Red Oak Flooring Vs White Oak Flooring – What’s the Difference?

Oak flooring has been a standard flooring option in the United States for years, and for good reason. Oak is attractive, durable, and versatile enough to use in almost any room. Both red oak and white oak are popular hardwood flooring choices, but what are the differences between the two, exactly? Is one variety better suited for a dining room? What about a bedroom? Is one variety more durable than the other?

The following article examines both red oak flooring and white oak flooring in four important categories – Strength and Durability, Appearance, Movement in Service, and Maintenance – and compares the results side by side. If you have a project that involves oak flooring and you can’t decide between red or white, consider the following information before deciding. You’ll be glad you did.

Strength and Durability

Strength and durability are determined by two main factors: Janka hardness and density. The Janka hardness rating is a measure of how resistant a piece of hardwood is to indentation. Janka hardness is measured in pounds, and the higher the rating the stronger the wood. Density is a measure of how much of the wood is actually packed into a cubic meter. The combination of hardness and density can tell you how well a particular hardwood species will hold up to everyday wear and tear.

The Janka hardness rating for red oak is 1,2900 lbs and the density is 780 KG/m3. For white oak, the hardness is 1,360 lbs and the density is 900 KG/m3. While both varieties definitely live up to the name of “hardwood”, white is definitely the stronger of the two oaks. White oak flooring will hold up better to heavy furniture and heavy foot traffic, but only slightly. If strength and durability isn’t a major concern for you, either hardwood varieties would work very well.


For most homeowners, the appearance of hardwood floors is very important. Both red and white have tight, complex grain patterns and light, warm tones. Red oak tends to feature a more reddish-brown heartwood and warm, glowing tones, while white features pale tones and a contrasting dark grain. Red oak is a bit more colorful, so if you’re looking for a more exotic-looking flooring choice, red oak is the best bet. However, if your design scheme calls for a more neutral, versatile floor, it would be wise to pick white.

Movement in Service

Movement in Service refers to how likely a hardwood species is to shrink or expand during shipping or after installation. This is measured in tangential and radial shrinkage and expressed as a percentage. The lower the percentage, the less likely the wood will shrink. Also, the smaller the differential between the tangential and radial shrinkage, the less likely the floors will buckle over time.

The tangential and radial shrinkage for red oak flooring is 8.6% and 4.0%, respectively. For white oak flooring, the numbers are 7.2% and 4.2%. Notice that not only is white oak’s tangential shrinkage much smaller than red oak’s, but white oak’s differential is also smaller. This means that in similar environments, white oak would resist buckling, bending and warping better than red oak.


The maintenance requirements for both red oak flooring and white oak flooring are virtually the same. If treated with a high-quality sealant or stain, both varieties will hold up quite well to wear and tear and require very little maintenance. Sweeping and mopping on a regular basis will help keep the floors looking good, and the occasional refinishing should bring them back to their original glory. Unless you have marching band practice in your house every day, both red oak and white oak will retain their beauty for years and years.

Red oak flooring and white oak flooring are both great options for homeowners – they will increase the value of the home while adding an air of elegance and sophistication. When it comes to which is a better wood, white oak tends to score a little bit higher in terms of strength and movement in service. However, the two species are quite similar and the final decision is usually based on an aesthetic factor. Whichever species you choose, feel confident that you are investing in strong, attractive hardwood floors that you will be enjoying for years to come.