How to Remove Tar Paper or Felt Residue from Wood Floors

How can I remove tar paper residue from my wood floors? -Daniel

Tar paper or roofing felt are often used as flooring underlayment. Over time the asphalt in the underlayment may fuse to the flooring underneath, making it very difficult to remove.

First a word of caution, prior to the 1980s tar paper and roofing felt often contained asbestos, so it’s important to have the material tested before attempting to remove it. If the material tests positive for asbestos, your best bet is to either leave it alone and cover over it with new flooring, or have the material professionally removed by an asbestos remediation company.

If the tar paper residue doesn’t contain asbestos, there are several methods you can try to remove it:

  • Sanding: After removing as much of the tar paper or felt as you can with a scraper, sand the rest off using a drum type floor sander (available at tool rental stores) starting with coarse (40-grit) sandpaper. Once all the residue has been removed, go over the floor several more times with successively finer grits of sandpaper (80-grit, 100-grit, and 120-grit) to further smooth the floors and remove any scratch marks.
  • Solvent: You can also try using a solvent to dissolve the asphalt residue from the tar paper. Start by trying mineral spirits, apply it to the floor, allow time for it to work, then scrape off the residue. If mineral spirits doesn’t do the trick, try lacquer thinner. Allow the floor to dry thoroughly before sanding or finishing. Both solvents are very flammable and require lots of ventilation, rubber gloves, eye protection, and the proper respirator.
  • Paint Stripper: If the above methods do not work, you may have to resort to a chemical paint stripper. The same safety guidelines and method for solvents applies to paint stripper as well.
  • Hot Water or Steam: While towels soaked in hot water or steam from a steamer can also loosen asphalt residue, the water may cause solid wood flooring to cup or buckle, and the floor would need to dry out thoroughly before sanding and finishing.

Good luck with your project,


Further Information


  1. We have a moisture problem under our house. Our floor has bulked and needs to be replaced.

    What is your opinion of solid twisted strand woven uniclic bamboo flooring where moisture is a problem?

  2. If the residue is mostly the black from the tar paper and not glue, try this:

    Spread Goop, the hand cleaner, over the floor and let set for 10 – 15 minutes.

    Use the cleaning pads for a Swiffer Wetjet. Dampen them slightly and start scrubbing. I stood on the pads and scrubbed with my shoes. The marks come up like magic! Toss the pads when they don’t absorb any more black stuff and start with new ones. Don’t try to rinse them *shiver*.

    I then cleaned the floor with the solution my Swiffer came with and the results were absolutely amazing. No discoloration. No scratches. Shiny.

    There were places where the tar paper stuck. But a little more ‘Goop’ and an ice scrapper took care of that problem.
    Highly recommend.

  3. So I have been at this for days and have spent a ton of money trying different solutions. Forget the solvent or sanding because both are extremely expensive and time consuming. Since no matter what solution you decide on will be time consuming, the best option by far is a dremel with a flexible scraper attachment. This creates absolutely no sticky mess and saves your arm from falling off! I have tried every solvent, paint thinner, and sand paper in existence and the dremel by far works the best. When you use it make sure to keep the scraper attachment flat so you do not damage the wood.

  4. We tried sanding, but the sandpaper gums up almost immediately. My husband decided to get his electric planer out. We set it on a really low setting and it pulled the stuff right off!

    I had a 15 x 15 kitchen floor done in a few hours – over 2 days. The major downfall here were the staples that broke off in the floor when trying to pull them out. If I couldn’t get them out, I pounded them down for the most part it did well. Be sure you have extra blades for your planer because I went through 2 sets, because of the staples.

    I definitely wore gloves and a face mask and even though it was only 20 degrees outside, I had to open a window. If I had it to do over, I would mist the floor so there wasn’t so much dust.

    Our floors are 3/4″ thick and I don’t think they ever been sanded so we weren’t worried if it took a little too much, but we did start under where the cabinets will be, just in case. Now to sand them smooth!

  5. Mineral spirits, stripper, acetone did nothing for me, but I’m interested in the the Goop idea. I’ve been using a 60 grit wet sandpaper with an electric palm sander. Just spray the floor with distilled water to moisten it and sand away. The water controls the dust, keeps the tar from gumming up the sandpaper and makes cleanup pretty easy.

  6. OK, I’m from mass, besides painting the body of my house for the obvious reasons, this past winter I noticed a brownish stain on said body. I believe this stain is the result is from felt or tar-paper that had been used through-out New England as a under layment back in the day. My problem is that I have this brownish/black discharge seeping between the shingles. How can I remove this residue?

  7. Hi
    I have a table from my grandmother’s kitchen nook. The table top has felt and epoxy. The table is close to a hundred years old.
    I understand about the asbestos, however, I thought it was only an issue if it was airborne, as through sanding.
    I have been using a stripper from Home Depot and it’s not eating through the felt very well
    So, my questions
    1. is it safe to continue removing the felt/epoxy with a liquid stripper ?
    2. Is there a better stripper than Jasco’s from Home depot?

    I can send photo if need be

    Thank you so much!

  8. We pulled up the kitchen linoleum and plywood to find hardwood floor covered in tar paper. We used a heat gun to remove the bulk of the tar paper, but the boards are still black. Solvents did little to nothing, and my sander just gummed up, how do I get the boards back to original color?

  9. I used a steamer that is used to remove wallpaper. First I was able to remove the top layer linoleum with a scrapper. The linoleum pulled apart from the tar & felt paper that was glued to the wood floor.After removing as much of the tar and felt paper with a scrapper I used the wall paper steamer. That loosened up the glue and was able to remove the remaining paper with a scrapper. Be careful the floor becomes hot. Along the wall I used a heat gun and scrapper to soften and remove the linoleum that was glued under the molding . Make sure you use gloves and a mask


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