What Is the Safest Way to Get Paint off Hardwood Floors?

By Joe McGuinty
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dry mop on hardwood floor

Whether you’re a DIY’er like myself or the painters you hired didn’t do a very good job, you might be dealing with some unwanted paint stains on your hardwood floors. 

Getting paint out of hardwood, if done wrong, can lead to even more damage, so it’s important to arm yourself with the necessary equipment, cleaners, and knowledge before you start scrubbing.

I’ve put together a detailed guide below that includes the best ways to get paint out of hardwood floors without causing further damage.

What Type of Paint Are You Dealing with?

First, you need to know what type of paint you’re trying to remove. If you caused the mess, you’d know if the paint was oil-based or water-based. Oil-based paints stick on surfaces better than water-based paints. For this reason, many homeowners use them for exterior applications. Oil-based paints have additives that make them glow once they’re dry. The only problem is, the additives make them harder to remove from different surfaces—including wood but also laminate.

Water-based paints, on the other hand, also known as latex-based paints, dry pretty fast. They’re commonly used for interior applications. Water-based paints aren’t long-lasting, and they have a dull finish once they dry. You only need soap and water to remove any water-based paint from your hardwood floor.

The only problem is things aren’t always that straightforward, right? If you didn’t cause the spills, you’d need to determine what type of paint caused the mess.

Here’s a simple way to test the spill to know which kind of paint you are dealing with.

  • Wet a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol.
  • Use the wet cotton ball to clean a small section of the paint spills on the hardwood floor.
  • Examine the cotton ball for any signs of paint. If you don’t see any residue, you are dealing with oil-based paint, but if it’s you’ll know it’s water-based or latex paint if the cotton ball has paint residue. If the paint is water-based, you’re lucky, because it’s easy to remove.

Removing Water-Based Paint off Hardwood Floors

If you’re positive the paint is water-based, you can start with warm, soapy water and a wet rag.

Method 1: Soap and Water

Procedure:

  • Pour 2 cups of warm water into a bowl.
  • Add a few drops of dishwashing soap.
  • Dip a rag in the soapy water solution.
  • Wipe the paint spills using the wet rag.
  • Use a dry rag to wipe off the paint as it starts to loosen.
  • If the paint reduces but doesn’t come off, you can scrape it away using a hard, plastic object such as a putty knife or a credit card. Apply a little pressure, but be gentle enough not to leave scratches on the floor.

Method 2: Lemon Juice and Rubbing Alcohol

If this method doesn’t work, you can try lemon juice with rubbing alcohol.

Procedure:

  • Mix lemon juice and rubbing alcohol in a ratio of 1:3.
  • First, take a putty knife and scratch as much paint as you can from the spill. Be gentle so you don’t cause more harm on the floor.
  • Wet your rag with the mixture and place it on the remaining paint. Let the wet rag sit on the spills for a few minutes.
  • Wipe the paint using the wet rag.
  • Dip another rag in clean water and wipe off the cleaned area.

Method 3: Use Heat

Heat can soften the paint if the other methods don’t work.

Procedure:

  • Take a heat gun and aim it at the dried paint spill. The paint will probably soften, and then you can use a putty knife to lift it off the floor.
  • Be careful not to apply too much heat or heat a single spot for too long, lest the heat melts the floor finish. Always work quickly.
  • You can also follow the heating with the first two procedures (soapy water or rubbing alcohol with lemon juice) and see if they work.

Method 4: Sanding

Sanding can remove multiple layers of water-based paint. It’s also efficient in removing old paint. It’s very effective on hardwood floors. You will need a few pieces of equipment such as sandpaper, a handheld electric sander, and palm sandpaper.

Procedure:

  • Connect the electric sander to a source of power.
  • Start by using 60-grit sandpaper on the floor. The 60-grit sandpaper will loosen the different layers of paint from the floor. Wipe the dust off the sanded area.
  • Next, use 80-grit sandpaper on the paint. This process will remove more paint from the wood. Wipe the dust off.
  • Following this, you can use 120-grit sandpaper for sanding the remaining paint off the floor. If you want a smooth finish, you must use finer sandpaper.
  • You can then use the handheld sandpaper to get to spills and splatters in harder-to-reach areas such as corners or depressions and give the floor a refined finish.
  • If you’re still left with some stubborn paint stains, you can choose one of the other methods listed above to create an excellent finishing job.
  • Wipe the surface with a wet rag to clear out sand marks and remove any dust from the floor. 

