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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2 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.

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