How To Remove Varnish From Hardwood Floors Without Sanding?

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Hardwood floors are an investment for all homeowners and provided the amount of money that is spent on them, it is only wise that one gets them finished in order to protect them from any unwanted incidents.

However, there can be situations where you might need to remove the varnish from your hardwood floors, and sanding down just doesn’t seem possible at the moment.

What else can you do to remove the varnish from hardwood floors if not sand them down?

You can remove varnish from hardwood floors using strippers which are either liquid or gel-based as these products can aid in varnish removal from wooden floors. Besides, you can also use a heat gun for this process if you do not want to use any product at all.

Removing Varnish From Hardwood Floors Without Sanding

However, these products are to be used with extreme care and attention as a small mistake can result in damage to your hardwood floors which might be permanent as well as irreversible.

In addition, if proper care is not given to the task, you might even end up hurting yourself during the procedure.

Hence, it is necessary that you read all the instructions and methods to be well-aware and educated before you can start removing varnish from your hardwood floors.

How To Remove Varnish From Hardwood Floors Without Sanding?

Although a wood varnish can provide many benefits to your hardwood floors, such as; protecting them from daily wear and tear and possible accidents, improving their appearance and making them look more attractive, and increasing their longevity with an extra coating.

Despite all these factors, you may need to remove varnish.

The reasons may vary; you might want to get a new finish/ varnish, or your floors need a resurfacing session. Here’s a detailed guide on hardwood floor resurfacing.

So you want to remove the existing coat without the sanding so the professionals can do the work accordingly.

Hence, removing a varnish might become necessary, but it is quite difficult when you’re not sanding the floors.

In most cases, varnishes consist of powerful solvents with adhesive qualities, which allow them their resistance level.

However, with the methods mentioned earlier, you can easily remove the varnishes with little effort and some prior preparation.

Make sure to follow the methods mentioned below, and you will be able to strip off the varnish from your hardwood floors without damaging the floors themself.

Choosing The Right Stripping Method

Choosing The Right Stripping Method

Choosing the right method to remove the varnish from hardwood floors is crucial to complete the job without damaging your hardwood floors.

While sanding is the most common way, the other two popular methods of removing varnishes from hardwood floors are as follows:

While the liquid and gel strippers work in an invasive manner, a heat gun is a bit simpler to use.

Liquid and gel strippers dissolve into the surface of the finish and soak inside to cause the finish to loosen its grip from the inside.

However, the heat gun follows a simpler principle: it softens the finish with heat and makes it lose its grip.

It is important to note that both methods would require you to scrape the varnish off the surface of the wood.

Generally, the liquid strippers consist of various chemicals while the gel-paint strippers are usually made of citrus-based elements which work as acidic agents to dissolve and corrode the finish.

Both methods require a different amount of time but work efficiently; while chemical strippers can work in as little as 30 minutes, they release many toxic fumes, harming your health.

Gel-based strippers do not release as many toxins and usually do not smell strong.

However, they require a lot of time to work and may require 2-3 sessions before the varnish has been loosened properly.

Ensure not to use citrus strippers that require rinsing them with water after usage.

The reason behind this is that the water can raise the grains and fibers of the wood, which might result in sanding becoming inevitable to smoothen the surface again.

Heat guns follow a different approach and make the varnish soft using the heat in only a few minutes.

However, they make the varnish soft and rubbery, which would require some significant scraping before the varnish comes off.

Moreover, standard heat guns also pose the risk of charring the wood; hence, using an infrared heat gun might be more suitable as it is much safer due to the lower amount of heat produced.

While all of these methods are equally useful and have pros and cons, using a liquid chemical stripper is the cheapest and easiest.

Citrus strippers are a bit more costly and require a little more effort, but they are the safest option. Lastly, heat guns are usually quite expensive but are a one-time expenditure.

They can be reused and soften varnishes and stain wood but require much time as you can’t target a large area with them.

Also Read: How Long Does Hardwood Floor Last?

Preparation of The Floors

Before starting any procedure, you must prepare to avoid unwanted results or accidents. For instance, chemical and citrus strippers can mar the surface surrounding your hardwood floors.

The area around the floors and stairs can get dirty and stained while you attempt to apply the product.

A suitable solution is to use painter’s tape on surrounding areas so you don’t apply the products on unwanted areas accidentally.

Preparation of The Floors

Moreover, if there are any items on the floors, they must be cleared before the floor is going to be treated.

