with that line is OUR problem now. We had area rugs down for 6 years and it left lines exactly like your photo. The flooring underneath is ok, it’s just those lines. We have high gloss pre-finished red oak flooring and are extremely sorry that we put down these area rugs on our main floor in our condo. Can anything help remove just the lines? Please help, we are senior citizens and hard work is hard for us. If you have any suggestions, we would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!

    • Hi Marge,

      Unfortunately the only “affordable” way I know how to make them somewhat blend with the rest of the floor is to remove the rugs and let the sun do its thing to darken the lighter areas. Its not a good fix and it will take a while. Its a lot cheaper than refinishing the floors again though.

      If someone out there has a better solution I’m all ears…

      Tadas

  2. Coloradocowgirl says:

    Tadas: We are looking at a home with the same hardwood/floor rug fade issues. I was wondering if using construction paper and painters tape on the darker colored flooring, leaving the lighter areas exposed to the sunlight for a summer would help cause the floor to fade to the same color? Any ideas? Another older couple with bad knees and a tight budget.
    Thank you!

    • That’s an interesting idea. Theoretically it should work. It would be annoying to live with for the length of time it would need to stay there though. I would imagine however long it took to get the way it is is how long it would need to blend it back. The tape used to hold it in place could prove to be problematic to the finish as well.

      I wish I could be of more help. If you go ahead and it works, please come back and let us know.

      Tadas

  3. Jon says:

    How about exposing the unfaded area to a UV lamp? This would speed up the process.

    Jon

    • tom says:

      I have the exact same question…. would a UV lamp speed up the yellowing of hardwood section. (We’re selling our house and after moving a piano the floor doesn’t match)

    • Sounds like it should work in theory at least. We haven’t tried it ourselves but if anyone has and have had a good result we’d love to hear.

      Tadas

  4. Connie says:

    Hi I have wood floors by my entrance and three years later added wood floors in the hallway while they were laying the floor they notice the color difference needless to say I have two different color floors I’m wondering would light fixtures and lamps help speed up the colors to change

  5. J says:

    Did any of these solutions work? Very interested if a light worked, but then how would you hold it evenly seems difficult? How long do you thing fading can happen in?

  6. Edward says:

    We have site finished tigerwood floors…and after less than 9 months,our floors look as bad as the one in your photo. This is a new home and the original floor finish was Pall X-96 with a top coat of Pall X-98. When the floors were sanded down to bare wood due to a horrific original finish job, installer substitued Omni Gold for the finish. This is only a 1 component finish and not as hard as the Pall X-98. Consequently the floors scratched like crazy so installer agreed to buff the floors and put down one coat of Pall X-98. But when we removed the area rugs that weren’t put down until 6 weeks after the 1st refinishing, the discoloration was unbelievable…especially after less than 9 months. In addition, marks from the rug pads were imbeded in the floor. Installer told us to just put our area rugs down in the same spots and leave them. Or to wait a year before putting them down. Great choices, huh? But that’s not going to fix the pad marks embeded in the floor will it? Any suggestions?

    • Hi Edward,

      Sorry to hear about your troubles. Unfortunately Tigerwood floors are very photosensitive and there’s nothing other than what is written above that can be done.

      As for the pad marks, it sounds like the finish hadn’t fully cured yet. The only way to repair that is to sand and refinish the area again.

      Sorry I couldn’t provide an easier solution 🙁

      Tadas

  7. sharon says:

    Getting hardwood floors refinished after a poor finish job with the initial installation of Maple floors in Kitchen, eat in area, DR and foyer.
    My current refinishing guy says there is no way to to remove the UV damage/color change on my floors that are outlined by my rugs. He took extra time in sanding and still one can see where they rugs were!! Am I supposed to be satisfied with that??? Is it really impossible to sand off the darkened area outside of the rug area? I thought that was part of why I was having the floors refinished? Not happy- slh

    • Hi Sharon,

      Sorry to hear of your trouble with your floors. Yes, sometimes the UV damage can be that bad that normal sanding will not remove it. That’s why we strongly recommend the steps in the article.

      I hope you can find a solution you can live with. Have you thought about staining them?

      Tadas

  8. Fatimah Fahtwad says:

    Just put rugs of the same size back in the same places.
    Then rest easy at night.
    There is no perfection in this life.
    Stop trying to find it.

