Best Types of Hardwood Flooring

by HomeAdvisor

Hardwood floors in living room with a window and no furniture.

© David Papazian – Getty

Hardwood flooring elevates your home and works well in traditional or contemporary spaces. Choose from popular hardwood species, including hickory, oak, ash or maple. Each species has distinct properties and visual differences. Select a type of wood flooring that suits your lifestyle and your budget. Common options include solid hardwood, engineered wood and wood-look laminate.

On This Page:

  1. How to Choose the Best Hardwood Flooring
  2. Types of Wood Flooring
    1. Solid Unfinished Planks
    2. Solid Prefinished Planks
    3. Reclaimed Hardwood Planks
    4. Hand-Scraped Planks
    5. Engineered Wood Flooring
    6. Wood-Look Laminate Flooring
  3. Popular Types of Hardwood Flooring
    1. Hickory
    2. Oak
    3. Ash
    4. Maple
    5. Cherry
    6. Ebony
    7. Bamboo
  4. Hardwood Flooring Comparison
  5. Top Brands of Hardwood Flooring
  6. Best Hardwood Flooring Options by Room
  7. FAQs

How to Choose the Best Hardwood Flooring

Choosing the right material isn’t as simple as simply selecting your preferred color and grain. Consider the following when deciding which wood flooring to install:

  • Location: The room and level of foot traffic determine what properties the material needs
  • Budget: The cost to install flooring and the price of materials varies substantially. Be clear on your budget
  • Maintenance: Ease of cleanliness, durability and repairability, frequency and simplicity of resealing and daily maintenance vary by material
  • Durability: Waterproofing, stain resistance, strength and scratch and scuff resistance
  • Installation: Floating, nail down or glue down
  • Addons: Type of underlayment, radiant heat compatibility
  • Style: Each type of flooring and species of wood has different aesthetic appeal
  • Lifestyle: Activity level, children and pets all determine which type of material is best
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Types of Wood Flooring

Choose from six main flooring hardwood and wood-look options for any room in your home. To bring a little history to your space, go for high-end, reclaimed, hand-scraped planks. For remodeling on a budget, opt for wood-look laminate. Or find the middle ground with good quality engineered wood.

Solid Unfinished Planks

Solid unfinished planks are 100% genuine hardwood and are installed without a factory finish. Instead, you can choose a custom finish that’s applied to the whole floor after the planks are installed.

Pros:

  • Unfinished hardwood flooring costs $3-7 per square foot for the materials, and an additional $3-$5 per square foot for labor
  • Complete moisture-resistant surface: Sealant applied after installation, covering whole floor, including seams
  • Can be sanded and refinished repeatedly
  • Bevels are less visible compared to pre-finished planks

Cons:

  • Labor-intensive finishing and sealing process
  • Seal less durable than factory-finished planks
  • Will require resealing sooner than prefinished floors

Solid Prefinished Planks

Solid hardwood prefinished planks are supplied with a multi-layer, baked-on factory finish, so they have a uniform appearance and a resilient finish.

Pros:

  • Solid prefinished hardwood planks cost $3-$7 per square foot plus $3-$5 per square foot for installation
  • Faster installation and less labor as the finish is already on the planks
  • Gives a more uniform look than unfinished planks
  • Durable multi-layer finish

Cons:

  • Bevels and seams are more obvious
  • Susceptible to moisture damage and warping from liquid seeping into the unsealed seams between planks
  • Repairs may be difficult to hide as it can be difficult to match the original look

Reclaimed Hardwood Planks

Reclaimed hardwood flooring has a unique charm. Often made of heartwood (the innermost portion of the tree), these planks bring a little history to your home and provide an interesting conversation point.

Pros:

  • Unique weathered appearance
  • Scarce: Value enhanced by limited supply
  • Environmentally friendly: Upcycling old wood instead of buying new

Cons:

  • Expensive: Reclaimed hardwood costs $15-$30 per square foot, including installation
  • Reclamation, restoration and scarcity increase the price
  • Limited supply: You may not be able to source enough good quality reclaimed planks to cover a large space
  • Woodworm and other pests may infest planks if they’re not sufficiently kiln-baked 

Hand-Scraped Planks

Hand-scraped planks have a distinctive, rustic finish that works well in farmhouse and traditional-style homes.

Pros:

  • Weathered look means minor scrapes, dents and similar damage blends in
  • Minor damage and scuffs add more character
  • Easy to maintain
  • Good choice for homes with pets and children

Cons:

  • Costly: Hand-scraped hardwood planks cost $10-$20 per square foot installed
  • Labor-intensive hand-scraping process increases price
  • Requires professional installation

Engineered Wood Flooring

Engineered hardwood flooring features a thin veneer layer of finished hardwood over a multi-layer core of plywood or high-density fiberboard. The increased durability makes it a good choice for kitchens and high-traffic areas.