Furniture and other movable items must be shifted to some other place beforehand.

Furthermore, in the case of using a chemical stripper, it is preferred that you must ventilate the room as much as possible.

Although ventilation is necessary for all methods, it is highly focused upon when using chemical strippers.

Turning on fans and opening doors and windows are suitable ways to promote airflow in the room.

If you’re using a heat gun over the other two methods, make sure to have drop cloths ready to catch the softened varnishes as soon as you start to scrape the surface.

Materials Required & Safety Measures

Chemical strippers dry quickly, and it can be difficult to keep pace with them.

Hence, a useful tip is to work in small portions of the hardwood floor so you can keep scrubbing the varnish to remove it as soon as the chemical gets absorbed and makes the finish loose enough.

Materials Required & Safety Measures

Applying the liquid on the entire floor and then working your way from the start is unsuitable as the chemical can cause serious damage if it comes into contact with the wood directly and stays there for some time.

Hence, it is necessary to remove it on time to prevent any mishaps. Below are the items you will need during this process:

However, both of these methods require a lot of precautionary measures, which are mandatory to follow if you don’t want your health to decline after carrying out this process.

Firstly, you must wear eyeglasses to avoid irritation while the varnishes are removed from the hardwood floors.

Even if you use mild citrus-based solutions, eye irritation can still tease you and cause you trouble.

Moreover, wearing gloves is extremely important as you don’t want your bare skin to come into contact with the chemicals.

In best-case scenarios, you will only have a sense of itching in the area where the solution touched your skin.

However, in worst-case scenarios, you might even feel burns or develop allergies upon chemical exposure.

Hence, it is better to be safe than sorry. Furthermore, using chemical solutions would mean too many toxic fumes in the air once the solution is applied and reacts with the varnish.

These can cause serious breathing issues and can cause other respiratory problems. As a result, many people revert to basic dust masks in this situation which is totally wrong.

You must use a specified gas mask for this purpose so the air you breathe is filtered first and all the toxins are removed beforehand.

Don’t Miss: How To Clean Old Hardwood Floors After Removing Carpet?

  • Treat The Varnish With A Stripper

Firstly, apply the solvent to a small area on the side of the floor to test the results. You can either use a gel-based or a liquid-based stripper for this purpose.

Make sure not to pour too much, as you only want to remove the varnish, and the pain or stain of the wood must not be affected in any way.

A common way to apply Citristrip gel stripper is to use a brush and apply them onto the surface.

Treat The Varnish With A Stripper

While these might not be the most affordable solutions, they are still quite inexpensive compared to sanding costs, where you have to get the materials, pay for labor costs, and bear the cost of the rented sanding machine.

You can pour some of the solvents on the floor and then spread it or apply it directly using a paintbrush. However, the latter is preferred in most cases as pouring the liquid on the floor might cause serious damage to the hardwood floors if the wood is sensitive enough.

Another option is to use a Citrus paint spray stripper, which usually comes in the form of cans and makes it much easier to apply the solution to a larger area at once.

Once you have applied the stripper of your choice according to your preferred method, you must let it stay for some time to allow it to loosen the varnish.

The time you must allow it to sit depends on the product you are using.

In addition, the number of times you might need to apply the product is also variable depending on whether you are using a chemical or a citrus-based stripper and at what concentration level.

  • Remove The Varnish

Now that the varnish has been loosened and the strippers have worked their magic, removing the finish from the hardwood floors is time. There are two main ways you can perform this step.

The first is to use a chemical-resistant scraper blade which can be used to scrape off the varnish from the surface.

You can also use a ball of fine steel wool for this purpose as long as it is not very harsh and does not threaten to scratch the surface.

Remove The Varnish

The second method is to use a Swiffer wet mop and wash away the loosened varnish but make sure that the mop is only damp and not wet.

However, this method is not preferred as even a small excess of water content can cause the wood grain and fibers to rise, which would require sanding.

Besides, this method is less effective than scraping and requires too much effort.

A common indication of when the chemical has done its work is that the varnish will now appear wrinkled or bubbled.

This is a notion that it is now time to scrape the surface and remove the finish from the floors. If you miss out on it and don’t scrape the floors on time, the solution might dry and make the surface hard again.

This would not only result in waste of the stripper but also of time and effort as you will have to repeat the process all over again.

Hence, it is recommended to start applying the solution in a linear motion in squares so you can work each area separately.

