How Much Stain Do I Need For Hardwood Floors?

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This article teaches you how to calculate how much stain you need for your hardwood floors. It details the methods used to determine the square footage of the area to be stained, then takes you through how to interpret manufacturer’s estimates about how much their products cover. It also details some of the unique considerations for staining hardwood. 

What Is Stain?

Stain is a tinted liquid applied to wood to change its color. It can be oil or water based. Water-based stain is thinner than oil-based stain and requires more coats to achieve the same depth of color.

You will need to take this into account when calculating how much stain you need for your hardwood floors. 

Popular Hardwood Floor Wood Choices

Oak is the most common hardwood used for flooring; cherry, maple, mahogany and pine are also popular choices. 

Cherry and mahogany are chosen for their durability and intense, gorgeous colors, so it would be unusual to cover them with color-changing stain

Wooden floor

Oak has large, open pores that make it one of the most stain-friendly woods around. Maple has a dense, closed grain that makes it less proficient at absorbing stain. 

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Pine also has a dense grain, and like maple, some areas are denser than others. This means some areas may accept more stain, resulting in uneven color

Related: Find the best stainable wood filler for your hardwood floors.

Calculating Stain Coverage For Hardwood Floors

To calculate how much stain you need in order to cover your hardwood floors, you will need to assemble a few key pieces of information. 

  1. The first thing you need is a rough estimate of the square footage you intend to stain. If you’re staining one rectangular room, find the area of the floor by multiplying the length of one wall by the length of the adjoining wall. 
  2. Then, you’ll need to find the manufacturer’s estimate about how many square feet their product can cover, and how many coats are needed to achieve the depth of color you desire. 

Estimating Square Footage of Hardwood Floors

For irregularly shaped rooms, you don’t need to worry about being too exact.

  • In a room with a bay window, for example, measure the distance from the deepest part of the bay window to the opposite wall, and multiply it by the length of the adjoining wall. 
  • If an entire floor of your home is waiting to be stained, you can measure two adjoining sides of the outside of your house, and multiply them to get a rough estimate of the floor’s square footage. The estimate will be larger than the actual surface area to be stained, because it doesn’t account for things like walls and kitchen islands that cover some of the floor plan. 
Minwax wood stain on a wooden table

If you’re trying to purchase the perfect amount of stain, you may choose to calculate the area of these features and subtract it from the total square footage. For most consumers, a rough estimate is close enough. 

How Much Stain Do I Need for Hardwood Flooring?

In order to determine how much stain to purchase, take the square footage of the room or floor you intend to stain and divide it by the manufacturer’s coverage estimate. If the can of stain lists a range (e.g. 200 – 300 square feet per gallon), choose a number in the middle or at the bottom of the range. 

Overestimating is better than underestimating, as you will lose some stain in the application process. Drips and spills eat away at your supply of stain. The applicator will also retain some of the stain, whether you’re using a brush, staining pad, or roller.

If you plan to spray on stain, you will lose a significant amount of material to overspray. However, spraying is best for intricate pieces like furniture.

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Spraying stain indoors requires covering every surface you don’t want to get stain on. Walls, trim, furniture, even light fixtures it all needs to be protected by plastic sheeting. Plan on 20 – 40% of your stain drifting through the air and settling on the plastic. 

How Much Stain For an 11 x 12 Hardwood Floor? 

The average sized bedroom in the US is 11 feet by 12 feet, or 132 square feet. So, one gallon of stain that covers 200 square feet should be plenty, right? 

Only if you’re not planning for multiple coats. While some stain manufacturers boast of one coat coverage, it’s usually best to plan for two or three coats. 

In the example given above, that means you need enough stain to cover 396 square feet (132 multiplied by three), so one gallon of stain would not be enough. 

Woman applying wood stain on her hardwood floors

If you divide 396 by a conservative estimate of 200 square feet per gallon, you get 1.92. So, to stain hardwood floors in an 11 x 12 bedroom, purchase two gallons of stain. 

Estimating Spray-on Stain Coverage 

Hardwood floors are usually stained using a nap roller. For fast drying and even coverage, paint sprayers are also an option.

As mentioned previously, some of the atomized stain particles will not make it all the way to the floor. Instead, they will be carried away by the air circulating the room. Plan on losing up to 40% of your stain to this overspray. 

To calculate how much stain is needed to spray one coat of stain on the hardwood floors of the same 132 square foot bedroom, increase your estimate 40%. 132 multiplied by 1.4 gives you a total of 182.

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Assuming you plan to apply three coats of stain, you would need enough stain to cover 546 square feet. Using the same conservative estimate of 200 square feet per gallon, this project requires 2.73 gallons of stain. You can either purchase two gallons and three quarts of stain, or round up and buy three gallons. 

Since properly stored stain has a long shelf life, it probably makes sense to buy three gallons and keep the stain on hand. 

Related: See how long the popular Minwax stain takes to dry.

Conclusion

Most stains cover between 150 and 300 square feet per gallon. The number of gallons you need to buy depends on how many coats you plan to apply, as well as the application method.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.