How To Get Paint Off Hardwood Floors

How To Get Paint Off Hardwood Floors: 7 Methods (Ultimate 2022 Guide)

Painting is one of the best ways to give a room a new character and a new face.

You can hide a lot of flaws and problems under a fresh coat of paint, not to mention that choosing the right colors can help you reflect your personality in your space.

There’s just one glaring issue. Paint can get EVERYWHERE.

Paint spills are a big problem and if you accidentally get some on a wood floor – it can seem impossible to get it off.

Paint removal isn’t always easy, but you can remove paint, even from hardwood floors and other delicate surfaces.

In this post, I’ll explore how to get paint off hardwood floors, tips to remove paint from wood, and much more. Let’s get started!

Removing Paint from Floors

How To Remove Water-Based Paint From Hardwood Floors

Water-based paint isn’t as popular for house painting as latex paint, but there are still plenty of ways you can get water-based paints on your hardwood floors.

Remember, water-based paints can also include a lot of craft paints, acrylic paints of all types, watercolor paint, and a variety of house paints.

The good news is that water-based paint can be one of the easiest paints to clean, and fast paint removal is more likely to be successful.

The bad news is that water-based paint can easily soak into hardwood flooring and cause stubborn paint stains if you don’t remove it quickly.

If you have a hardwood floor I recommend making sure the floor is well sealed before using water-based paints so that there is some protection to keep the paint on the surface of the floor instead of letting it sink in.

Remember, a deep paint stain is always going to be harder to clean up than some surface paint from a fresh spill. Cleaning things up fast will almost always make cleaning easier.

Soap And Water Technique

One of the beautiful things about working with water-based paints is that all you need to remove paint from wood floors is some soapy water.

Dish soap seems to work particularly well, but almost any mild soap that’s safe to use on wood flooring will work.

A couple of disclaimers here. If you’re cleaning hardwood floors it’s important to use as little moisture as possible to clean up paint and to wipe up any leftover soapy water once the paint is removed.

Wood floors like to soak up any source of moisture they can, and that can lead to swelling, warping, and a rougher surface that needs to be refinished if you want to keep your wood floors looking new.

This is also a method that’s more effective the sooner you’re able to clean up the spill.

The water works with water-based paint because it mixes with and dilutes the paint. Water won’t necessarily work with oil-based paints and other kinds of paint because the binder in those paints isn’t usually water-soluble.

Soap works by helping lift pigments and other ingredients in the paint and lifting any paint residue before it can get into the grain of the hardwood floor.

All you need for this method is:

  • Soap
  • Warm (not hot) water
  • A rag, towel, or other soft cloth
  • A sponge to clean up

Ideally, you want to soak up as much paint as possible with a sponge or towel before cleaning.

Then soak a rag or wash cloth with warm water and just a couple of drops of dish soap, it doesn’t take much. Gently rub the spilled paint until it lifts off the wood surface.

Once you’ve removed as much paint as you can you want to dry the water off the wood floor as well. That’s it!

This option is best for fresh paint spills, relatively small paint stains, and only works to remove water-based paint.

If this method isn’t an option, doesn’t completely remove paint from your wood floor, or you’re working with hardened paint, you might want to choose a more heavy-duty option.

Water and dish soap isn’t the only option for soap here either. You can use any mild soap or the same hardwood floor cleaner you use to protect your floors.

Lemon Juice And Rubbing Alcohol

The next step up from soapy water is lemon juice and rubbing alcohol.

This is a solid combination to remove dried paint from your wood floor, or to help lift stubborn paint stains.

This can also be a better option than soapy water for larger paint stains or if you need to remove paint from a large area, even if it’s only a little bit of paint splatter across that area.

The good news is that this option of removing paint is non-toxic, though you still might want some protection from the alcohol fumes.

The bad news is that you will need a little more equipment to remove paint with lemon juice and alcohol. Here’s what you need:

  • Lemon Juice (from concentrate is fine, you’ll probably need a good amount)
  • Rubbing alcohol/isopropyl alcohol/ any kind of high-proof cleaning alcohol.
  • A wood scrub brush
  • Rags/towels/cleaning cloths
  • A sponge
  • A bucket or bowl for the lemon juice and alcohol mix
  • A rigid plastic putty knife or paint scraper
  • (Optional) a face mask or respirator

A respirator is a good option if you’re dealing with paint in an enclosed area and don’t really have a good way to get more airflow where you’re going to be working. Otherwise, a simple mask, or even just having a fan on nearby will help manage any alcohol fumes you might be dealing with.

It’s also important to know that alcohol can be very drying for your wood floor, and you should make sure the alcohol is safe to use with any varnish or finishing layer that seals your wood floor.

Just like working with soapy water, this method is very quick and easy and can remove paint without a ton of work.

You’ll want to mix a few drops of alcohol (up to a tablespoon or two depending on how much paint remover mix you’re making) to lemon juice.

Plan on at least 1/4 cup of lemon juice, which is about 1/2 of a ripe lemon, or you can use store bought concentrate to make things easier.