Moreover, a putty knife tool is also suitable for scraping surfaces once the chemical or citrus-based strippers have completed their job.

However, you can also use the other methods mentioned previously. Besides, if a certain scraping or varnish removal method is listed on the product, you must follow it as the manufacturer’s instructions must be followed.

Although products requiring rinsing are not recommended, if the instructions ask, you must follow the procedure mentioned.

  • Final Scraping

Once you finish these procedures, most of the varnish will have been removed, and the wood’s surface should be exposed to a certain amount.

At this point, using a scraper or a ball of steel wool is not recommended, as there is a possibility that these might scratch and scuff the raw surface of the wood.

As there is no varnish or finish present to resist it, the damage is most probably going to be permanent.

Final Scraping

Hence, a suitable method to follow not is to get a microfiber cloth and a scrubbing brush.

You can use a BOOMJOY scrubbing brush with gentle bristles to scrub off the remaining varnish and use the microfiber cloth to pick it up.

This way, your hardwood floors will retain their grain, and the fibers will not stand up while cleaning, which might result in inevitable sanding.

However, you would need to clean the floors with a damp mop after this to get rid of any remnants of the varnish on the floors.

Follow this up with a thorough vacuuming session, and you will be good to go.

Using A Heat Gun To Remove The Varnish From Hardwood Floors

Heat guns are slow and fast at the same time. While they work very fast at softening the varnish in the area you just targeted, you will have to work on numerous portions of the floor to cover it entirely.

The inability of the heat guns to target a large area of the hardwood floors at once makes the process lengthy and time-consuming.

If the floor you are working on is big, it might take a few hours to complete the entire process.

The chemical alternatives are much faster in this scenario as they offer the ability to target as much area as possible and work on it at once.

Using A Heat Gun To Remove The Varnish From Hardwood Floors

You can also use a putty knife to scrape off the surface of the varnish if you find the steel wool scrubber and the metal scraper uncomfortable.

Using a heat gun to remove the varnish is very different and involves different procedures compared to chemical and citrus-based solutions.

Although it is also a stripping method, it focuses more on softening the varnish than causing it to lose grip. However, both of the methods achieve the same types of results.

Many people have the misconception that a heat gun will scorch the wood’s surface and destroy their hardwood floors.

On the contrary, heat guns only produce heat at adjustable levels, which allows the varnish to be softened so it can be removed easily.

However, if you are still too worried about it, you can use an infrared heat gun with a lower heat production level, which is much safer.

Many people think that using infrared heat guns will protect them and their floors.

Although this is true to some extent, you can’t rely on this bit of information. Infrared heat guns can still burn your skin or char the wood if not used properly.

Hence, your first priority must be to handle the heat gun and the process with extra care rather than relying on the product’s safety.

The only difference is that a normal heat gun produces more heat than an infrared heat gun.

Furthermore, a heat gun can leave a stain behind on your floors, which is way more visible than the chemical solutions or gel strippers; hence, using steel wool or buffing the surface with a clean becomes inevitable to prevent the stain from becoming permanent and cleaning it on time.

It is often seen that many heat guns heat up and cause burns to the skin. While they are not as dangerous to hardwood floors as you might think, they certainly do pose some threats to your own safety.

Hence, it is best to avoid holding it with bare hands, and thick protective gloves should be worn as soon as you turn the gun on.

Moreover, wearing protective gear before using the heat gun to remove the varnish from the hardwood floors is preferred.

Wearing DEWALT protective goggles, LANON skin-friendly gloves, and a mask is always recommended before you can start the process. Make sure to pay attention to detail as you are working with wood.

Wash The Surface

Before you can start the removal of varnish from your hardwood floors, make sure that your floors are clean as you won’t want the heat to be wasted on dirt and grime or other residues which might prolong the process and make it difficult for you.

You can use a wood detergent and dilute it in warm water to remove any residues or dust from the floors. Here’s a detailed guide on cleaning hardwood floors.

However, it is necessary to remember that you must only use a damp cloth or Swiffer wetjet mop to clean the floors and avoid exposing the wood to too much water content.

Besides, it would be best if you also dried the floors afterwards using a microfiber lint-free cloth before using the heat gun on them.

Use The Heat Gun

Now that the floors have been cleaned and dried, it is time to use the SEEKONE heat gun to soften the varnish so it can be removed from the hardwood floors.

However, it is best to read the instructions of the heat gun beforehand to avoid any inconveniences or confusion during the process.

