Oak and maple are both classic materials for flooring. These hardwoods are fairly neutral and create a solid foundation for the rest of your decor. Even though they have some similarities, oak and maple have distinct qualities. You may be partial to one over the other based on appearance, durability and personal preference.

Do Oak and Maple Look Different?

When you think of hardwood floors, do you imagine medium-brown planks with some grain patterns? Oak and maple may both fall into that category. However, you might be surprised by the subtle intricacies of each material.

Maple is lighter than oak. It has a blonde hue that borders on creamy white. Depending on the manufacturer, some types of maple flooring are beige or light brown. The overall appearance of maple is uniform. The wood doesn’t have high-contrast grain, and all of the planks that you’ll buy for a single project will have a fairly consistent tone and pattern.

White oak has a golden brown color. It has chocolate tones in the grain, which contrast nicely with the base color. The grain pattern of white oak is much more pronounced than that of maple. However, the type of cut influences the grain definition. Some oak planks have straight, subtle lines, while others have a swirling, organic design.

Red oak is lighter than white oak and has a reddish hue. Some experts say that it has a salmon-colored tint. This hardwood is an excellent option if you prefer the warm tones and want a floor that’s not as light as maple but not as dark as white oak.

Staining Oak vs Maple

Most people select the type of hardwood in part for its color. It makes sense that you would choose maple if you wanted lighter colored floors and white oak for a grayer, more neutral hue. If you want dark floors, you’re likely better off choosing a different type of wood. However, this isn’t always possible. If you’re interested in changing the color of your existing hardwood, you should consider the way that the different materials accept stain.

Maple flooring usually comes with a factory finish. This may differ between manufacturers. It might also include a stain that changes the natural color of the wood. If you want maple floors in a particular hue, you should select planks that best match your preferences. Most maple planks are finished with a light or clear sealant.

Maple is very difficult to stain once it’s on your floors. That’s because the grain is tightly closed on most of the plank. These spots don’t absorb stain well. The more porous areas do soak in plenty of stain, resulting in an uneven, blotchy appearance.

Manufacturers often use special techniques to prevent this from happening. But those techniques are difficult to replicate at home. Consult with a flooring professional if you are interested in changing the color of your existing maple floors.

If you’re looking for something darker than maple, consider oak. Not only is oak naturally darker than maple, but it also takes stain better. That’s because the wood is more porous and less dense than maple. If you want to darken existing oak floors, you can sand, stain and seal them.

You can stain oak flooring with any hue. Dark brown stains will camouflage some of the grain pattern and provide a more uniform appearance. However, dark floors aren’t as forgiving as light hardwoods when it comes to seeing dirt and dust. If you have a busy household and want dust and other particles to blend in with your floorboards, you might want to choose a lighter shade.

Is Oak or Maple More Durable?

Maple is harder than oak. However, these materials don’t fall far from each other on the hardness scale. Both are extremely good choices if you’re looking for a floor that will last for years.

These hardwoods resist scratches, gouges and dents. While dragged furniture or your pet’s claws can mar the finish, they’re not likely to dig into the wood itself. If your maple or oak floors do become damaged, you can sand and refinish them.

Even though maple is harder than oak, it’s not as stable in the face of humidity. The cells in any hardwood floors swell when they’re exposed to moisture and shrink in dry environments. Wood species that swell less in response to moisture are more dimensionally stable. Oak has more dimensional stability than maple.

This means that oak is less likely to become cupped or warped. Oak floors are less prone to developing gaps between the planks than maple. If your room is in a humid environment, oak may be the best option.

To reduce the risk of gapping between the boards, however, you can also choose narrower planks. These display less movement in response to moisture than wide boards.

How to Maintain Oak vs Maple Flooring

The best way to keep your oak or maple floors in good condition is to keep the humidity levels in your home stable. Using an air conditioner or dehumidifier in wet weather prevents moisture changes from affecting the floorboards. You can use a humidifier in dry weather, but don’t let condensation build up on the floors. You should also avoid leaving wet towels, shoes or bathing suits on the flooring.

Maintain your roof, and inspect your home regularly for signs of moisture damage. Standing water and leaks can permanently disfigure both oak and hardwood flooring.

Maintenance requirements for oak and maple flooring are similar. Keep them free of dirt and debris by sweeping or using a vacuum with a soft head. Avoid harsh cleaning equipment with hard edges, which can dull or scratch the finish on your floors.

When it’s time to deep clean your floors, feel free to mop them with a damp cloth. You can find many commercial cleaners that are designed for any hardwood. You can use these interchangeably between maple and oak. However, you might want to use the manufacturer’s recommendations for the best cleaning products for the best results.

Which Flooring Fits With Your Style and Budget?

It’s difficult to separate cost from style. Maple is often less expensive than oak, but it offers fewer variations in grain, color and pattern. While oak generally costs more than maple, it comes in a broad range of styles.

If you’re looking to spend less money to put down a neutral, classic and timeless floor that matches any decor, you might want to consider maple. However, if you have a unique color and design in mind, you can usually find a type of oak flooring to match your vision.