Soak a rag or sponge with the mixture, and set it over any dried paint you want to remove.

Soak for about 5 minutes and then try scrubbing lightly to lift the paint. If the paint starts lifting but doesn’t come up with scrubbing, it’s time to switch to a scrub brush or the scraper.

If the paint isn’t completely dry yet, you can just start scrubbing to help lift it off your floor.

The alcohol helps make sure you’re getting all of the paint, including any dried paint, thanks to its smaller molecular structure that can penetrate deeper and lift the paint residue.

Lemon juice helps provide some acid – which can help remove stubborn paint stains and lighten a stained wood floor.

Sanding Floor to Remove Paint

Sanding

Sanding is usually the paint removal option of last resort because of how abrasive it can be.

For this method, you’ll want a power sander, coarse and fine-grit sandpaper, a dust mask or respirator, and something so you can re-finish your wood floor after sanding.

One way to figure out what you need to finish the floor is to sand a small out of the way area and see how the floor changes.

Does it change color? That might mean they used some wood stain.

Does a yellowish layer flake off while you sand? That’s probably wood varnish.

Do you get a bunch of wax in your sandpaper? Congratulations, you have a waxed floor.

If you’re not sure what was used, you can get small sample sizes of different products and test them for matching the rest of your floor in that same out of the way area.

Your local home improvement store should have everything you need, including the wood floor finishing supplied to help restore your flooring.

Once you know how to refinish your floors start by removing all the paint you can with other methods.

Once nothing is left that you can remove with other methods, get out a power sander and sand in small circles or with the grain of the wood until the last of the stain is removed.

You will probably want to sand a larger area than where the paint-stained the floor in order to create an even and smooth surface.

Don’t go any more than 1/4 inch deep in the wood. If the stain goes deeper than that you’ll be better off replacing the floor. Once it’s more than 1/4 inch deep you’ll have a noticeable dip in the floor.

How To Remove Latex Paint From Hardwood Floors

Latex paint is a little trickier than water-based paints, but there are a lot of options you can use for removing paint if you’re working with latex paint.

The good news is that latex paint is less likely to sink into wood floors than water-based paints, so you’re less likely to have additional damage after you remove paint from the surface of the floor.

Use Paint Stripper

Paint stripper is one of the best options to remove paint that’s dried or started to dry.

Make sure you’re using a formula designed to work on latex-based paint instead of oil based paints.

All you need to do is apply a little of the stripper to the paint stains, and wait about 20 minutes until the stripper starts to bubble or change color. Then grab a cloth or scrubber to lift the paint and paint stripper together.

However, when you’re working with wood floors you may want to test a small out of the way area to make sure the stripper doesn’t lift the wood finish or change it’s color or texture.

It’s also important to use a respirator, and gloves, and have good ventilation in your work area any time you’re working with a paint stripper or paint remover.

Use Heat To Lift The Paint

Heat is another good option for latex-based paints.

This works because the heat can actually shrink the paint in on itself and help lift it off the underlying surface.

This might not remove truly all the paint if it’s soaked into the cracks in your wood floors, but it can be a good way to remove a large percentage of the paint.

You don’t need much specialty equipment to try this method.

A hairdryer can usually provide enough heat to lift paint from wood floors, and a crafting heat gun is usually safe and offers just a little more heat.

Turn on the hair dryer or heat gun, hold it roughly 6-8 inches away from the floor and wave it across the surface of the paint.

You want to try and heat the paint evenly to get better lift, but you can also work in sections if you need to lift a lot of paint.

Use a metal or plastic scraper to help lift the paint once it starts to wrinkle on top.

Small sections of paint will lift from the painted floor at first, but you may begin to remove strips of dried latex paint as you work.

Keep going until you’ve either removed all the paint, or the paint stops wrinkling and lifting free of the wood floor.

Try Steam

Steam is another good option because it can get under the paint and the extra moisture can help lift latex off your wood floors.

A steam clothing iron can work, or you can try a steam cleaner or even specializing steam tools for removing paint and wallpaper if you have a store that rents them nearby.

The trick is not to use too much steam or heat to remove paint since you can accidentally damage the wood floor underneath.

Apply a little steam, wait for it to clear, check to see if there was a change in the paint.

Repeat until you have the right combination of steam and heat to make the paint lift, wrinkle, or bubble.

When you start seeing any of those signs that that paint is lifting, use a scraper to remove the paint from your wood floor.

If there are any little scraps left behind, you can use a scrub brush to help remove them as well. If that doesn’t work, consider using paint remover for the last pieces.

Lemon Juice And Rubbing Alcohol Works Here Too!

The acid of lemon juice and drying power of alcohol can be effective for latex paint as well as water-based paint.

Mix this the same way you would for other kinds of paint. That’s about 1/4 lemon juice to up to 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol.

You can scrub with this mixture to lift wet paint and prevent staining, just use a wet rag that’s been soaked in the mixture.

For dried paint, lay the soaked rag over the paint for a few minutes until the paint starts to wrinkle, then scrub.