A recommended way to use the heavy duty SEEKONE heat gun is to set it to low or medium and close the gun to the hardwood floors where it does not touch the floor.

Target a specific portion of the floor and turn on the heat gun to work the area.

After some time, the varnish will start to soften and show clear signs of changed texture. Once this happens, scrape the surface to remove the finish and move on to the next patch.

You can either use steel wool ball or a metal scraper with blunt edges to scrape the finish off the surface.

Finish Up

After you are done with the entire process, you might be left with a few tiny spots all over the floor where the varnish hasn’t come off completely.

You can use a scrubbing brush by BOOMJOY to scrub that area and remove the finish completely.

You might spend some extra time catering to the tiny bits, but once you are done with that, your hardwood floors will be spotlessly clean with no signs of varnish on them.

If you want to take this a step further, you can clean the floors with a commercial cleaner specially designed for unfinished wood floors.

This way, you will be able to get clean hardwood floors, and the surface of the wood will also not be damaged after the entire procedure.

How To Remove Paint From Wood Floors Without Damaging Finish?

To remove paint from a wood floor without harming the finish, use a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol. Gently buff the paint spot for a few seconds. If the paint starts coming off, it’s water-based, and you can usually remove it with mild cleaners and a varnish putty knife.

Removing Wax Finishes From Hardwood Floors

Although removing the finish from hardwood floors has been explained earlier, wax finishes are a bit different and must be dealt with accordingly.

The most common varnish for hardwood floors is water or oil-based polyurethane, which is quite rigid and hard to remove.

However, wax floors become a bit gooey after they have been softened and can cause serious troubles while you are trying to scrape them off.

Moreover, many homeowners have difficulty determining whether their floors are covered with a polyurethane or wax finish.

To solve this problem, there is a simple test that you can perform, which will allow you to understand and figure out if your floors have been coated with wax or not.

Test The Surface For A Wax Finish

Firstly, you must find a spot on the side of the floor that does not receive too much traffic.

This is because you don’t want to test for the finish in a high-traffic area where the finish might already be worn out, and you end up pouring the solvent on the wood directly and damaging your hardwood floors.

Hence, once you have found this spot, you can pour some mineral spirits into the area. If you are wondering what mineral spirits are, they are petroleum-derived clear liquid solvents.

It is not a rare or unique product; you can easily find it in your area’s regular home improvement store.

Once you have poured the liquid, make sure to let it stay on the surface for a few minutes so it can react and give you the results. After that, you must wipe the surface with a clean or wipe cloth.

If the wipes are clean, there is a high chance that your floors are finished with polyurethane, but if there is a brown or shiny residue, you must know that your floors are wax coated.

Proceed To Removal

Now that you have identified and confirmed that it is wax that has covered your floors, you can use the liquid-chemical method to remove the finish from your hardwood floors.

The process would remain the same, but you will have to use less of the solution as the wax is absorbent, unlike the polyurethane finish.

Moreover, citrus-based strippers do not have much effect on waxed floors as it does not have a high alkaline content; hence a product of acidic nature does not bother it much.

In addition, if you use a heat gun to remove the varnish from the hardwood floors, you must remember that the wax becomes black, sticky, and gooey once it melts down, and scraping it off is more challenging than it might sound.

Besides, hot wax can even burn the skin of your hands, so make sure to wear protective gloves before you can start the process.

Apart from these, using fine steel wool is another way to grind the wax surface, as it is easier to corrode the varnish in a dry state than lift it from the surface once it has become sticky.

The best method is still the chemical solution that cuts into the surface and creates spaces within the varnish layer to prevent it from gripping the floors.

Hence, making it easier and simpler to be extracted.

Final Thoughts

Many homeowners get stressed when it comes to removing varnish from hardwood floors without any sanding.

As it is an easy method, most people prefer renting a sanding machine and grinding the floors to the point where the finish on the surface has disappeared.

However, using another method which is mostly manual sounds absurd to a lot of people.

But there can be situations when you can’t sand your floors but still have to remove the finish.

A suitable example would be of hardwood floors which have already reached their sanding limit but still have enough resistance and strength left that they can bear load and traffic for a few more years.

In such situations, you can’t risk grinding the floors as it might cause weaknesses in the structure hence, using any of the methods mentioned above would be suitable to ensure that the finish is removed and the hardwood floors are also kept in pristine condition.

Try out these methods if you are also facing the same problem and free your hardwood floors from the old varnishes today!

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