Minimally toxic and exhausting help for a troubled hardwood floor?
July 20, 2019 2:24 PM   Subscribe

I have oak hardwood floors installed when my house was built in 1954. The wood is waxed, and some idiot painted the ceiling without a drop cloth at some point in history. Eventually I want to sand and refinish the floors, but I expect removing the wax will be exhausting, so I want to take off the paint splatters as an aesthetic stopgap. But how? Ideally without poisoning my small kid, her fish, or the creatures of Puget Sound? Personal recommendations are more helpful, as google just turns up a lot of ads. Thank you!
posted by centrifugal to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
It's hard to know what will work with this amount of info, but the first thing I would try is a plastic putty knife. Some of the spots might just pop off. If that doesn't work you might spray them with windex or something similar and see if you can then wipe them up with a rough towel.
posted by pilot pirx at 2:32 PM on July 20, 2019

Not to threadsit, but I should mention these paint stains have been here for decades, they’re not all thick splotches although some are, and the floor was covered with carpet for at least the last 25 years.
posted by centrifugal at 2:34 PM on July 20, 2019

You can sometimes use a piece of wood, like the end of a wooden clothes peg, to try scrape the paint off. Anything pine or similar will be softer than oak so you won't scratch the floor.

I have also successfully removed paint from wood by using a bit of mineral oil on wire wool and rubbing gently, but this is likely to remove some of the wax, and possibly some of the stain if the floor has been stained (this method works better on varnished or shellacked surfaces) Attempt slowly and carefully.

Modern acrylic wall / ceiling paint will often come off with just hard scrubbing and a damp cloth though, so maybe give that a quick go just to rule it out.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:53 PM on July 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've had good luck getting dried paint off of wood with repeated applications of concentrated Mrs. Meyer's cleaner and a stiff brush. None of it was definitively >25 years old, but it very well could have been (similar scenario). However, before you get too far into this project: check it for lead! Especially with a young child in the house, the test is so much cheaper than worrying for one moment that there was a round of carpeting before the one you know about, and people who'd paint over wood without dropcloths might also have used old cans they found around.
posted by teremala at 3:18 PM on July 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wrap a wet cloth around the edge of a scraper type tool or butter knife and scrape with that. Trick from a friend who restores furniture.
posted by The Toad at 3:29 PM on July 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Honestly, you'll just end up with the different splotches in the end. If it's not physical paint, but stains, that's an issue to address in the context of a whole-floor refinish. You won't be able to blend it in. It will just be different splotches.
posted by humboldt32 at 4:53 PM on July 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Don't know how to do this myself, and it wouldn't be a good use of my time. Andy at American #1 Hardwood Floors when you're ready to contact a professional.
(206) 762-3030
posted by splicer at 6:10 PM on July 20, 2019

It will just be different splotches.

Yeah, but we can strive for Better Splotches, perhaps milder and more aesthetic.

I’d try some Murphy’s oil soap,
Pine Sol or similar as a first cleaning pass, and then some Pledge or similar light oil
blend for polish/finish.

If you want to blend things by darkening everything, google ‘motor oil’ and ‘hardwood floor’ for an alternative approach.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:54 PM on July 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

If the paint is indeed on top of wax they should just scrap off; that is the whole point of wax - to act as a sacrificial barrier. Start with a plastic scraper then step up to brass if the plastic doesn't work. Round the corners of your scraper to prevent hard transitions.

Once you are done scraping you should rewax the area to again protect the wood. Johnson paste wax is a common, readily available choice. Whatever wax you choose make sure it is 100% silicone free because silicone will contaminate the wood making it practically impossible to refinish in the future.

If the paint is actually adhered to the wood then you can still scrape but damage to the wood is more likely if proper care isn't taken. In the old days, before power sanders, floors would be refinished by hand scraping (lee valley ball joint scraper can be used for this) so this is a very valid technique though a lot of work for big areas. Again though you'll want to apply something to the scraped areas to prevent further staining.

If the paint/stain has penetrated the wood then your only option is to sand the floor down below the level of the stain. In practice this might not be possible while still leaving enough floor to walk on.
posted by Mitheral at 10:34 PM on July 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

It can be either easy to remove the wax from hardwood floors, or extremely difficult. Usually when it is difficult the floors have been exposed to too much heat and the wax has soaked into the wood - but if your floors are oak they should be fine grained enough that it is not actually a terrible job. People used to wax the floor monthly and strip the wax once a year and it was nowhere near as heavy a job as Monday washday.

Do a little research into how hard it is in your case before you write off the possibility of stripping the wax - you can try to spot remove it somewhere unobtrusive with a little mineral spirits on a rag, or you can rent an electric floor scrubber. You might find that simply removing the wax removes the paint and is not a horrible hard job at all.

But if there is wax underneath the paint you are way better off than if the paint had landed on stripped wood. A plastic scraper on a warm day when the wax is every so slightly softer could do wonders, even years after the paint landed. If the wax looks scraped you can buff it a bit and go back to... well, thick layers of old wax.

If you don't have a plastic scraper in the house you can try a plastic butter knife like the kind that comes with fast food, just to test how difficult it would be, without leaving the house and going to the hardware store. I used to use a spatula I had bought to use with a now stick frying pan, but nowadays plastic spatulas are usually way too soft for this to work.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:30 AM on July 21, 2019

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