Pros:

  • Engineered hardwood flooring costs $4-$16 per square foot
  • High-quality planks are indistinguishable from solid hardwood
  • More resistant to warping and water damage than solid planks
  • Can be installed with radiant heating systems

Cons:

  • More susceptible to scratches and scuffs than solid floors
  • Can only be refinished a few times due to the thinness of the veneer
  • Very thin veneers cannot be refinished
  • Prone to fading with continual exposure to UV light

Wood-Look Laminate Flooring

Wood-look laminate is not actually wood, but it’s a good inexpensive alternative for remodeling on a tight budget. A layer of printed plastic designed to look like wooden planks adheres to a high-density fiberboard or plywood base.

Pros:

  • Laminate flooring costs $2-$10 per square foot, including installation
  • Inexpensive
  • Neat, uniform look
  • Minimal maintenance and easy cleaning

Cons:

  • You may be able to tell it’s not real wood
  • Susceptible to moisture damage if liquid sits for too long
  • Cannot refinish or sand out damage
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Once you’ve chosen the best type of flooring for your project, it’s time to look at wood species. Consider the color, grain pattern, cost, and maintenance . You’ll also want to consider hardness, which is another way of saying durability. Hardness is measured by the Janka hardness scale. The higher the number, the harder the wood. For hardwood floors, you’ll likely want a Janka rating of at least 1,000.

Hickory

Hickory hardwood flooring texture closeup.
© Tanyakonovalova – Adobe Stock

  • Harder than oak, ash and maple. Measures 1,820 on the Janka hardness scale
  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Withstands damage, moisture, and high traffic better than many other hardwoods
  • Comparatively light wood that can be stained to any shade
  • Can be waxed to enhance warm appearance and improve moisture resistance

Oak

Oak hardwood flooring texture closeup.
© MarkSwallow – Getty

  • Hardness varies by subspecies. Common white oak, for example, measures 1,360 on the Janka hardness scale while live oak measures 2,680
  • Ages well, taking on a unique patina
  • Ranges in color from bleached white to dark red
  • Minor damage easy to fix with DIY repair kits

Ash

Ash hardwood flooring texture closeup.
© JTyler – Getty

  • Similar hardness to white oak. White ash measures 1,320 on the Janka hardness scale
  • Flexible: Able to tolerate temperature and humidity fluctuations
  • Ages well and does not splinter
  • Shock-absorbing and comfortable to walk on

Maple

Maple hardwood flooring texture closeup.
© CribbVisuals – Getty

  • Hard maple (sugar maple) measures 1,450 on the Janka scale, higher than ash and white oak
  • Popular choice for modern homes due to its light texture and open grain pattern
  • Readily available
  • Resistant to minor damage like scuffs and scrapes from chair legs

Cherry

Cherry hardwood flooring texture closeup.
© Brand X Pictures – Getty

  • Brazilian cherry is extremely hard, measuring 2,350 on the Janka scale
  • Shock-absorbing and comfortable to walk on
  • Distinctive warm red hues
  • Straight, uniform, close grain that works well in traditional spaces

Ebony

Ebony hardwood flooring texture closeup.
© Kulynyck – Adobe Stock

  • Brazilian ebony is one of the hardest woods, measuring 3,700 on the Janka hardness scale
  • Dark brown to black shades that darken with age
  • Extremely durable and not susceptible to scratches and scrapes
  • High density makes it more resistant to moisture damage than other wood flooring

Bamboo

Bamboo hardwood flooring texture closeup.
© VIDOK – Getty

  • Strand-woven bamboo measures 3,000 on the Janka hardness scale
  • A grass, not a wood, but behaves very similarly to hardwood when used in flooring applications
  • Eco-friendly, sustainable and widely available, as it grows quickly and is easily replanted
  • Suitable for use with underfloor heating 

Hardwood Flooring Comparison

If you’re struggling with hardwood vs. laminate or engineered wood, talk to a flooring professional who can advise you on the best options for your particular circumstances.

Best Hardwood Floor Brands

The most popular hardwood flooring brands for availability, durability and quality include:

  • Bruce®
  • Carlisle®
  • Lumber Liquidators®

Most Durable Hardwood Flooring

Ebony, cherry, live oak, or bamboo are the most durable choices. These extremely hard woods (and wood-like bamboo) wear well and are more resistant to minor damage than other options.

