Does Wood Lighten Over Time?

Wood is a living natural material, so even after installation, it can still experience changes. It may be prone to color shifting over time, whether you have wood flooring, cabinets, or furniture. Depending on the type of wood, the color change can be drastic or minimal. A few everyday factors contribute to the changing that can be monitored if you'd like to prevent it. 

Due to exposure to oxygen, humidity, and sunlight, wood can lighten over time. Some kinds of wood that experience lightening over time are oak, walnut, birch, and red alder. The color change is not always drastic, but it is noticeable.

Some woods can get darker over time, such as cherry, maple, and fir. These color changes can be prevented to an extent as well as corrected after the shift in color.

Wood is prone to both fading and darkening with exposure to the elements. The color change can sometimes enhance the beauty of the wood by showing more of the natural grain. However, if you would rather keep the original color, there are some steps you can take to prevent and fix fading. We have done the research and compiled some tips to keep the wood in your home looking gorgeous for years to come.

Kitchen, with alder cabinets and floor, marble counters, with carved bar stools, Does Wood Lighten Over Time?

Does oak wood change color over time?

Yes, oak wood can change color over time. Both red oak and white oak will become lighter as they are exposed to the elements. The change is slightly more noticeable in red oak. Although the color change is noticeable, it happens gradually over the years.

Red oak

Full frame natural wood texture stock photo with excellent detail!

Red oak starts off with a light brown color. After years of exposure, it shifts to a slightly lighter shade of brown. Along with the change in shade, the original wood does not possess an added element of richness. This change in hue makes the wood grain stand out more and is often a welcome change for furniture and cabinetry. 

White oak

Full frame natural wood texture stock photo with excellent detail!

White oak experiences a similar color change to red oak. This wood species starts as a more unsaturated brown compared to red oak. Over time, the color gets a richer amber tone. The slightly yellow tone of the wood shows more contrast in the wood grain than the original color.

Does walnut wood lighten with age?

Rough dark wood background. A wood grain pattern featuring even grains of wood running horizontally across the image. The board is old and weathered, but in good condition.

Walnut is another wood that gets lighter with age. Walnut naturally is a dark shade of brown. As it ages, the color shifts to a lighter shade of brown. This change is much more drastic than the change that white oak experiences.

Does birch wood lighten with age?

birch wood wardrobe

Birch wood naturally has an ashy light brown color. Over time, the color of the wood will become less ashy and develop a slightly yellow color. The resulting color shift is not a drastic change in brightness; it is more of a change of hue.

Does red alder get lighter over time?

Red alder is a beautiful light brown wood with a tinge of pink or red. This wood does experience fading over time. Even so, the change is very minimal. After years of sun exposure, the wood will lose its red tint and appear lighter brown with an amber tint.

If you have multiple different kinds of wood decorating your home, it is important to keep in mind how the colors may change. You may want to embrace the color change. However, the new color may not be a good match with the rest of the wood in your home.

For tips and information on pairing different woods, read our article on if you should mix wood colors in a room.

How do you keep wood from fading?

The best way to prevent the wood from fading is to seal the wood. This can be done to wooden cabinets, tables, and hardwood floors. The main culprit of wood fading is UV rays. The most effective methods are applying a sealant with UV protection or limiting sun exposure to protect the wood.

What sealants protect against UV rays?

If you would like to seal your wood to prevent fading, there are many options available:

  • Polyurethane 
  • Lacquer
  • Varnish

Hardwood floors

If you are sealing hardwood floors, then the best sealant will be polyurethane. This wood finish creates a protective barrier over the wood while also bringing out the wood's natural color. It will resist scratches and damage as well as provide UV protection. Polyurethane comes in a gloss, semi-gloss, satin, and matte finish.

You can check out UV protective sealants on Amazon.

Cabinets and furniture

To protect wooden furniture and cabinets, you may want to opt for lacquer or varnish, which are thinner than polyurethane. Varnish is made of resin which creates a clear protective barrier against UV rays and damage. Lacquer is shellac-based and can be combined with pigments for any desired tint. The main difference between the two is that lacquers provide more versatility in terms of finish and color.

You can find UV varnish on Amazon.

How to limit sun exposure?

The easiest preventative measure to take is to minimize direct sunlight on wooden surfaces. This can be done by having curtains block out some of the sun coming in from windows. If you have hardwood flooring, it would be a good investment to get UV protective films for your windows.

You can find UV window tints on Amazon. They are affordable and easy to install.

Alternatively, you can move furniture around your space. If a side table is in direct sunlight, you can move it periodically to a location of shade. That will slow down the effects of the sun. Also, beware of shadowing, which is the sun bleaching the area around objects on the furniture. Do not let anything sit on your wooden surfaces in one spot for too long to avoid shadowing.

Can sun-faded wood be restored?

Old wood texture background. Gunge style photo

If your wood has already become faded from the sun, there is a way to restore it to its former glory. The method you use will depend on the finish of your wood. You can use oils, waxes, and stains to get the wood back to its original color.

How do you get color back to faded wood?

Finished wood

If your wood is finished, you will first need to clean and strip off the original finish with a chemical stripper or sanding. Next, you will apply a stain that is the color you'd like or oil to enhance the natural color. Lastly, if you would like to protect the color further, you can apply a top coat with UV protection. As previously mentioned, that can be polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer.

Unfinished wood

If the wood is unfinished, then you would start by cleaning the surface of the wood. Next, you can apply a stain, oil, or wax. Oil and wax products rejuvenate the wood and bring out its natural color. If you are going to keep your wood unfinished, be sure to go for a product that provides UV protection for a long-lasting restoration. For more information on protective wood stains, read our piece on if wood stains protect the wood.

In Closing

The wooden furniture and flooring in your home are built to withstand the test of time. However, they are not invincible. All wood is open to color changes through its lifetime. You can choose to embrace the change or restore it to its original color. You can do the best thing for your wood surfaces to protect them from UV rays by covering windows or sealing them with protective finishes.

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