  9. Fatimah Fahtwad says:

    Sometimes a hardwood polish, with a little Old English blends the two areas together a little better. Experiment carefully, using the Old English sparingly. Use the Blonde Wood Old English, not the Dark Old English.

  10. Marissa says:

    I just picked up a corner on my 2 y.o maple floors and just about died. I have a 12 x15 rug. It is the converted attic and we have a ten foot skylight. Which I’ve covered with blinds (don’t ask me how it’s nuts) and just saw that they are SO stained. I think I’m going to throw up. I can’t even handle this. If I sand the floors and stain them darker ( if we were to sell ) would that work? I’m seriously sick over this.

  11. Tom says:

    If we choose a very dark stain (Jacobean, Ebony, Dark Walnut) will the “darkening effect of the UV light” be less noticeable?
    Or will a dark stain lead to a more noticeable change over time?
    Thank you, love your explanations!

    • Hi Tom,

      A lot of it comes down to the type of wood you have and whether the finish is resistant to UV exposure or not. From my observations though I would imagine that a dark stain on an oak floor would make the UV fading process more obscure for a longer period of time. Eventually though all wood will fade if exposed to UV light for significant periods of time.

      Tadas

  12. Lori says:

    Hi. Thank you for answering questions.

    Any difference in sand and finish and engineered white oak in this case? Also, would lighter colored floors be less noticeable, or more noticeable quicker?

    Thanks again!
    Lori

    • Hi Lori,

      Whether it is site finished or engineered, wood is wood and will react the same. It’s the finish on it that will slow the process down somewhat if it has UV inhibitors. Both light and dark floors will react to UV at the same rate but darker floors tend to be more noticeable quicker.

      Tadas

  13. Ben says:

    I have a log home with pine flooring and have had the issue of moving a rug only to see the lighter area under the rug. We removed the rug and in less than a year the lighter colored wood was completely blended. This same thing happened to our walls where pictures had been hanging for about six years. We rearranged the pictures and in less than a year(6-8 months)the lighter spots had blended in. I’m going to try the UV light next to see if it will speed up the process.

  14. Kathy says:

    We are buying a home with the same faded floor issue…The faded area is a perfect square shape: Couldn’t a person tape off one or more square shaped areas, within the faded area, and re stain those areas different shades of brown and come up with a custom designed wood floor in different shades of brown?
    If show what type/Brand stain might work best for this and would the faded areas need to be sanded, resealed, etc.?
    Thanks for your thoughts on this,
    Kathy

    • Hi Kathy,

      Yes this could be an option if you find someone willing to do it. You could also install a walnut or other dark colored wood border between the two areas if you wanted to go all out.

      Yes, you will need to sand the floors back to bare wood to do this. We use Duraseal stains.

      Hope you can make this work for you.

      Tadas

  15. Angie says:

    i have new jarrah and have used Osmo oil on it with timber mate jarrah filler
    Over time will my floor go lighter or darker i have alot of natural light coming in the lounge/dinning etc..
    cheers

  16. Queen Bee says:

    Hello Tadas!

    We built our first home in 2006 and had a formal dining room installed with Brazilian Tigerwood. No clue what products were used to finish or seal the wood. In an attempt to keep it from getting scratched we covered the floor with a large rug and non-slip pad underneath, with 18″ of exposed wood all around the border. Now, 10 years later we are retiring and downsizing from a home into an apartment and in preparation to put the house on the market we found that the wood under the rug is much lighter. Is our only solution to have it sanded and refinished? The house will go on the market in less than two weeks. HELP!

    • Hi Queen Bee,

      Sorry to hear about your floor. Yes that’s very common with that type of wood. Unfortunately even if you sand the floor the faded area may not come out completely 🙁

      Not being funny but could you include the rug in the sale of the house maybe?

      Tadas

  17. sara says:

    Hi;
    My issue is more of a shine/gloss issue rather than color. The wood floor (Oak I think) that was covered with a rug for several years is oddly less glossy than the surrounding floor, but thankfully, the colors look ok.
    Any advice on how to shine up the dull section?
    Thank you very much.
    sara

    • Hi Sara,

      That is a relatively easy fix. You’ll need to get your floor recoated so the sheen level is the same over the floor. It will need a very thorough clean (multiple steps) and light abrasion first otherwise the new layer of finish may not adhere properly. Get someone with lots of experience doing this if you hire it out.

      Hope that helps.

