What Are The Pros And Cons of Distressed Hardwood Flooring?

Brigid Levi
by Brigid Levi

Perhaps the best way to tie a design together is with the flooring. Distressed hardwood flooring is the perfect complement to the ever-popular country-chic aesthetic. For a rustic and authentically antique look, distressed floors are a must.

Distressed hardwood floors highlight the natural imperfections of the wood. Because they already show lots of wear and tear, you won’t notice any subsequent scratches or dents. They are available in solid or engineered hardwood, the latter of which is highly durable. Both solid and hand-distressed wood can be very costly while engineered distressed hardwood leaves a large carbon footprint.

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What is Distressed Hardwood?

Available in a variety of wood species, finishes, and sizes, distressed wood gives off an antique, rustic vibe. Knots, scratches, cracks, and dents are all highlighted on distressed floors once sanded and stained.

These various imperfections create visual interest and bring character to your space. They provide a lived-in look that’s perfect for the rustic aesthetic seen in farmhouse and cottage décor. Due to the floor’s uneven surface, its look changes throughout the day as the light moves through the room.

No matter your style, these floors come in all levels of distress ranging from light to heavy. And their weathered and textured look brings with it warmth and charm.

Distressing Techniques

To achieve a distressed look on hardwood, there are a few different tools and techniques to use. Two of the most popular and most beautiful techniques are wire brushing and handscraping.

Wire Brushed Distressed Wood

Wire brushing is a relatively new process in distressing floors. This technique is performed as its name describes. During the finishing process, the floor is carefully brushed with a wire, removing soft grains of wood and leaving behind the hard grains. This process of wire brushing essentially strengthens the floor.

Wiring brushing creates a distinct pattern that compliments most floors. Any additional scratches won’t be noticed because they blend right in.

While imperfections in wire brushed floors are smoother than other distressed types, they’re harder to clean because dirt gets into the grains more easily. They’re also expensive to make because of the labor-intensive manufacturing process. This translates to a higher price tag.

Handscraped Distressed Wood

Handscraped hardwood is being seen more in contemporary and elegant designs as opposed to just in country-chic. This hand-crafted look comes in richly colored planks that tend to be the main feature of any room.

To achieve this look, machines or artisans use tools to wear away portions of the boards. Handscraped floors can last for decades and look the same with no compromise in their texture.

While not high maintenance per se, they do require an extra level of care. They are highly durable floors, but they need to be cleaned regularly. Unlike other types of hardwood flooring, you can use a wet mop to clean handscraped floors.

Another thing to be aware of is that handscraped floors can be difficult to install. This is not the type of floor to install yourself if you’re inexperienced, especially if your wood was distressed by hand. It will be terribly expensive to replace should something go wrong.

Engineered vs. Solid Hardwood

Distressed floors are available in both solid and engineered hardwood.

Engineered floors are built for durability. The top and bottom layers are 100% wood and their hardness depends on the type of wood used. In between the solid wood are layers of tightly packed plywood. This engineering is what makes the boards so durable. When built this way, the boards are resistant to shrinking, swelling, or warping no matter the humidity level. Distressed engineered hardwood can even be used in bathrooms.

Engineered floors can be installed anywhere solid wood can plus other places it can’t. For example, engineered wood floors can be installed in basements or over concrete. They also transfer heat better than solid wood floors, so they can be placed over radiant heat as a floating system.

One of the major downfalls of engineered hardwood is that it can’t be refinished as often as solid wood.

Cost of Distressed Engineered Wood

Distressed engineered hardwood typically costs less than solid hardwood. Not only does engineered hardwood use less actual wood but the distressing is done by machine.

Distressed engineered hardwood costs roughly 20% more than unfinished solid hardwood. But it’s less to install and maintain. The price is dependent on many factors but ranges anywhere from $6-$23 per square foot.

Cost of Distressed Solid Hardwood

Distressed flooring made from solid wood is very expensive because it’s so labor-intensive to produce. Often, solid wood is distressed by hand rather than a machine which drives up the cost.

