Finishing floors - best method to remove Tar? Just sand over it?

Old 09-30-13, 11:11 AM
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Finishing floors - best method to remove Tar? Just sand over it?

I've been working on remodeling my house. I live in Philadelphia, PA in a row home built in the early 1900's.

I've got some great original wood floors throughout, and the upstairs floors look great! When they laid linoleum up there, they didn't use glue or tar, just nails and staples. We've almost got them all out, and are excited about finishing them.

Downstairs though, it a whole other problem.

They secured the linoleum with tar paper. I've had it tested, and there is no asbestos! Woo hoo!

So now the tough part. I've been removing the tar by hand using a scrapper, a clothes iron, and eventually (after some online reading) bought a heat gun. At this rate, I estimate it'll probably take me about 50 hours to finish pulling up the tar.

I've been reading online, and consulting the guys at my local Lowes.

I've tried Mineral Spirits - didn't do much.
Tried "Goof Off" - same.
Tried this Orange Tar Remover (see Imgur images), and thats been working really well in comparison.

Also important to note - I'm keeping the area well ventilated whenever I heat up any tar or use any chemicals.

My one neighbor said he just removed the tar using a solvent until it was a thin layer, and then sanded it down to the wood. I'm worried, however, because they said that they have some bends here and there in their flooring. I think this may be due to uneven patches where some tar was present and some wasn't. With such a large sander, it may have over-sanded some spots. Or, they may have just over-sanded some spots in general - tar or not.

So, being paranoid, I'm planning on pulling up all the tar myself before sanding. I've also read that some flooring guys wont even touch a floor if it has Tar Paper on it, which leads me to believe this is the right approach. It may be due to the cost of the sand paper they go through if it IS there, but I don't know?

Link to Photo Album -

I've also got some spots with some white mold (included in the album) . I'm not sure if I should treat this area before I sand? Should I replace the wood itself with boards from my closets? Both upstairs and down had carpet on top of the original linoleum. So I think that attributed to the mold developing.

Any advice you can give me would be much appreciated! Thank you very much!
Old 09-30-13, 01:03 PM
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Welcome to the forums!

Generally solvents like mineral spirits will dissolve/remove tar BUT the danger is the solvent can seep deep into the wood bringing the stain [from the tar] with it. This shouldn't make any cupping in the wood but may affect how the new stain/finish looks. Your neighbor probably used a drum sander and let it sand some areas too much [unevenly] Products like 'goof off' are made for latex based products and generally have no effect on solvent based products.

I'd scrape what I could and then sand. You'll want to clean up any mold prior to sanding or you run the risk of making the mold spores airborne.

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