      Tadas

  18. Nancy Gisler says:

    I have walnut flooring. When I use non-slip, rubber backed rugs the flooring becomes slick underneath. My flooring does fade around the rug, as you said would happen, but that is not a major concern of mine. My main concern is needing rugs in front of incoming doors to prevent slipping when your shoes are wet. Do you have any suggestions for alternative non-slip rugs?

  19. R MacNeil says:

    Hello Tadas – You have a lot of excellent feedback and I’m hoping you can assist with my question. I installed engineered brushed walnut floors. In three weeks the sun faded the wood to yellow – it is a dramatic change in color. I understand that floors can fade over time and leave ‘outlines’ where furniture and carpets are located – but three weeks to yellow has me very worried about the future of my floors. Is this degree of fading seem excessive? Thanks in advance for your assistance.

    • Hi R,

      Walnut is one of the most photosensitive types of hardwood floors. In direct sunlight they will fade extremely fast, so no, it isn’t excessive unfortunately.

      Tadas

  20. Jazmine Patton says:

    Thank you for your post. Drapes, curtains, shutters or blinds are some of the best defenses against fading hardwood floors. If you keep them closed on the side of your house when the sun is hitting the windows it will drastically cut down on any UV and infrared light reaching the floor. This is excellent information.

  21. carey says:

    does man made, engineered hardwood, walnut fade if covered with a rug. Will it discolor as does real wood floors?

    • Hi Carey,

      If you’re talking about engineered wood where the top is real hardwood and the bottom layers are ply, then yes, it will fade exactly like real hardwood because it is.

      If you’re talking about laminate flooring, then yes it too will fade over time but not as aggressively.

      Tadas

  22. Alan says:

    What do you consider the best stain and finish to prevent a UV fading imprint, from pictures, rugs, etc…?

    • Hi Alan,

      To be completely honest we haven’t tested every finish out there to say one way or another. But most high-end 2 component water based finishes do pretty well on slowing it down. But that’s all it is doing, slowing down the inevitable. From our experience hardwax oils (not all colors) seem to hold up better to fading than surface finishes. But again, that’s not tested.

      The best thing to do is get your windows tinted or covered with awnings etc. We just had a client that had hers tinted and before she did the candles in her living room were melting. Afterwards, no melting candles at all. It’s definitely the best prevention.

      Tadas

  23. Ed says:

    We have cherry kitchen cabinets that were installed 32 years ago. The knobs have backplates. I removed the backplates and the wood under the backplate is dark. So the cabinet has faded to a lighter color.

    We do not want the backplates.

    Is there any way to “fade” the area of the backplate to match the lighter, faded rest of the cabinet?

    Thank you.

  24. teri says:

    Question!
    I have a new house being constructed with red oak hardwood floors. My paint and cabinets are white and grey and I wanted to stain with a gray minwax stain. Is it true that I MUST have them coat with a water based poly to prevent the gray from changing color? What will happen with the oil based poly that they want to use?

    • Hi Teri,

      Yes water based finish dries clear and won’t change the color too much. Oil based poly will amber and darken the color, initially and more over time.

      Tadas

  25. Angelina P says:

    Thanks for the all the wonderful information, Tadas! I don’t ever want to see another piece of yellow/orangey wood in my house again! Can you help me? I am installing new hardwood in a 1974 house. I was thinking natural white oak, but it looks like that WILL yellow. Hickory perhaps? I have red oak (probably) floors in one room that will be refinished a darker walnut color. Short of having dark floors throughout, is there anything else I can do to prevent yellowing? I wish we lived near you, but alas we are in MD. -Angie

  26. Dana says:

    Wow Tadas, thank you so much for following up with all of the comments! I’m learning a lot. We bought a house with a 20 year old pre- finished ash floor and the colour difference is unbelievable! I am going to have it sanded down and refinished. I now realize that yellowing is inevitable but with the new products will we still be able to see the darker streaks in the grain over time? I would love to post a photo (not sure how?) of how the dark grain lines just turn into indistinguishable yellow, exactly the same colour as the lighter parts of the wood. So my question is will we still be able to see the beautiful dark grain lines over time as it yellows if we use a good finishing product?

  27. Debbie Olmstead says:

    I have white oak cabinets, natural, and they look great with unfaded walnut but not so good with faded walnut. I want walnut floors but don’t want them to lighten to that orange caramel color. Is there a stain I can put on them so that any fading to caramel would be masked by the stain? Possibly asphaltam?

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