How to Get Paint off Painted Wood Floors

Paint removal from wood floors
Veronika Kovalenko / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 8 - 10 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 3 days
  • Yield: 15-foot by 10-foot floor
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $100 to $250

If you have a painted wood floor, you know that under that paint lurks beautiful natural wood just waiting to be admired. Many wood floors have been painted over the years—sometimes artfully, other times not so much. Whatever the reason for that paint, you'd like to get it off of your wood floor.

The good news is that if you have solid hardwood flooring, it is possible to remove all of the paint. It will take some work and you may need to rent special equipment, but the effort is worth the reward: returning the floor to its original state again.

Basics of Getting Paint off Painted Floors

Removing paint from a wood floor is a two-stage process. First, paint remover is applied to the floor and the softened paint is scraped up. Second, the rest of the paint is removed with a floor sander.

Paint Remover

Using a safe, citrus-based paint remover can help you remove much of the paint before using the sander. By using a non-VOC paint stripper, you'll avoid the harsh smells and the hazards associated with traditional methylene chloride-based paint removers.

If the wood floor was coated before painting, the paint remover might be able to strip off nearly all of the paint. If the paint was applied to bare wood, the remover may remove some of the paint, while leaving other patches behind.

Floor Sanding

Depending on how much paint is left after using paint remover, you can use either an orbital floor sander or a drum floor sander.

If it's possible to use the orbital sander only, this is preferable. Orbital floor sanders are lighter and easier to handle than drum floor sanders, plus they're more gentle to the wood. Orbital floor sanders are best for light or medium sanding conditions

Drum sanders are capable of ripping off even the most stubborn paint from wood floors. This also means that they are capable of stripping off much of the wood from the floor or gouging it. Use the drum sander as a last resort.

Safety Considerations

Test the paint for lead content before removing the paint. When handling paint remover, wear safety glasses and use waterproof gloves. Work with the windows open, if possible. Have rags nearby for quick cleanups, in case of a spill.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Orbital or drum floor sander
  • Plastic putty knife
  • Lead paint testing kit
  • Waterproof gloves
  • Eye protection
  • Breathing protection
  • Chip brushes
  • Plastic buckets
  • Staple gun

Materials

  • Citrus-based paint remover
  • 1 roll laminated stripping paper
  • Sheet plastic

Instructions

  1. Test Paint

    Slice off a section of paint from the floor and test it according to the test kit's instructions. Some kits produce results immediately, while other kits require you to send in the sample to a lab for testing. If you must wait for results, do not move on to the next steps until you are certain that the paint does not contain lead.

    Removing lead paint is dangerous. If you find that the paint on the floor contains lead, follow one of these precautions:

    1. Leave the paint intact and discontinue this project.
    2. Call a lead abatement contractor to have them safely remove the paint from the affected area.
    3. Learn about safe lead removal procedures and continue with extreme caution only after you are comfortable and prepared to tackle this project.
  2. Test Paint Stripper

    Gently shake the paint stripper to mix the contents. Pour a small amount into a plastic container. Dab some of the paint stripper in an inconspicuous section of the floor to test it.

  3. Apply Paint Stripper

    First, thoroughly clean the floor. Then, apply the paint stripper to the painted surface with the chip brush. Apply a thick coat of the stripper.

    Tip

    Citrus-based paint stripper works best in temperatures ranging from 65°F to 85°F.

  4. Apply Laminated Stripping Paper

    Gradually roll the laminated stripping paper over the stripper. Firmly press the paper onto the paint stripper. Force out any bubbles.

  5. Continue Applying Paint Stripper

    Continue in the same manner until the floor is finished. Overlap the stripping paper by 3 inches on each side. Wait for at least 30 minutes, but no more than 24 hours.

  6. Remove Paper and Scrape Paint

    Pull up the stripping paper and scrape paint. As the paper is slowly pulled up and back, scrape under the paper with the plastic putty knife. This assists with the removal of the paper and encourages much of the softened paint to remain on the bottom of the paper.

    Tip

    If there are gaps between the floorboards, use the edges of a five-in-one tool or a brass wire brush to gently remove the paint from those gaps. Work carefully to avoid gouging the wood.

  7. Let Floor Dry Out

    Direct fans into the room and open windows, if possible, to expedite the drying process.

  8. Protect Against Dust

    Staple plastic over doorways and open hallways to protect the rest of the house against dust from sanding.

  9. Sand Floor With Orbital Sander

    The amount of paint you were able to remove with the paint stripper determines the degree of sanding you must do. If most of the paint has been removed, you can start with a medium grit #80 sandpaper on the orbital floor sander. After the #80 grit paper, progress through finer grits until you reach #150 grit paper.

  10. Sand Floor With Drum Sander (Optional)

    If you were unable to remove much paint with the paint stripper, use a drum sander to sand the floor. Start with coarse #36 grit paper and progress to finer grits until you reach #150 grit paper.