The Brown Paper Flooring Guide

Brown paper floors are such an easy and cheap flooring solution! This is really a great way to get a beautiful floor on a budget.

Brown paper florrs

As a tip – Before you rip up your flooring, get a piece of scrap plywood (or something similar to your subfloor), and practice the technique from start to finish, including several coats of poly.

Want to rid your house of bad carpet/linoleum/vinyl/etc?! Here’s what you’ll need for a large room:

  • Brown craft paper on a roll
  • Elmer’s Glue (by the gallon)
  • Small bucket
  • Paint brush
  • Roller tray
  • Stain (Minwax Dark Walnut used here)
  • Floor Grade Polyurethane (semi-gloss finish used here)
  • Sponge pad on wood block mop head to apply poly
  • Lambskin stain pad refill (if you’re using stain- this fits on the same wood block as above)
  • Extension pole (universal screw in connection for the mop blocks or paint rollers)
  • 3″ chip brush
  • Gloves

The start-up materials cost about $100, but will likely last for a few rooms (or into other projects, it’s always handy to have an extension pole). In this project about 650 sq ft were completed for around $200.

First things first, prepare your floor. Remove any old flooring – carpet, pad, and staples, linoleum and adhesive, tile, etc. Sand down any high spots to ensure your surface is level. Fill in any deep nail holes or gouges, hammer in any loose nails, and fill any gaps between boards. Keep in mind when using filler that you usually want to overfill a bit because even though the package says it won’t shrink-it does. When it’s set, sand the filler down flush with the floor.

Brown paper floor wood filler and floor prep

Most will agree that prep work is not any fun, but DO NOT skip this. It is all necessary in order to attain a great finished product. Go ahead and tape off your baseboards if you really don’t want to do any touch up work. Once your floor is filled, sanded, and vacuumed (or swept), you’re ready for the paper.

Get out your roll of paper and start tearing-keeping the pieces with straight edges separate from the ones torn from the middle of the roll. I like my pieces to be anywhere from 6″-12″ in diameter, but it really depends on the look you want. The smaller the pieces, the more wrinkly/leathery/vein-y the final result will be. As you tear, crumple the pieces into balls and toss into a bag or pile.

Next, mix up your glue.  Don’t mix a lot up at a time because you may need to stop or take a break, and you won’t want the glue to dry up and go to waste. Typically mixing up 2-3 “batches” using a 3:1 ratio of water:glue- so 6-9 cups of water to 2-3 cups of glue at a time works great. This will fit in a 2 gallon bucket easily. Stir it up with a paint stick or a gloved hand.

Now you’re ready to start! Using a paint brush, brush the area you’re working in with the glue mixture then dunk 5-6 balls of paper in your glue mix. As soon as you dunk the paper, you want to start submerging it and squeezing it out. Pull each ball out and set it on the floor until it’s time to use it. This is important: do NOT leave the paper in the glue too long. You will only have to leave it in too long once to realize how long that is. It will tear and break down and generally be a pain to use. So just dunk, squeeze, and set aside. Repeat if necessary.

Brown paper flooring paper balls in glue mixture

The straight edge pieces are perfect for the back of a stair tread (shown above) and underneath baseboard. Overlap the pieces by a few inches, obviously it will help with durability but it also looks more natural. Don’t be afraid to brush glue mix on top of the pieces to help them lay flat and remove wrinkles.

Brown paper floors gluing the paper to the floor

You’ll want to paper yourself out of the room, or in the case of the hallway, leave hopping spots to be filled in later. For a staircase, work every other stair. Heat helps the glue dry, so if you feel like getting out a space heater you can. I have found that no matter how large the room-with or without heat- it usually takes no longer than 12 hours (or, overnight) to dry. Once the paper dries, inspect it for areas where the paper might have come up around an edge or wrinkled. Glue down/repair these areas as necessary.

Then, it’s time to stain (if you want). This is based on your preference; some prefer the look of the stain, but others like the natural color. If you prefer the natural, color free look feel free to skip down below to the polyurethane section. Minwax Dark Walnut oil based stain is what was used here.  If you want to use water based stain, test it on some scrap paper first before proceeding.

If you’re doing a room the extension pole/stain pad route is highly recommended. Here’s a neat tip to keep your roller trays in good shape: slide them into a small garbage bag and tape to secure. This is great for any oil based product, but helpful for latex paint too!

Brown paper floors roller tray tip

Depending on how long your stain has been sitting on the shelf, you might want to store it upside down overnight to help get the colorant off the bottom of the can. Then you will need to stir it VERY well. 

Grab your extension pole and attach the lambswool pad to the wood block  (if you’ve bought them separately, or bought one that came with the foam pad attached) by removing the wing nuts . The lambswool pad is meant for oil based products, so if you’re using water based stain this will not work (you’ll likely need two of the foam pads).  Vacuum the lambswool pad for a minute to remove any loose fur or use a lint brush if your vacuum doesn’t have a hose. This step is extremely important.