Removing Oil-Based Paint off Hardwood Floors

You need harsh chemicals such as kerosene, turpentine, and paint thinners to remove oil-based paint from a hardwood floor. Ensure the room you’re working in is well ventilated and the air supply is uninterrupted. Blow out candles and extinguish fires that may cause sparks or open flames. It’s also important to note that the chemicals used in removing paint from hardwood floors can cause discoloration by stripping away the original floor color.

Method 1: Using a Wet Rag

Procedure:

  • If the paint recently landed on the hardwood floor, you can use a wet rag to wipe it off.
  • You have to be quick with this method and get to the paint before it dries on the hardwood floor.

Method 2: Paint Removers

Paint removers are efficient and straightforward in removing oil-based paint from any hardwood floor.

Procedure:

  • Take a cotton ball and wet it with the paint remover.
  • Place the cotton ball over the paint and let it soak for a few minutes. The paint remover will break down the paint.
  • Use a rag to wipe off the paint along with the paint remover.
  • You can also use the soapy water procedure to clean off the paint after soaking it. 

Method 3: Paint Thinner

If the paint is already dry, you can use paint thinner to remove it. This method should be your last resort because paint thinner can easily strip away the floor color and finish.

Procedure:

  • Wet a small part of a rag with your preferred thinner.
  • Rub it over the stain thoroughly until you’ve removed all of it.

Mineral spirit is an excellent alternative to paint thinner, especially if you can’t stand the smell. 

Paint thinners remove oil-based paint from hardwood floors quicker than you can imagine. Never use paint thinners on water-based paint stains. You can use the 3 water-based paint removal methods in this guide instead.

Method 4: Cleansing Pads

You can find cleansing pads at your local drug store. It’s best to go for alcohol-based cleaning pads.

Procedure:

  • Use the cleansing pad to wipe the spills and splatters on the floor. Clean the stain until it comes off. If the pad dries up, you can use a new one that still has some alcohol.

Method 5: Sanding

Sanding is an effective method of removing any paint from hardwood floors.

Procedure:

  • Connect the sander to a source of power.
  • Start with 60-grit sandpaper to loosen the upper layers of paint from the hardwood floor. Wipe off the dust from the working area.
  • Replace the 60-grit sandpaper with 80-grit sandpaper and sand for the second time. Wipe the dust off the area you’re working on. The 80-grit sandpaper is fine and will remove any remaining paint after the first sanding procedure.
  • Replace the 80-grit sandpaper with finer 120-grit sandpaper. All the paint will probably come off, and the area you’re working on will feel smooth, look even, and maybe lighter.
  • Sand again and clean the whole area with a vacuum cleaner. You can also use handheld sandpaper to remove paint in harder-to-reach areas such as joints, corners, and depressions.
  • Use a wet rag to clean the whole area well and remove any residue in sight.

Method 6: Use Heat

You can use heat to remove oil-based paint, just like water-based paint. In this case, you will need a heat machine, for example, a heat gun.

Procedure:

  • Plug the heat gun into a source of power. You can use a hairdryer if that’s what you have available.
  • Hold the heat source a few inches above the floor. Test the paint with a putty knife to see if it loosened up slightly. If yes, you can peel it off as you continue heating.
  • Continue heating the rest of the paint that hasn’t come off.
  • Wipe the surface with a wet rug once you’re impressed with the heating job.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get paint off hardwood floors without damaging the finish?

There are many ways to get paint off hardwood floors without damaging the finish including at-home cleaners, store-bought cleaners, or methods that don’t include cleaning solutions at all (e.g. using a putty knife).

The simplest method is scraping off the paint using a putty knife; however, this will only work if the paint is water-based and not too dry. The putty knife will also come in handy when you need to remove spilled paint from joints, depressions, and other areas that are hard to reach. If the paint is water-based, you can heat it with a heat gun first, holding the gun a few inches above the ground, then scrape it off with the putty knife.