Best Value Wood Flooring

For real wood, maple and hickory are among the best value. Maple costs $6.50 to $11 per square foot and hickory costs $6 to $13 per square foot. 

Woven bamboo, although technically not wood, is also exceptionally good value. Bamboo costs $5 to $11 per square foot and is as hard-wearing as hardwoods.

Cheapest Hardwood Flooring

Laminate wood-look is the cheapest option. While it isn’t real wood, it’s a good alternative if you’re working with a tight budget. It costs just $2 to $10 per square foot, installed.

Best Hardwood Floor for Radiant Heat

Although not solid hardwood, the best materials for installation with radiant heat systems are engineered hardwood or bamboo. Both of these can be installed as floating floors to make them compatible with underfloor heating.

Most Scratch-Resistant Wood Flooring

Any wood with a high rating on the Janka hardness scale is a smart choice for those who need scratch-resistant flooring. Ebony and Brazilian cherry are both excellent options.

Best Waterproof Wood Flooring

No wood flooring is truly waterproof, but ebony, bamboo and engineered hardwood come closest. They’re less likely to warp from humidity or spills.

Most Beautiful Hardwood Floors

This is a matter of opinion, however, exotic woods and those with interesting grain patterns and colors are often highly sought-after because of their appearance. These include ebony and Brazilian cherry.

Best Hardwood Flooring for Pets

If you have pets, you need flooring that resists scratches, such as ebony, bamboo, or engineered hardwood.

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Best Hardwood Flooring Options by Room

You may not want a uniform look throughout your home, or you may only want to install new floors in one or two rooms, so let’s take a look at the best hardwood floors for specific spaces.

Kitchen

In the kitchen, moisture and humidity are the biggest concerns, so select a material that can withstand spills, temperature, and humidity fluctuations like unfinished ebony planks that are sealed after installation. Bamboo and engineered floors are also good choices.

Living Room

The living room tends to be the biggest room in the home, so wider planks and a wood without too much variation in color or grain pattern are popular. White oak, ash, and maple work well.

Bathroom

In the bathroom, no natural wood should be used because it may warp from exposure to humidity and water. If you must have wood, go with engineered planks, but otherwise, check out these best bathroom flooring options.

Hallway

Hallways tend to be high-traffic areas, so you need something hard, resilient, and easy to maintain. Ash, hickory, oak and maple fit these criteria and are warm, inviting and affordable.

Basement

Basement choices are limited because most planks can’t be adhered to a concrete subfloor. Engineered and laminate are your best options here.

FAQs

What color hardwood is best for resale?

The best hardwood for resale should have a light or a dark stain with a brown or gray tone, not yellow. Yellow tends to make the flooring look dated.

What is the most popular finish for hardwood?

The most popular finish for hardwood is polyurethane with a base of water or oil. These products are easy to find at big box stores like Lowe’s and tend to cost the least.

Can you mix different wood floors in a house?

It’s possible to mix different species in a house, but you’ll want to find a professional hardwood installer near you. This design offers a unique look, but it can be difficult to place planks of different widths and styles. Certain types need longer to acclimate than others, particularly tropical woods like mahogany.

Is bamboo flooring better than hardwood?

Bamboo flooring is harder, more durable, water-resistant and sustainable than hardwood. By comparison, hardwood is easier to refinish and can last decades longer.

What’s the best hardwood floor for dogs?

Solid planks of hickory distressed by the manufacturer are a great hardwood floor for dogs. The ideal choice has a hard surface and a tight grain to minimize the appearance of scratches.

If you’re interested in hardwood flooring, consult a hardwood flooring cost calculator and talk to a few certified flooring contractors about what you need to do to order and install one of these unique, one-of-a-kind hardwood floors in your home!

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2 Comments

  1. Ron, April 24:

    I have 3″ x 3/4″ Red Oak’ prefinished flooring. The shine has declined over the past few years, but the finish still looks good. We have tried 2 hard wood cleaners. They both are concentrated, so we ad only the amount of cleaner required. Unfortunately, the floors in many cases leaves a residue, and picks up track marks from the sold of tennis shoes. I do not trust any cleaner at this point, I get different stories from different retainers what do you. I can take a small area and clean it by hand with just a touch of soap and water and making sure I do not leave any water on the floor to dry, drying it with old towels. I seem to get the shine back. What else do you suggest

  2. Emily Weaver, May 26:

    I use a simple mixture of one part vinegar, two parts water and a small squirt of liquid dish soap mixed in a spray bottle and spray as I go. I have used this on hardwood, engineered and laminate. It cleans, shines and doesn’t leave a residue.

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