Our Take on Paper Bag Floors

I have a long standing, bone deep hatred of carpet. When we bought our house, we chose it because of the view and access to the river. I wanted the carpet gone when we moved in. They aren’t in the best shape, and even the tile in the kitchen and bath aren’t laid correctly,  but there simply wasn’t the time or money.  We have hemmed and hawed around about what to do about the floors. Now, to make matters worse, we have a sweet little dog who often has accidents. He particularly has accidents in the girls’ room.

This all led to us deciding to start pulling up the carpet and doing something. However, we have major renovation plans for this house in the next 5-10 years. It seemed silly to spend a lot on flooring that would have to come up when we put our long term plans into action. My Best Man, BJ, found this interesting flooring idea. At first I was skeptical, but as I read about it, I liked the idea. It’s inexpensive, it’s durable, and if you damage an area a year from now, you just fix it with a little more paper, glue and poly.

Of course, one project always leads to twenty more. I will have a future post about the full room remodel, but I wanted to share our take on paper bag floors. There a dozens and dozens of videos, tutorials, blog posts, forums, free PDFs, and more to tell you the steps for doing paper bag floors. I will add links to a few of my favorites at the end of this post. Rather than give you directions, I want to share the tips I learned on this first room.

1. Read several sets of directions. You will find that each set of directions has a different take. Also, there are different glue/poly formulas for different sub-floor types.

2. When they say you have to get the floor clean, then cleaner, then cleanest, that’s true. I took that seriously, but what I didn’t take into account was that “stuff” would just work its way out of the corners. Especially in the closet which had never had any sort of trim along the bottom. In the next rooms, I plan to shop vac the corners and edges several times.

3. How you handle the paper affects how each piece looks. Pieces we soaked in glue, then wrung out were darker than pieces we painted with glue on both sides and pieces we manipulated a lot to get to fit into a certain place. We didn’t mind a mottled look, but the difference was significant. Choose one way, stick with it.

4. Do a small room first. First, you may not love it, but that’s not a huge deal. If you don’t love it you just lay something else over it. However, as simple as this process is, there will be a learning phase. Learn in a smaller space. After we stained, we weren’t happy. So we laid a new layer of paper. That isn’t a big deal, except that it was a big room. In a small room, we would have seen we didn’t like the stain and spent a couple hours re papering. The big room took a couple of days.

5. Think long and hard about stain. This was the part that gave us the most trouble. First, we decided to go with water based stain. That was unattractive and difficult to spread. We read about oil based stain, but every post commented on it taking days and days to dry. Some said even after days, it was still damp, but they put on the poly anyway. That seemed unwise to us. So we decided to go with Polyshade, which is stain and polyurethane mixed. Sounds perfect, right? Sure it was great, if you want to feel like someone shot napalm in your sinus cavity and like the look of horrible streaks and pools of color.

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After coming to the conclusion that we did not like it, since we don’t own a family set of military grade gas masks, and we wanted the floors to actually be nice looking, we opted to not stain it at all. We are just as happy. If you decide you want yours to be a different color, investigate methods that involve dying the paper with dyes such as Rit. This seems like a more logical process to me at this point. You can also use decorative or other papers.

6. Projects like this get me into trouble. No one likes me to do things that hurt myself, and me being the Type A personality insists on doing things completely. Here is my advice to make this job less painful, even if you are a healthy person. Fold up an old towel and sit on you rear to lay the paper. Your knees will thank you. Set a timer and get up to walk around often.

7.  Take the time to push the extra glue out from under each piece you lay. Even a fairly “dry” piece will have glue pool under it. Use your palm or a wallpaper roller to push it out. None of the directions I saw, said this. Also, I think if you have concrete floors, it would be wise to do a layer of poly before you start. The first round wrinkled more than the second round, which we laid over the poly we didn’t like.

8. Crumple a lot more paper than you think you will need. A lot. Think you’ve crumpled more than enough? Crumple a lot more.

9. Lay the edges first. Both rounds of laying the paper, this was the easier way.

10. Use this stuff.

Varathane

We actually brought home a totally different Polyurethane at first than we ended up  using. By chance, the Best Man, saw this stuff at a store when he was picking other things. He bought it. I was so glad. First of all, its a floor grade poly. Second, it’s LOW ODOR. About the same a regular wall paint, but a slightly different smell. I cannot emphasis to you how out of control the fumes can get on the poly. Since most directions recommend 8-12 layers of poly, you will be spending a lot of time with this stuff. We used a gloss. If we end up not liking it, we will re coat when we do the next room.

BJ’s advice was to not worry about the cloudy white spots that appear as you spread the poly. Those dry clear. Just be sure to smooth out drips. Also, don’t shake the can. You will get bubbles. You will need an applicator specifically for water based poly. The others may work,  but you will get fuzz. Nobody wants fuzz, right? It is synthetic material. It looks like this.

Floor pad

Here are some of the tutorials we used.

This one has a lot of detail. She has wood sub floors (we have concrete).

This blog is the one I referred to the most. Plus she has a sense of humor. That’s always a plus.

This person didn’t stain either. However, theirs is lighter than ours. She also has a video.

This is the finished floor. Once the rest is complete, I’ll post about the whole remodel. And, I haven’t forgotten that I owe you all some more Common Core posts.

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