Soapy water methods can also remove paint off your hardwood floor without damaging the finish. Dip a clean rag in a mixture of soap and warm water, then use it to wipe the paint stains. The soapy water dampens the paint and softens it, making it easy to lift off the floor.  

You can also use denatured alcohol to remove paint without damaging the finish. Dampen a clean rag with the alcohol and dab it on the stains. Let it sit for a few minutes, then scrub it off using a brush. Clean any excess paint with a dry cloth.

You can also try paint removers and paint thinner methods using the procedures discussed in this guide.

What is the best product to remove paint from hardwood floors?

Your local home improvement store probably has a wide variety of efficient paint removal products that won’t damage your hardwood floor.

The best products to remove paint from hardwood floors include:

Goo Gone to remove spills and splatters from water-based paint.

Goof Off is another product to consider, but you must be very careful. It can damage your floor’s finish if not used carefully.

Krud Kutter is a general home cleaning product, but you can also use it to remove paint from hardwood floors.

Oxalic acid is an excellent paint-removing product too. Add a few teaspoons of the acid to water, then dip a rag with the solution. Rub the wet rag over the spills, then rinse with a clean rag.  

Please read the instructions and warnings on these products before using them. Follow the instructions carefully, wear protective gear at all times, and always work in a well-ventilated room.

Will vinegar remove paint from wood floors?

Yes, vinegar is a powerful, versatile product. It’s an affordable, straightforward way to remove oil-based and water-based paint from hardwood floors and even metal surfaces. As a natural paint remover, vinegar is an environmentally friendly option that leaves behind no carbon footprint. It releases no harmful fumes or toxic chemicals into the environment. The smell doesn’t last long either.

Vinegar won’t ruin your wooden surfaces, but you have to be careful when you use it around other things. Vinegar is acidic; it can damage the finish on your hardwood floor, quickly kill plants, dissolve wax, and create additional problems. Once the finish is damaged, your floor remains dull and unattractive. Avoid vinegar and remove paint from your floors using products specifically designed for that purpose.

Dish soap and vinegar is a powerful mixture that can be used in multiple ways. Dish soap is very thick, so the vinegar can be used to dilute it into a sprayable form that efficiently removes paint from different surfaces.

Does Goo Gone remove paint from hardwood floors?

Goo Gone will do an excellent job in removing paint from any hardwood floor. Goo Gone doesn’t damage the finish on hardwood floors, but it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Will paint thinner ruin hardwood floors?

Paint thinner should be your last option when you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked. Paint thinner is a strong chemical and can quickly damage the finish of your hardwood floor if not used carefully. You shouldn’t use paint thinner on water-based paint, either. If you decide to use paint thinners anyway, you can refinish the floor after the process using simple DIY tips.

Does rubbing alcohol remove paint from wood floors?

Yes, rubbing alcohol removes paint from wooden floors. You can use rubbing alcohol to remove latex-based paints from your floor easily and safely.

You must choose a method that works well on the type of paint that spilled on your hardwood floor. The kind of paint is the most crucial determinant of a removal method. The number of layers, the size of the spills and splatters made, and how easy you find a particular method also determine your approach. Again, you shouldn’t limit yourself to just one paint-removal approach. Use multiple methods if you must.

The most important thing is getting the paint off the floor while still retaining the floor’s natural beauty and appeal.

Paintless Floors Are Happy Floors

Homeowners know that hardwood floors are a luxury. If your home has one, you’ll understand what I mean. You probably cherish its natural charm and would go to the ends of the world to make sure its authentic beauty is maintained. For such reasons, I armed myself with all the knowledge I need to take good care of my hardwood floors and share them with you in this guide so you can do the same.

Please share other tips on removing paint from hardwood floors and your thoughts on the methods discussed in the comment section. Share the article if you loved it too. 

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AUTHOR

Joe McGuinty
I’ve been working with floors for over 12 years. I started as a flooring contractor, primarily in materials selection. Then, I switched careers into accounting, so my wife and I began buying, renovating, and re-selling homes on the side. You’d be surprised how much value you can add to a home simply by adding new floors.

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