Turpentine Smell-Be-Gone?
December 18, 2006 9:42 AM   Subscribe

How to get turpentine and its smell out of a worn-out old cork floor?

So, this weekend my mother decided some shelves in my house needed painting. She splashed paint everywhere then scrubbed the floor with what we think is turpentine - actually a mystery liquid left behind by previous owners, orange in colour and very smelly. The floor is covered in worn out cork tiles which have lost their film of varnish. So they're extremely porous. The house stinks now. I've washed the floor twice and it still stinks. The obvious solution is to rip up the tiles but they're glued to the concrete floor and it's a bigger job than I want to take on in Christmas week. I want to have people over on Friday. It also stings my eyes and nose and I'm suspect it's very bad for my asthmatic boyfriend. Please help! Is there anything that neutralises or removes a turpentine smell?
posted by tiny crocodile to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
If it is turpentine, it's a solvent itself and you're not going to have much luck getting it out with anything other than evaporation. That stuff can be damaging to breath. I wouldn't want to spend much time in the house with it in this state. If you can, open up the windows and find someplace to stay until it airs out, which it will.

Turpentine will evaporate away and not leave much behind if given the chance. The only question is if four days is enough time.
posted by MarcieAlana at 10:40 AM on December 18, 2006

You might want to get a positive ID on the mystery liquid. When you say orange do you mean *really* orange like Tang or something? Turpentine is a fairly clear solvent. If what you had was turpentine it may have residue of whatever it was used to clean up before in it. I re-use solvents over and over again... when I clean brushes I usually start with old paint thinner first to get most of it, moving to new paint thinner as the final step.

If it's not turpentine... I'm not sure what to offer.

And I'm not 100% sure that turpentine will evaporate away and be odorless when it's gone, but what your describing now sounds like a solvent which is still evaporating. Trying to speed up the process will probably help. Ventilation is very important and so is air flow. There are units you can get to dry out carpet that are basically just huge fans, these may help if you can get some circulation of outside air. Even normal fans may help somewhat.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:43 AM on December 18, 2006

OK, be warned, I am pretty sure this will work, but I am also pretty sure that you could easily torch the whole dwelling with this method: wiping the floor with ether, commonly sold as starter fluid. It makes gasoline seem tame, it is highly flammable, it forms a vapor that will travel and find sparks anywhere. It is also harmful to breath if you breath too much, obviously. I wouldn't do it myself. I don't recommend that you try it, but if you do, please take video as it could be a hit on youtube. You are warned. (Ether works as it is a solvent that will dissolve turpentine) If I were you I would take this opportunity to replace your worn out floor with something nice, and nonporous.
posted by caddis at 12:23 PM on December 18, 2006

this may be a terrible idea as i know boo-urns about varnishes- but can you seal in the smell with something else that will dry fast and not smell? like latex paint, or quick-drying varnish?

NB, it may be bad to paint over whatever-it-is, though, as it may be a solvent that will make the new layer not dry and get gummy and gross, or discolour it.

i suggest this to prompt smarter people than me to weigh in on it- this is not advice i think you should take on spec.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:25 PM on December 18, 2006

Good lord, caddis, how can you recommend using ether indoors, and especially in a kitchen? What if there's a gas stove with a pilot light? And if you don't die in a ball of flame, the stuff is an anesthetic and will knock you unconscious.

Don't use ether.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:26 PM on December 18, 2006

If there is a gas stove with a pilot light the whole house will go up in a ball of flames, true. I do not recommend this method. I would never use ether indoors. Such foolishness rivals Russian roulette. You might, however, be able to take the tiles outdoors for a cleaning, even then be careful as ether is truly dangerous stuff.
posted by caddis at 12:43 PM on December 18, 2006

Nothing will really get it out of the cork, the only thing that will work is time. If you can smell it, it's evaporating, and will eventually the smell will probably go entirely.

I think the paint over it idea has some merit, but again you may find yourself with a bigger problem as you are left with a never drying layer of goo.

Just leave it be, I think. If it's not markedly improved in a week, you may need to consider replacement. Mixing chemicals when you don't know exactly what you have is a bad, bad idea.
posted by tomble at 1:39 PM on December 18, 2006

Painting over a floor impregnated with turpentine with a latex paint would be a very bad idea. It would either turn into a gooey mess or dry partially and then bubble.
Painting over it with a varnish wouldn't likely be such a problem, but it would take longer for the varnish plus turpentine already in the floor to dry than for the turpentine alone to dry.
Keeping the room warm, dry, and well ventilated will let the turpentine evaporate as quickly as possible, though it may take a while. Washing with water is unlikely to help because the turpentine has penetrated into the cork.
posted by ssg at 2:48 PM on December 18, 2006

I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed like crazy with lots of detergent which seems to have helped a bit. If there's not much improvement in a week the floor's coming up.

Caddis' ether idea appeals, just because I have always liked the word fireball...... plus I could say "See, Mom, see what you did?" But that's really an issue I should post to human relations.

Thank you all!
posted by tiny crocodile at 3:41 PM on December 18, 2006

Getting some warm air over the surface is a good idea, but not -too- warm, ya dig? And gently warm. A fan is probably the best of all possible worlds but if you are in a rush and have a small electric space heater you could probably apply that in an attended (ONLY) state. Washing the area down is probably not the best of ideas as the stuff is probably soaked in there pretty good by now and you're only adding additional moisture.

RustyBrooks mentioned carpet drying fans which might be a good idea. They are about $20/day from your local equipment rental shop and well worth their blowing power. If two days with one of those doesn't dry out whatever is in there, then man, that's something funky.

Also, if you've got any other questionable liquids lurking about you should probably look into when your community is doing its next hazardous household materials disposal and get rid of that stuff before mom gets ahold of it again.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 5:27 PM on December 18, 2006

Agent Orange is a cleaner that's made from citrus peels, strong stuff, smells like oranges. Maybe Dr. Bronners Magic Soap undiluted could help,
posted by hortense at 6:51 PM on December 18, 2006

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