Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

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How to Remove Tar Paper or Felt Residue from Wood Floors

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How can I remove tar paper residue from my wood floors? -Daniel

Tar paper or roofing felt are often used as flooring underlayment. Over time the asphalt in the underlayment may fuse to the flooring underneath, making it very difficult to remove.

First a word of caution, prior to the 1980s tar paper and roofing felt often contained asbestos, so it’s important to have the material tested before attempting to remove it. If the material tests positive for asbestos, your best bet is to either leave it alone and cover over it with new flooring, or have the material professionally removed by an asbestos remediation company.

If the tar paper residue doesn’t contain asbestos, there are several methods you can try to remove it:

  • Sanding: After removing as much of the tar paper or felt as you can with a scraper, sand the rest off using a drum type floor sander (available at tool rental stores) starting with coarse (40-grit) sandpaper. Once all the residue has been removed, go over the floor several more times with successively finer grits of sandpaper (80-grit, 100-grit, and 120-grit) to further smooth the floors and remove any scratch marks.
  • Solvent: You can also try using a solvent to dissolve the asphalt residue from the tar paper. Start by trying mineral spirits, apply it to the floor, allow time for it to work, then scrape off the residue. If mineral spirits doesn’t do the trick, try lacquer thinner. Allow the floor to dry thoroughly before sanding or finishing. Both solvents are very flammable and require lots of ventilation, rubber gloves, eye protection, and the proper respirator.
  • Paint Stripper: If the above methods do not work, you may have to resort to a chemical paint stripper. The same safety guidelines and method for solvents applies to paint stripper as well.
  • Hot Water or Steam: While towels soaked in hot water or steam from a steamer can also loosen asphalt residue, the water may cause solid wood flooring to cup or buckle, and the floor would need to dry out thoroughly before sanding and finishing.

Good luck with your project,

Danny

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7 Comments on “How to Remove Tar Paper or Felt Residue from Wood Floors”

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  1. David Mims Says:
    March 10th, 2012 at 9:48 am

    We have a moisture problem under our house. Our floor has bulked and needs to be replaced.

    What is your opinion of solid twisted strand woven uniclic bamboo flooring where moisture is a problem?

  2. cdc Says:
    November 28th, 2012 at 8:24 am

    If the residue is mostly the black from the tar paper and not glue, try this:

    Spread Goop, the hand cleaner, over the floor and let set for 10 – 15 minutes.

    Use the cleaning pads for a Swiffer Wetjet. Dampen them slightly and start scrubbing. I stood on the pads and scrubbed with my shoes. The marks come up like magic! Toss the pads when they don’t absorb any more black stuff and start with new ones. Don’t try to rinse them *shiver*.

    I then cleaned the floor with the solution my Swiffer came with and the results were absolutely amazing. No discoloration. No scratches. Shiny.

    There were places where the tar paper stuck. But a little more ‘Goop’ and an ice scrapper took care of that problem.
    Highly recommend.

  3. Andrea Says:
    February 3rd, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    So I have been at this for days and have spent a ton of money trying different solutions. Forget the solvent or sanding because both are extremely expensive and time consuming. Since no matter what solution you decide on will be time consuming, the best option by far is a dremel with a flexible scraper attachment. This creates absolutely no sticky mess and saves your arm from falling off! I have tried every solvent, paint thinner, and sand paper in existence and the dremel by far works the best. When you use it make sure to keep the scraper attachment flat so you do not damage the wood.

  4. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    February 4th, 2015 at 9:43 am

    Hi Andrea,
    Thanks for the tip and feedback!

  5. Kristin Keilman Says:
    March 5th, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    We tried sanding, but the sandpaper gums up almost immediately. My husband decided to get his electric planer out. We set it on a really low setting and it pulled the stuff right off!

    I had a 15 x 15 kitchen floor done in a few hours – over 2 days. The major downfall here were the staples that broke off in the floor when trying to pull them out. If I couldn’t get them out, I pounded them down for the most part it did well. Be sure you have extra blades for your planer because I went through 2 sets, because of the staples.

    I definitely wore gloves and a face mask and even though it was only 20 degrees outside, I had to open a window. If I had it to do over, I would mist the floor so there wasn’t so much dust.

    Our floors are 3/4″ thick and I don’t think they ever been sanded so we weren’t worried if it took a little too much, but we did start under where the cabinets will be, just in case. Now to sand them smooth!

  6. Mary Says:
    April 25th, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Can tarpaper be use on the countertop when installing tile countertops

  7. Luke Says:
    May 14th, 2015 at 11:27 am

    Mineral spirits, stripper, acetone did nothing for me, but I’m interested in the the Goop idea. I’ve been using a 60 grit wet sandpaper with an electric palm sander. Just spray the floor with distilled water to moisten it and sand away. The water controls the dust, keeps the tar from gumming up the sandpaper and makes cleanup pretty easy.

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