Avoid using a hard-sided scraper or rough scrub brushes because this combination can make the wood floor under the paint more vulnerable to damage.

Paint Scrapers!

One of the nice things about latex-based paint is that it forms it’s own layer on top of the surface it’s applied to.

Since wood floors are usually finished with a smoothing product that doesn’t have many pores, you might be able to scrape paint off your floor without any soaking or chemical assistance.

Just use a plastic putty knife, a pull scraper, or other scraping tool and see if you can lift one edge of the paint.

Once you have a lifted side, pull back the paint while using the scraper to push between the paint and the floor.

If any paint is too stuck to remove, you should switch to another tool because you don’t want to scrape the surface of the wood with the scraper.

How To Remove Oil-Based Paint From Hardwood Floors

Oil-based paints can be tricky to remove because they are often stickier, more likely to stain, and are hydrophobic so a lot of cleaning options don’t work.

Use Paint Thinner to Remove Paint from Floor

Try Paint Thinner For Oil-Based Paint Stain

Paint thinner is a good option for removing oil-based paints.

It dilutes the paint and changes how the paint works so that it’s easier to remove without staining.

The dissolved paint can be wiped up with a damp rag, and you can apply more paint thinner to remove any remaining paint in layers.

Anytime you’re working with paint thinner, you need good ventilation and protective equipment for your hands, nose/mouth, and eyes.

Additionally, this option only works for relatively fresh paint, it’s not a good option if the paint is completely dry.

Paint Stripper/Paint Remover Works Too

For dried oil paints, paint strippers and paint removers designed for oil paint are a good options.

These chemicals penetrate the paint layers to lift the dried oil based paint and make it easier to remove.

Once the paint is lifting you can use a paint scraper or a damp paper towel to remove paint from the wood.

Remember, commercial paint removers are relatively harsh chemicals. You need a respirator, good ventilation, and may want to stay out of the area you’re treating for a few days after treatment.

Try Heat To Lift The Paint

Like latex paint, heat can also work a bit like a paint remover or paint thinner, without adding any chemicals.

Use a hairdryer on high on a small section for a few minutes to see if the heat softens the paint so it can be removed, or if it begins to wrinkle and lift so that you can remove it.

However, the risk of heat and oil paints is that it could stain the floor, either with an oil stain or by bonding certain pigments to the wood.

How To Remove Old Paint From Hardwood Floors

Old paint of any kind is going to be more challenging to remove than fresh paint or paint that’s only been there for a day or two.

For one thing, if the paint has been there for a long time you probably don’t know what kind of paint it is, which makes matching the paint to a suitable paint thinner much harder.

The other problem is that the paint will have continued to dry and bond with the hardwood underneath over time.

There may have even been varnish or other wood treatments applied to the wood since the paint got onto the floor, and those additional layers of protection can make it harder to remove the underlying paint.

But there are still some options for removing old paint from hardwood floors. You’ll just need to take a slightly different approach than fresher paint or paint where you know what kind of paint you’re working with.

There are two effective options, but you’ll need some protective equipment for both.

Here are the three main techniques for removing old paint from wood floors:

  1. Sanding
  2. Using a Power Washer
  3. Try Denatured Alcohol

In some cases, you might even need more than one of these techniques to fully remove the old paint.

Sanding Old Paint Off Wood Flooring

The most common method of removing old paint is sanding through the stain and re-finishing the wood floor.

With a power sander and the appropriate protective equipment, this is actually not too bad.

Even better, if you’re removing old paint by sanding, you can refinish the floor however you want to. Want to change the color or use a different seal to finish? Now you can.

Powerwashing Old Paint Off Wood Floors

If the paint is peeling or starting to lift naturally, a good wash with a powerwasher may be an option.

High pressured water will lift the paint off if it can, clean the grooves between wood boards, and give you a good finish assuming the wooden floor is still well sealed.

However, if the floor’s sealant is cracking or it wasn’t sealed, you’ll need to dry and refinish the floor after using a power washer.

That can be a difficult process (drying wood can take weeks), so you need to be sure of the seal before using a power washer.

Try Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol is a little more difficult to work with than isopropyl alcohol, but it’s also a more effective cleaner.

Make sure you have good ventilation because the alcohol may release more fumes which can make you dizzy.

Soak a cotton ball or similar pad with the denatured alcohol and soak and scrub the paint.

This is a good option because it works on any kind of paint, and can lift the paint relatively quickly.

Once most of the paint is gone (you may need several cotton balls to lift it all) you can use a dry rag to lift the rest.

For small stains, alcohol cleansing pads like you can use to clean glasses are another good option.

Final Thoughts on How to Remove Paint from Wood

Learning how to get paint off hardwood floors is easier than you think.

Depending on the type of dried paint you’re dealing with, there are many different techniques you can use for removing paint stains.

Between mineral spirits, paint thinners, and even lemon juice – removing paint from wood floors can be more simple than you think.

Be sure to know what type of floor you’re dealing with and try a few techniques to see what works best for your floors.

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