Rustic cabin floors often come to mind when you think of pine and oak flooring. While these natural materials might work well in a rugged environment, they’re equally at home in traditional, contemporary and luxury homes. If you’re deciding between pine vs oak flooring, you should understand the characteristics of both so that you can make the best choice.

What Is Oak Flooring?

Oak is a hardwood that has been used in construction for centuries. This dense material is durable and more water-resistant than many other woods. It’s often chosen for its durability, but it also has a classic, neutral appearance.

Oak is an easy sell for most homeowners because it’s not too dark and not too light. It appeals to many tastes and provides an unpresuming canvas for the rest of your decor.

What Is Pine Flooring?

Pine is a softwood. Whereas hardwoods like oak come from deciduous trees, which drop their leaves in the fall, softwood flooring like pine comes from coniferous trees. While it’s true that softwood isn’t quite as durable as hardwood, it still makes a practical flooring material in many cases.

As popular as pine is for flooring, it must have some advantages. People often choose pine planks for their natural appeal. The wood’s original color is fairly light and accepts stain well. Therefore, you can alter the tone to match other types of wood and complement your style.

What’s the Difference in Appearance Between Pine vs Oak Flooring?

The way that the planks are cut affect their grain pattern. However, most oak flooring has a low-contrast grain design that’s not too dramatic. Its natural tone is a medium, honey brown color, but it can have reddish or walnut variations. 

Pine tends to have more “character” than oak flooring. Although it often has a blond hue, it may have some honey or coffee-colored knots. These stand out against the light background and offer plenty of variation in the look of the flooring. Depending on the species of tree that it comes from, pine flooring can also come in shades of deep red and dark honey.

There are different styles of flooring within the same material category. For example, you can find light pine planks with a uniform grain pattern. These are ideal for minimalist and Scandinavian styles. You can also purchase distressed pine boards, which have knots, uneven surfaces and marked grain patterns.

Oak is the same way. When an oak tree is cut across the grain, it produces planks with a highly varied appearance. You can see lots of wavy patterns and knots on some types of oak flooring. On the other hand, standard oak floors have a more consistent pattern and color.

If you want your flooring to stay consistent throughout its life, oak might be the way to go. With proper care and maintenance, your oak floors will stay resilient over time. 

Pine changes in appearance with age. Depending on the way that it’s treated, pine can develop a patina, which changes its color. Moreover, it will show signs of wear as it gets older. But this is one of the reasons that some consumers choose pine over oak. They appreciate the way that it evolves.

Pine vs Oak Flooring: Which Is Tougher?

If you’re purely practical, you’ll want to know which type of flooring is more durable. Oak wins the contest for its hardness. 

The Janka Hardness Scale identifies the hardness of a wood and rates it with a number. White oak has a rating of 1360. Red oak is slightly softer, with a rating of 1290. Most firs have a hardness rating of 400 to 500. Eastern white pine is particularly soft, with a hardness rating of 390. Heart pine, on the other hand, is fairly rugged, with a harness rating of 1225.

Oak is more resistant to damage than pine. It won’t dent or scratch as easily from hard-soled shoes, furniture or animal claws. Pine is easily distressed. But pine flooring often comes with a worn-in look. Extra scratches aren’t always seen as blemishes—they add to its character. 

Pine becomes tougher over the years. As you walk on it, you compress the fibers in the wood. Therefore, older pine floors are more resilient than newer ones. 

How Do Pine vs Oak Flooring Handle Moisture?

Oak is much more water-resistant than pine. Because pine is so soft and porous, it readily absorbs moisture. Therefore, older pine floors are more likely to warp, cup and bend over time. 

White oak grain is filled with tylose, a material that blocks moisture absorption and retention. Oak is not completely waterproof, but white oak is much more weather-resistant than pine. 

If you live in a high-humidity area, you might think twice before choosing pine over oak flooring. Pine is more likely to shift and gap over time. However, you can ask a flooring expert about the best option for you. Pine flooring that has been treated for moisture resistance can last a long time in any environment. 

You can also choose engineered hardwood or laminate with a pine finish. These materials are often less susceptible to changes from moisture exposure than natural oak or pine.

Where to Use Pine vs Oak Flooring

Oak’s durability makes it perfect for floors in high-traffic areas. This material is often used for stair treads because it’s likely to hold its shape and develop less wear and tear than softer woods. 

You can use oak throughout a home. It’s also an excellent flooring for bedrooms, foyers, living rooms and hallways. It’s not uncommon to find oak flooring in kitchens and bathrooms. However, you need to take extra precautions against moisture if you place oak flooring in rooms with exposure to wetness. Still, oak would be preferable to pine in rooms where they’re likely to get splashed.

Even though pine is a softwood, it’s ideal for decking. Pressure-treated pine is extremely weather-resistant and affordable, making it a good choice for outdoor flooring. Oak, on the other hand, is more expensive to use for decking. Some consumers install treated oak decking outside as an alternative to even more expensive tropical hardwoods. But pressure-treated pine is much more common for flooring on decks, sunrooms and porches.

Pine might not be the best material for a dining room or other area where heavy furniture gets moved around a lot. Chairs can leave marks from where guests slide them under the table. You can protect softer pine by using rugs under furniture that’s likely to dent the wood.

Is Oak Better Than Pine Flooring?

There is no clear winner when it comes to pine vs oak flooring. The best choice depends on where you plan to put the flooring, how you intend to maintain it and how long you expect it to last. 

Oak and pine flooring have similar maintenance needs. If you sweep them regularly and go over them with a damp mop to remove residue periodically, they should stay pristine for a long time. Floors with more distressing can be harder to keep clean, though. Sand and dirt work their way into crevices, abrading the surface and causing premature wear and tear. 

Still, this is the beauty of natural wood. It reflects exactly who you are.