The extension pole screws into a threaded hole on the wood block. It may take a few tries to get it to go, as the block and pad end up being more angled then you might think. It’s not a 90 degree joint, so just look closely at the threads and try to line up the pole. This is a lot of information for what seems like a simple step, but this can be very tricky and frustrating. Once you’ve got your stain pad-on-a-stick assembled, set your mop aside. Pour some stain into your roller tray. Using the chip brush, cut in around baseboards and trim. The stain pad makes staining a pretty quick process, so you can really cut in a fairly large area (like a whole wall or closet). When using the brush, dip it in the stain and then dab it in the top of the roller tray to remove excess. You really do not want to apply stain with a heavy hand. It is much better to need to dip your brush more often than to have a puddle of stain you need to disperse. It is for this reason that it is suggested that you absolutely DO NOT use a foam brush (the black craft kind). The chip brush is much easier to control and about the same price. When cutting in, be sure to “pull” the stain out a good bit from the wall, about 6″ or so. This will make it easier to blend the edges with the bulky mop pad without jamming your baseboard or wall.

Make sure you open any windows in the room before you start in with the mop because you won’t be able to access them later. Dip the stain pad-on-a-stick into the stain then blot it on the upper half of the tray by pushing gently downward to remove excess. Using long mop like movements, brush the stain on the floor in large sections. Blend it into the areas where you’ve cut in. Staining the paper is a lot different than staining wood. Once you’ve laid down most of the stain from the pad (a few long straight mop strokes), you’ll have enough stain on the pad left to swirl around the edges and blend. While the stain is wet, you can move it pretty easily. It’s best to move it around until most of the stain looks like it’s absorbed into the paper and not just sitting on top, feathering out the edges as necessary. Just don’t try to go back over it a few minutes later. Remember to mop yourself out. This is sometimes easier said than done, so just plan carefully.

Brown paper flooring stained

This next part is probably the hardest. The stain never seems to dray completely, but you really, really need to let it dry as long as possible. It is best to avoid doing this in humid weather unless you have at least 2 days to let the stain dry.  It may still be a little tacky, even after 24 hours.  It took a few tries to come up with the best method of applying the polyurethane given this annoying situation. You’ll be mopping first, then cutting in.

Use water based poly because it is a quick dry and less smelly. Considering the amount of time spent applying it, it is highly recommended to go this route. It is more expensive, but please do not make your decision based on price (this is already such a cheap flooring solution). If you choose oil based poly, test it in an inconspicuous area first! There have been MANY reports of oil based poly leaving splotches…so use at your own risk.

Brown paper floors hallway

Using the extension pole again, attach the foam mop head to the wood block. Cover your roller tray with a garbage bag and pour in your poly of choice. Dip the mop head in the poly, blot out the excess, then apply it in long strokes on the floor. Stay away from the walls, you can cut this area in with a brush later. Be quick and wear socks. Just get that first coat down with minimal walking. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be THIN. People have been reporting cloudy results, and this is generally caused by 1) thick coats applied consecutively and 2) not allowing the coats to dry sufficiently in between.  Once the first coat dries, any tackiness from the stain will be gone and you can take your time cutting in around the baseboards and applying subsequent coats. Follow the directions for re-coating that your brand of poly suggests. I recommend no less than 12 coats.            

Brown paper floors

One of the most common questions is about sanding in between coats. The truth of the matter is that it does make a difference in how the floor feels under foot. It likely extends the life of the floor as well. However, who wants to sand an entire room? In this case the floors were not sanded.  The stair treads and landing were, and these areas are really smooth and lovely. But of course- these areas are also not covered with rugs and furniture. So it’s a trade off. If you want perfectly polished looking smooth floors, definitely sand with 220 grit-maybe not between each coat but definitely after the first and before the last.

Brown paper floors stairway

To really finish the look, install quarter round or shoe molding; it looks amazing.

 

For a reference, the stairwell pictured below is the natural paper color; it is not stained.

Brown paper floor natural color - no stain

 

Concrete/Cement Tips

For concrete/cement subfloors, here is a list of things that do or do not work.

  • The 3:1 glue mix does not work for most.
  • A 50/50 glue mix has worked for some.
  • Using polyurethane only, brush it on the floor then lay the paper and brush more on top- do not saturate/dunk the paper.
  • If you have to use the poly only method, you cannot apply stain over the poly-it must be mixed in for the initial paper application. Look for “stain + polyurethane” products. Be sure to test this on the paper ahead of time to see how the color of a stain-poly mix will affect the paper.
  • Wallpaper glue would possibly work to adhere it.
  • Some people have tried adding color to the poly in the form of paint or stain. Be sure you’re using like with like though, as in water based with water based or oil based with oil based.

 

3 Comments

  1. For my concrete floors, I used 50:50 Elmer’s school glue and water. Two years later, still looking good. However, the reason it worked is that I used a different paper: bogus paper! I tested 2 or 3 different types of craft paper first & they would not stay stuck. I think the difference is that bogus paper has no “finish” on either side. It’s made from recycled newspaper, so is very soft and absorbent, even tho it is the same 50# size as craft or builders paper. My theory is that the fibers sink down and grab the pores in the concrete the way that latex fibers in paint and mastic do. I ordered my bogus paper from Uline. Because it is recycled paper, you never know exactly what color you’re going to get – anything from pale pearl gray to dark taupe. So, order a roll big enough to do your whole project if you want uniform color.

    • One more thing about concrete floors. Even a slap as old as mine – 50 years – will continue to wick moisture from the earth below. If it happens to be doing that on the day you lay your paper, the moisture will mix with the Elmers and take longer to dry. What’s worse is that it mixed with my water-based poly and caused it to produce white, cloudy, speckled areas. I actually kind of like the effect, tho others may not. It has had no effect on the durability of my paper floors. The effect was cosmetic, only.

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