Reactive stains (sometimes called ‘active stains’ or ‘chemical stains’) take advantage of the naturally occurring compounds in wood to create new colors. Rather than relying on pigments like traditional stains, reactive stains employ carefully selected natural chemicals that interact with the tannins, extractives, sugars or cellulose in the wood to change the color from within. Reactive stains are an excellent way of creating an aged look in new wood, as they can replicate the oxidative processes that occur in wood when it is exposed to the elements. The depth and complexity of the colors that result from reactive staining really shine when you compare a board treated with reactive stains to a board stained by traditional methods. There simply is no comparison.  Reactive stains create color that is integral to the wood itself, resulting in a look that is much more natural, crisp and subtle than traditional stains that rely on pigments that cover over the wood’s natural color.

With all reactive color processes such as fuming/smoking, carbonization, and reactive stains, tannin and sugar differences between boards result in color differences. But with reactive stains, the grain direction also matters. The degree of reaction depends on how much reactive stain is applied and absorbed into the wood. Depending on the grain structure, some areas absorb more than others.  As a result, reactive stains serve to highlight the natural structures in the wood, enhancing the perception that the wood was colored by nature. Reactive stains generally show more color variation, like natural, unstained wood, but it’s a gorgeous variation.

The antiquing effect (graying) of a reactive stain, midway through drying. Within a few hours, all of the boards will have this aged gray color.

The antiquing effect (graying) of a reactive stain, midway through drying. Within a few hours, all of the boards will have this aged gray color.

To some, the terms ‘reactive stain’ or ‘chemical stain’ bring up concerns that there may be ingredients in these stains that could be harmful to human health. Rest assured, this is not the case. Most reactive stains are just different kinds of salts and minerals dissolved in water. One of the most common ones, iron chloride, is actually used in the treatment of drinking water. A traditional homemade reactive stain that some wood floor finishers still use today is a solution of steel wool dissolved in vinegar. Today, we use more advanced formulas that give us better stability and consistency, but the basic building blocks are still the same, and completely safe.

At Royal Custom Plan & Parquet Flooring, we have been at the forefront of reactive stain technology for much longer than most of the market, and have learned many important lessons. The stains must be freshly mixed, applied with specialized machinery to carefully conditioned wood that is sourced from just one forest region, and dried for extended periods under tightly controlled conditions. In some cases, the stains must then be washed off or neutralized to stop the reaction from progressing too far. No other company has the facilities, the know-how, or the sourcing infrastructure to control things to this degree. We are proud to have done the hard work we’ve done and feel that it shows in the final product, but we’ll let you be the judge!


Our staff has been working with reactive stains for many years, in a small custom shop environment, on massive production lines over seas, and in the laboratories of the boutique stain manufacturers of Holland and Belgium. We have learned what works and what doesn’t. We know that due to variations in the tannin content of individual boards, reactive stains can never be controlled perfectly, which is exactly why they give you such beautiful, natural-looking results. But through the years we have learned how to eliminate as many variables as possible, and in our production facility in Phoenix, AZ, we have built a dedicated Reactive Staining Unit (RSU) to do just that.

As many of our customers have discovered, reactive stains are very difficult to apply under jobsite conditions. The results can be dramatically different between sample to actual floor, or from one job to the next. Here are some reasons why it’s so hard to get good results:

  • The exact moisture content of the wood at time of application affects the color

  • Humidity during dry times affect the depth of the reaction

  • Stain must be applied consistently – roller, brush, rag or even backpack sprayer are not precise enough.

  • The age of the reactive stain itself can affect the color, as the stains tend to lose their potency over time.

Together, these things make jobsite application very unpredictable. We invite you to allow us to apply our knowledge under carefully controlled conditions for more predictable, and beautiful, results.

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What makes RCP’s Reactive Staining different

  • Single-origin French Oak, to reduce as much as possible the range of tannin in the wood from batch to batch. Our Monarch Plank Artisans Preferred French Oak comes exclusively from the Burgundy region of France, long valued by wine makers as the most tannin-rich Oak on Earth.

  • Carefully controlled humidity and temperature, to condition the wood before staining and dry it under the same conditions every time.

  • Freshly mixed, proprietary reactive formulas that have not degraded during transit and storage.

  • A water filtration system, to keep chlorine and other contaminants out of the stain mixtures.

  • Wire-brushing, saw-marks, and other custom textures, to get the most dramatic effects from the reactive stain.