Hardwood flooring industry trends of late continue to reveal that more and more designers and homeowners are looking for new, creative, and eco-friendly ways to incorporate the natural beauty of wood flooring into their design concepts and homes.
Fortunately, recent developments in manufacturing technology are meeting this demand with new, advanced coloration technology of stain reactive (also known as chemical reactive) wood floors. This rapidly growing niche of prefinished engineered hardwood flooring offers the stunning aesthetics of “Old World,” aged, and antique-looking wood through a process more efficient and eco-friendly than the traditional industry methods that have been used to achieve this end.
The result? Flooring that’s visually dynamic, affordable, and built to last a lifetime.
To understand how chemical reactive technology is changing the way consumers think about hardwood floors, an understanding of the organic process by which wood creates its widely popular antique look would be a prudent place to start.
The Organic Aging Process of Wood
All living things eventually age, and trees are no exception. While we humans may attribute how quickly one grows old to things like genetics, lifestyle, and life stressors, the primary culprit behind what makes wood age is a naturally occurring substance found in most trees called tannic acid.
Tannic acid is a complex chemical substance that plays a pivotal role in the overall health of the tree. Not to get too scientific here, but tannins are classified as phenolic compounds. They can be found in many different plants across the globe.
In trees specifically, the primary objective of tannin is to provide protection from bacteria, fungi infections, and insects. Effectively, they are large molecules that bind effortlessly with the other minerals, starches, and proteins found in wood to create an insoluble substance that’s highly resistant to decomposition.
Over time, due to a wide range of environmental factors, these tannins are what change the color of the wood.
For anyone who enjoys a weekend drive through the mountains of Appalachia during September, October, and early November, you can thank tannin for all that beautiful foliage as it is also the reason leaves change colors.
So, why does any of this matter?
Well, for lovers of the “Old World” look that has become so widely popular in the hardwood flooring industry over the past few years, this process is what affords trees longevity and allows the wood to age.
Golfing legend Arnold Palmer once said, “It is a rare and difficult attainment to grow old gracefully and happily.”
For most trees, tannins make this very achievement possible.
How the Reactive Stain Process Works
In the past, to create an aged, “Old World” look for their wood floors, hardwood floor finishers had to be pretty creative. Methods to achieve this particular style and look on wood floor planks included fuming them with ammonia, applying a solution composed of steel wool and pure vinegar, and even torching. To no one’s surprise, these efforts were time-consuming and often yielded mixed results.
Fortunately, the development of chemical reactive technology has revolutionized this process.
Today, reactive stain formulas are greener, safer, more consistent, and more stable than ever before.
Reactive stain is a pigment-free, water-based solution often composed of iron chloride, a salt that is routinely used in the purification process of clean, healthy drinking water. When applied to hardwood, this solution expedites the organic, color-changing process that occurs within the natural elements found in wood – in particular, as detailed above, the chemical compound tannin.
To produce a chemical reaction on a floor, this special, eco-friendly solution is brushed on each wood floor plank by hand. Upon application, the wood instantaneously undergoes a powerful oxidative reaction between the dissolved minerals in the stain and the natural tannins found in the wood. In an effort to deeply penetrate the wood and bring each plank to life, this advanced coloration process is then repeated multiple times to accentuate and enhance the natural character and beauty of wood.
Chemical Reactive Engineered Wood Flooring Benefits
Contrary to concerns that harmful ingredients are used in this “chemical staining” process, as previously detailed, stain reactive technology uses the already-present tannins and sugars of hardwood to safely draw out the wood’s organic color. This creates eye-catching, aesthetically pleasing, and more natural colors, resulting in some of the cleanest, most eco-friendly wood floors on the market today.
Visually speaking, these floors produce an almost holographic look, with the unique graining patterns found in each plank displaying a stunning, mirroring “3D” effect. From whichever angle, height, or perspective they are viewed, each plank looks alive and rich.
From a functional standpoint, even for busy homes with high traffic areas, these floors are incredibly durable. Most manufacturers apply a high-grade, multicoat, UV-cured matte aluminum oxide finish to produce a highly scratch-resistant wood floor.
As an added benefit, this eco-friendly finish mimics the look of a traditional oil-finished floor but requires a mere fraction of the maintenance. Simply sweep as needed to remove debris and apply a manufacturer-recommended hardwood floor cleaner, and you’re good to go!
Homeowners, interior designers/decorators, and high-end designers/architects alike will appreciate the plentiful decorating options and ease of ownership afforded by these beautiful prefinished engineered wood floors.
Lee Hurst is a 2017 recipient of the Hardwood Floors magazine “40 Under 40” award, recognizing the top 40 professionals under the age of 40 in the wood flooring industry. A co-owner of Hurst Hardwoods, a family-owned and -operated national wood flooring online wholesaler located in Tampa, Florida, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.