How can we remove ancient tarpaper?
February 6, 2011 11:00 AM   Subscribe

How to get tar paper off a hardwood floor? We've tried paint remover, paint stripper, adhesive remover, dry ice, fabric softener, GOOP, and so on...

My wife's renovating an old retail space. Took up the carpet and tile, got about 60% of the tar paper up through a variety of the aforementioned methods. The latest attempt involved renting a floor sander. Which works, but the tar gums up the sandpaper after just a few revolutions.

Not sure how long the tarpaper's been on the wood floor but I'd guess at least 50 years if that matters.

Does anyone out there have a magic bullet for this sort of thing?
posted by Atom12 to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you tried a heat gun and scraper?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:16 AM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Heat gun plus scraper. *Then* break out the sander.
posted by RedEmma at 11:17 AM on February 6, 2011

I'd use solvent+time. Oil, left overnight, then a scraper. Boiled linseed oil mixed with turpentine would likely work, but would have to be covered in plastic or would evaporate too fast. It would also not damage the wood, other than possibly darkening it slightly.
posted by theora55 at 11:26 AM on February 6, 2011

Given the cocktail of stuff they've already applied to the floor (paint stripper, etc), is a heat gun a good idea at this point? Would it be okay to try it tomorrow after the floor's 100% dry?
posted by Atom12 at 12:07 PM on February 6, 2011

I've done this more than once. One option is to just to stock up on the sandpaper and do many passes with the sander. It will cut through the paper eventually.

You can speed it up by laying out stripper on a section, letting it sit for a bit, scraping up the goop, and then running the sander over it while the surface is still damp. This is a disgusting process and probably not safe for your respiratory system, but it worked for us (we were kind of in the "whatever it takes" mode when we did that).
posted by torticat at 12:13 PM on February 6, 2011

Hand player. Dry it out as much as possible first and it comes right off.
posted by fshgrl at 12:23 PM on February 6, 2011

Player should be "planer". Phone!
posted by fshgrl at 12:23 PM on February 6, 2011

I had this exact problem last year when refinishing the wood floors in our house. Someone had glued linoleum tiles on top of tar paper on top of oak flooring in a 5'x10' section of our entryway. After trying solvents, sanding, heat gun, and scraping alone, we finally found something that worked:

Mix 1 part white vinegar with 3 parts water in a pot on the stove over high heat. Heat until boiling. While boiling, pour mixture onto the floor in an area about 2'x2' and immediately begin scraping with stiff putty knives. The hot vinegar mixture will only work while it's very hot, so as soon as it starts cooling off, it will loose effectiveness. Then scoop up all the scrapings and vinegar goop and repeat, toweling off the excess liquid as quickly as possible. You can follow this treatment by using those razor blade glass scrapers to clean up the wood. Let dry for a few days and sand.

This was the only treatment we found to work on this kind of glue/tar paper mixture without destroying the floor in the process. This section of our floor looks just as good now as the rest of the floor, minus a few chisel marks from before we learned this method.

Additionally, don't try to sand off the tar using a belt sander. A friend of mine tried this and ended up with melted tar goop all over their walls.
posted by Calyx Valerian at 1:03 PM on February 6, 2011

I once used a normal straight hoe, not the 90 degree type, but a flat one, to remove a gazillion staples from a plywood floor. An off-label use, for sure, but the thing worked like a champ.

The closest thing I could come up with on a brief web search is this.

If I were confronted with this problem, I'd straighten out a normal 90 degree hoe, sharpen it slightly, and have at it.

If it failed, at that point I'd just probably sit down and cry, but it's worth a shot!
posted by FauxScot at 1:12 PM on February 6, 2011

Silent Paint Remover. The best purchase we have ever made for home renovation. It's stripped paint, 80-year old stain, black tar mastic, tile adhesive, even wallpaper. Expensive but worth every penny.
posted by muirne81 at 3:45 PM on February 6, 2011

You could try a heavy application of WD-40, let it sit, then scraping. Not its intended use and I can't tell you if it's safe, but I used this method to remove all sorts of adhesive and layers of miscellaneous paper/old flooring remnants from my hard wood floor.
posted by Majorita at 5:18 PM on February 6, 2011

Oh boy, I've done this kind of project before and it is backbreaking work. All of the oak floors on the 2nd level of our 1920s bungalow had been covered with old linoleum tiles, tar paper & black adhesive. My husband and I removed it, room by room. It is a slow process. Worth it though!

Try searching for for "mastic" remover instead of "adhesive" remover. I've used a couple different kinds and unfortunately cannot remember the brands. My system is: pour remover into a spray bottle. Soak a large swatch of tar-papered floor with the remover. Let it sit for 15-20 min and then start gently loosening/scraping with a scraper that won't gouge the crap out of the wood. It probably will still not come off easily. You will need to scrub at the remains with a nylon bristle brush and more remover. Keep repeating until most of the crud is off the floor.

I know all too well the problem of disk sanding pads getting clogged up with the remains of the adhesive/old varnish, etc. We had better luck with a belt sander. Once again, very hard work and you will spend a lot of time on your hands & knees.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:30 PM on February 6, 2011

PS. Get all the black adhesive off the floor before you use a sander on it!
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:32 PM on February 6, 2011

TSP (trisodium phosphate) plus a scraper worked like a charm for rug backing adhesive on old hardwoods in our previous place. Perhaps it might do as well on tar.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:07 PM on February 6, 2011

Thanks for all your responses. The winning combination was screaming hot water, vinegar, fabric softener and copious amounts of profanity. And a razor. Thanks again!
posted by Atom12 at 4:09 AM on February 8, 2011

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