How can I get old paint off a hardwood floor?

Q: Hi there, I love your site – lots of valuable information! Anyway, I have a 1927 home in Michigan with a kitchen that has painted (lead?) over maple flooring. We’d like to tackle it this spring and plan to sand and refinish it.

The 2 questions I have are: what do you recommend using to sand if there is lead-based paint, especially in a kitchen? Also, there are many gaps between floorboards (up to about 1/4″ wide) that collect lots of debris. Should we try to fill those, or should we use a specific poly to fill in a bit?

We’re planning this project in the spring or fall so that the temps aren’t too extreme. We’ve heard that can affect the poly between floor boards as they expand and contract.

Thanks so much!

A: Sorry it’s taken me a few days to get back to you. Are you planning to try and sand this yourself with rental equipment? I would definitely suggest you reconsider that. This paint can be very difficult to remove by sanding, even when using extremely course grits. I’ve used 16 and 12 grit many times over the years. The paint heats up, melts and smears and quickly clogs the abrasive. Even using my vacuum system there are still risks because this stuff will heat and fly off and cool as little chunks all over the floor. You don’t want to breath it in. Also is the possibility of the fumes released from heating the paint. It’s also my understanding the EPA has set specifications for lead removal involving heavy fines. Not that I would say anything, but the control freaks are everywhere. Either try to hire a professional or use a paint stripper to remove the paint as much as possible.

If you need to do sanding after that it would be a much easier challenge. If these floors are original with the house there may be a reason the floors have been painted. It might be hiding black water stains or something else. Given the large gaps between boards it sounds like this old floor has had plenty of exposure to water with no protection on it. You could use a fine screwdriver or ice pick to try to loosen the debris between the boards along with a vacuum cleaner to suction the debris out. When you have gotten enough out I think I would use a liquid polyurethane adhesive such as guerilla glue to initially fill them. My reasoning on this is that although it will foam up as it cures, and you will have to cut or sand off that overfill, when cured it won’t pop out as conventional fillers do if there is any movement between boards. Then you can apply a premixed wood filler over top of that. The wood filler will show, especially given the wide difference in wood tones with maple from one board to another. But then you aren’t working with wood that is in pristine condition. If I can offer any other suggestions, please let me know.

Related Q: How can I get old paint off a hardwood floor?

A: Numerous ways. You haven’t given me enough information. What is the current finish? How much paint? Is it oil or latex? With no information, I will say sanding and finishing will do the trick.

Webmaster’s Note: Beware, if the paint is very old, it could contain lead.

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