How to Remove Tar Paper or Felt Residue from Wood Floors

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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