The very word “mahogany” evokes images of beautifully furnished luxury homes and with good reason. As a flooring wood, mahogany’s rich color and smooth grain lend an air of sophistication to a room. As attractive as it is, though, the color can be a little unpredictable and the many types of wood called mahogany make shopping somewhat complicated.
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Pros: Outstanding Coloring and Durability
Although best known for its striking color, mahogany is also a tough wood that stands up well to foot traffic, and it’s not as expensive as you might expect.
New mahogany flooring starts out a pale tan, but as it’s exposed to UV light (sunlight) over time, it darkens to a deep reddish-brown with variations of honey, bronze, and dark brown. You won’t need to worry about this floor fading in sunlight. The grain is distinct, but typically straight and close, giving the floor a consistent appearance. Mahogany with ribbon-like interlocked grain is also fairly common. This grain produces intricately rippling color shifts across the floor.
The wood takes a polish easily, making it well suited to modern decor styles. With less polish, the deep color of mahogany is right at home in a rustic cabin setting.
Hard and Durable
Genuine South American mahogany (Swietenia spp.) is comparable to cherry in hardness, making it moderately durable. Other types of mahogany, such as African mahogany (Khaya spp.) are harder than some oak, walnut, and even maple species, so despite its refined appearance, it can stand up to a lot of wear with minimal scratches and dings. That makes it ideal for the living room, kitchen or other high-traffic area as well as for homes with active kids or large dogs.
Both South American and African mahogany species are resistant to water damage, fungi, and pests. In particular, they’re known as termite-resistant woods, so they’re practical choices if you live in an area where these insects pose a major threat.
Mahogany flooring planks are typically quarter sawn from logs, which gives them greater stability with less risk of warping or cupping compared to more common plain sawn planks.
Easy to Work With
For a hard wood, mahogany is relatively easy to work. It machines easily, although there’s some risk of chipping with mahogany that has an interlocked grain. The wood can be glued without issues, is easy to sand, and takes stain well.
Easy to Care For
Once a week or whenever the floor looks dusty, sweep it with a dry mop or clean it with a soft-bristled vacuum cleaner. Spot clean as needed with a microfiber cloth or other soft, lint-free cloth dampened in a solution of 1 cup warm water and 2 Tbsp. white vinegar. For stubborn spots, add 1 or 2 Tbsp. liquid dish soap. Avoid abrasive cleaners, which can damage the finish.
Compared to other exotic hardwoods, mahogany is moderately priced. The cost runs from $14 to $30 per board foot. On average, genuine mahogany costs more than oak or maple, but less than teak and walnut. Not all mahogany flooring is “genuine,” though, and similar woods are often sold as mahogany for even less.
Cons: Staining and Shopping Challenges
Mahogany’s color changes can pose some problems, and this wood isn’t the best choice if you’re on a tight budget.
You won’t really know exactly what color your mahogany floor will be until it’s been in place for a few years. The rate at which mahogany darkens and how dark it gets depends in part on how much sunlight hits it. In a sunny room, the wood will darken faster. This can become a problem when areas under rugs or furniture don’t darken as much as exposed areas. Rearranging your furniture now and then helps prevent this.
The wood’s color changes also make it harder to choose stain because a stain color that looks deep and rich early on might prove too dark after a year or so.
As with any dark-toned wood, mahogany shows dust, crumbs, and pet hair easily. While maintaining a mahogany floor isn’t difficult, sweeping can turn into a daily task if you want to keep your floor looking spotless.
Not for Low Budgets
While genuine mahogany is more affordable than many exotic hardwoods, it’s not a cheap flooring wood. This is partly due to the wood’s status as a threatened species. For a lower cost alternative with similar properties, consider khaya, sapele or toona wood, which are all in the mahogany family, or a more widely available wood such as cherry.
Flooring retailers have been known to use the name mahogany for many different wood species, but not all those woods have the same characteristics. Choose the wrong one, and you might be disappointed with the appearance and durability.
Mahogany trees belong to the family Meliaceae, which is divided into more than 50 genera. The wood known as genuine mahogany comes from three species of trees in the genus Swietenia. For centuries, the preferred species was Swietenia macrophylla, also known as Honduran mahogany or Brazilian mahogany.
Due to demand, however, this species became threatened and is now under international trade restrictions with export strictly controlled. Much of the genuine mahogany available is grown on sustainable plantations located around the world.
More commonly on the American market today, you’ll find khaya wood, particularly Khaya invorensis. This group of trees, also called African mahogany, is in the same family as genuine mahogany, but in a different genus. Its coloring and durability are comparable to those of genuine mahogany, so it’s an ideal alternative.
Mahogany’s deep, warm color give it a timeless appeal, and its durability makes it perfect for a busy family home. Although it’s not great for a tight budget, it’s a modestly priced option if you’re looking for luxury flooring. On the downside, age-related color changes mean there’s a chance the final color of your floor will be darker than you hoped.