A Little White Lye

Ok so it’s a terrible pun but cut me some slack, it’s 7am and I am already on my second train of the day heading towards “sunny” Manchester from Cambridge. In all probability unless you know something about wood flooring you won’t even get the reference so I’ll explain.

Did you ever see a picture of a pristine Scandinavian house, large open plan configuration, simple furniture; you know the type I’m talking about! Anyway the floor it all sits on is very often extremely pale, sometimes pine, sometimes oak but nearly always bleached out looking. To achieve that look fully, you must use lye (so now you think it’s a great pun… ok you still don’t, fair enough) and as the Scandinavian white wood floor look is currently very “in vogue” it’s worth knowing a little about it.

how to get scandinavian white wood floors


Lye is a caustic type substance used to remove the orange hue from timber, particularly flooring. Without the use of lye the strong orange tints in the timber tend to come through whatever white tint you put on the wood at a later stage, particularly on some pines that have resinous streaks in them. There are two types, softwood lye and hardwood lye depending on the wood species they are going to be used on. The lye is normally applied after sanding the floor fully (quite often the floor is left a little rougher than usual so more of the white oil or stain is left in the wood at the later stage), it is left to work and is then mopped up or extracted after whatever time is prescribed by the manufacturer. You will notice that the liquid has turned “yellowy” indicating that the product has done its job in bleaching out the strong colours. Once the product has been removed you must neutralise the wood with clean water, extract and then let the floor dry out thoroughly in order to negate the risk of contaminating later products.

Scandinavian White Wood Floor Finishes

What you do next depends on what type of finish you are looking for. A strictly Scandinavian approach is to white oil the floor followed by the application of a soap treatment. This suits dry, cold countries where a certain degree of wear and tear is not only tolerated but actually embraced, but it doesn’t really suit the UK climate or attitude. The maintenance of this finish is relatively easy in that you use the same soap to clean it, but it is also more frequent than most people want.

A more modern approach that achieves a similar look but is easier to keep is white tinted, catalysed oil. These catalysed products are far more durable and stain resistant than simple one component oils and yet still have key advantages over lacquers in terms of sustainability and practicality.

For those who really want a surface build lacquer type product, (count me out) it is usual to stain the floor white and then apply the finish over the top of the stain. This method does give slightly more control over the depth of white that can be achieved (not white enough then tint the lacquer slightly) but it also means that any damage to the floor is virtually impossible to disguise without a total re-sand. If going with this approach I would recommend using a two component finish with at least two coats over the white in order to give it maximum protection.

There are several methods of white staining the floor from the simplest, thinned down white emulsion to the very latest VOC free oil based primer/stains. The full list of options and combinations is way beyond the scope of this article but I am a firm believer in using systems developed by manufacturers, that way you are guaranteed a solution that works. Part of that system should be maintenance products, a white floor is tricky to keep and using the wrong products can make the challenge worse.

Of course all this is just my opinion but after all, would I lye to you?

If you want to tackle your own floor sanding project – why not contact us now. We hire the best machines and provide the best expert advice, thanks to decades of experience in the professional floor sanding industry. FInd your local recommended floor sanding contractor.

Image credit MyScandinavianHome.com. For more design inspiration and to see Scandinavian white wood floors check out the website.