The cost of distressed solid hardwood depends on the wood itself as well as how much labor was involved in the distressing process. The average cost for solid hardwood without any distressing is $8 per square foot. You can imagine how much it’ll increase if hand-distressed.

Pros of Distressed Hardwood

In addition to the points already mentioned, there are quite a few advantages to installing distressed floors in your home. Perhaps the greatest is that they’re fairly indestructible. They are also relatively low maintenance and, depending on the wood and distressing technique, easy to clean.


Because they already show lots of wear and tear, distressed hardwood floors are great for high-traffic areas and households with kids and pets. They hide any additional scratches, dents, or dings created by paws, claws, and energetic children. When properly maintained, hardwood floors can last up to 100 years or longer.

Low Maintenance

Many distressed hardwoods are manufactured with a matte finish which helps hide dirt and stains. Regular sweeping and vacuuming are enough to take care of the daily upkeep. For a deeper clean, it’s best to use a specially formulated hardwood floor cleaner. A cleaner recommended by the manufacturer is even better.

Cons of Distressed Hardwood

Whether you choose solid or engineered distressed flooring, each comes with its own set of disadvantages to consider.


Cleaning hardwood floors isn’t necessarily hard but extra thought and care are involved, particularly for solid wood. The level of care is dependent on the kind of wood as some are more high maintenance than others.

Water is the bane of wood’s existence. You should avoid wet mops at all costs on solid hardwood. Clean spills as they occur, and don’t use the carpet setting when vacuuming wood. Even though the wood is already distressed, the bristles may damage the floor beyond repair.

Not Eco-Friendly

Distressed engineered hardwood has a high carbon footprint. Because it’s made in a factory setting, it requires more production steps, materials, glues, and finishes. All of this adds up to a non-environmentally friendly flooring option.

In the same vein, solid distressed hardwood may not be so eco-friendly either. Flooring made from ash, for example, is unsustainable because ash trees are endangered.

If you want to save the planet but still want the distressed look, try using reclaimed wood instead of mass-produced wood.


Distressed wood is a very specific look that fits with a very specific style. It’s trendy now, but that might not always be the case. Some home buyers may one day shy away from homes with distressed flooring, making resale difficult.

Related Questions

Can distressed floors be refinished?

The answer here is yes, though the outcome depends on whether the floor is solid or engineered wood. Solid wood is always easier to refinish. Beneath the top layer of wood is more wood. So, if your solid wood floor has more than the minimal damage caused by distressing, you can sand, re-scrape, and re-stain.Refinishing engineered wood is trickier. At some point, the solid wood becomes plywood. The ability to refinish it depends on the wear level. You may be able to sand it down, but some of the distressing might disappear.

Is it better to glue or float an engineered wood floor?

When deciding between the two, floating an engineered floor is easier. You can simply install it over the existing floor without having to decide which glue is best. This option is less messy and more time-saving.

Can I use an engineered wood floor in a kitchen?

Absolutely! Built for durability, engineered wood stands up to high foot traffic and changing humidity levels. Distressed engineered hardwood is the perfect tie-in for your farmhouse kitchen. It will bring warmth and character while also hiding any scrapes or dings that tend to occur in this part of the house.

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Summing It Up

The biggest pro of distressed hardwood flooring is its ability to hide wear and tear. There’s practically nothing you can do to this floor that hasn’t already been done to it. Although some extra care is involved with solid hardwoods, distressed flooring is relatively low-maintenance.

While distressed engineered flooring is less expensive, the cost of distressed flooring tends to be higher than the average hardwood. It’s also not great for those who want sustainability. And it can potentially be a detriment when it comes to resale.

Taking all that into consideration, the beauty and uniqueness of distressed hardwood flooring are unmatched.

Brigid Levi
Brigid Levi

Brigid Levi is a wife, mother, and freelance writer who enjoys a good DIY project and creating beautiful spaces within her home. From cleaning and organization hacks to home decor ideas, she loves helping people in their quest to turn a house into a home. Her hobbies include pretending to be Joanna Gaines while updating her home with her husband and performing in local theater productions.

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