Our most viewed post and video, by far, is the Brown/Kraft Paper DIY Alternative to Wood Flooring tutorial: how to cover a floor in brown kraft paper to create a great, leather-looking surface. And after having this tutorial get published in Cottages and Bungalows magazine in April 2011 (woot!), more readers and bloggers have tried it in their homes with great success.
It’s also the post I get the most questions about – here, on our You Tube channel, and through email. I thought it was about time to address some of the most common questions people have about this easy, affordable, and beautiful flooring option.
Before I get to the specific questions, I want to emphasize a couple of points that answer most general questions:
- ALWAYS do a test area if you’re unsure. If there is no out-of-the-way place to do it, get a piece of material that is the same as the surface you want to cover and try it.
- If you want to try something other than what I did, don’t be afraid to experiment with your ideas…on your test patch, or the actual floor if you’re a daredevil.
- I can only tell you my experiences– I don’t know exactly how this will work/hold up in your situation. That’s the nature of DIY, I’m afraid.
- This is pretty low-cost and low-impact, so I always tell people to go for it when they want to try something different- don’t be afraid to be creative!
Brown Paper Floor Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Can I do this on concrete?(the most-asked question, by the way- who knew there were so many concrete floors?)
- I haven’t done it myself, so I can only give my reader’s experiences. I’ve been told that using only the polyurethane to “glue” down the paper works for concrete – but not the 3:1 glue-to-water ratio that I use on wood-based sub floors. Paint the concrete with poly, apply the paper and then poly over the top. Again- I haven’t tried it, but I’ve been told this gives good results. If the concrete sits on dirt, there may be moisture issues and I’d do a test area.
- Here’s what one You Tube commenter said:
“Yes I just did it on concrete in my sons room, it looks great, I love it- about to do the hallway now. I just made sure to scrape it clean so it was smooth. But we love it, so glad I found this”
2. Can I do this on tile? Vinyl? Other subfloors like pressboard or plywood?
- See question #1 and general suggestions above
- My only experience has been with wood-based subfloors (specifically, particle board, but I’ve also done patches on plywood- more wrinkles with particle board, less with plywood) – I think putting this over tile would leave grout marks- not sure at all how that would look.
- If the linoleum is in good condition and there aren’t a lot of bumps and ridges in the surface design (most things show up when the paper dries) the paper should adhere. As always, I recommend to do a test patch in an out-of-the-way spot and see what it looks like!
- Here’s a reader comment who applied it to a painted floor:
“If you have a floor that already has a coat of poly on it (we had a painted floor), you can use poly for your glue and it works very well!”
3. How durable is this? Does it last?(second most-asked question)
- Again, I can give you our experiences: in our former house, we did the stairs and the entire upstairs (400 sq. ft.) three years before we sold it. The stairs looked as good as the day with finished them – much to my surprise – and there was one spot upstairs that tore from moving furniture. I touched it up before selling.
- At our current house, it’s been two years since we finished our son’s bedroom (at the time of this article) and it, too, looks just the same as when we finished it. I think it might be discolored where the bed feet are, but it hasn’t been moved, so I won’t deal with it until it’s needed.
- SO, I feel pretty confident in saying that it’s very durable – considering it’s paper. That’s the result of the polyurethane – I do four coats, but you can always do more, it’ll just cost more.
- UPDATE: see our video, below on how it’s held up after 4 years:
4. Can I do this in a bathroom? Kitchen? Dining room? Etc…
- I haven’t tried it in these areas, though I’ve heard from a few readers who’ve put it down on their bathroom floors. They report good results – one said her parents had it back in the 70s and it lasted more than 7 years. Another reader said after awhile it wore a little in front of the bathtub and they added more paper and poly and it continues to work for them!
- I would think kitchens may be the same, though they get a lot more traffic. My suggestion is to take a chance – for $60-70 and a few days time you’ll have a cool floor for awhile at least. And maybe longer!
5. Can I do this on stairs? On walls? On counters?
- See second point of question #4 – it’s cheap, so go for it and find out!
- As for stairs, as I said in #3, I’ve done it (and others as well) and they really look nice and hold up well
6. How long does it take to finish? Will the wrinkles smooth out? Is it hard on the knees?
- It takes a long weekend – about 3 days – to do the technique like I outlined in the video, longer if you want to stain the paper (more on that below).
- Yes, after the glue/water dries, the wrinkles will be much less noticeable, then pop up again after applying the poly. As the poly dries over the next week, they will lessen until hardly noticeable. Read this post about how I thought I failed, but then didn’t.
- Yes, it’s hard on the knees and the back! Be prepared…
7. Is it loud? Slippery? How do you transition to other flooring (ie, thresholds)?
- We don’t find it to be obnoxiously loud, but it does squeak more than carpet, as you’re walking on the subfloor.
- Yes, it’s slippery like any surface that’s been coated with polyurethane (wood floors, etc.). You’ll need rugs with pads under them and for little kids, those socks with the no-skid bottoms. *smile*
- We buy wood thresholds from the home store and stain them what we want to transition between the lower paper floor and our wood floors. Works for us.
8. How does it hold up with dogs?
- Our dog doesn’t go into the rooms with this floor, so I only know what I’ve read from others. I’ve had readers say their floor was fine with pets. As I’ve said, with the coatings of poly I believe it wears really well. The bonus is, if it does get pulled up in an area by pets (or moving furniture and such) you can simply tear a piece of paper to cover it and poly it down. Good as new, which can’t be said for many other floor treatments.
- That said, I’m not sure there’s any floor that dogs won’t put some scratches in (except carpet, but that has it’s own issues…), so you’ve got to be OK with that, I think.
- If you’re worried about your dog chewing, I’d suggest doing a Google search on dogs and the poly finish. There aren’t edges to be chewed, but you never know what a chewy dog will find.
9. Can I use a roller to apply the polyurethane? Does it smell? Do I have to sand between coats?
- You can use a roller if you want to – I use a brush as it’s easy for me and I can get into the corners and edges without cutting in later. Readers have told me they’ve used a foam mop-head type applicator as well as a roller. I’ve always heard that rollers could increase the bubbles in the finish, plus I have more control with a brush, so that’s what I’ve always used.
- The water-based poly has minimal smell- not at all like the oil-based stuff that is so strong and lingers for days.
- I’ve never sanded between coats. This isn’t a fine finish- just for protection, so I don’t bother.
10. Can I use other types of paper? Fabric?
- Sure! Use any paper you’d like. As with most other questions, I always suggest trying it first.
- I’ve never even imagined it with fabric- you may have problems with edges fraying as you brush the glue on, if it’s a loose fabric. Or not. Experiment!
11. Can I cut the paper into strips?
- I know of a couple of readers who’ve used strips, and they like it. I think it gets harder when the pieces are bigger, though, so keep the pieces easy to handle and glue down.
12. Can I use oil-based polyurethane?
- I DO NOT recommend it. I have had readers tell me it worked for them and I don’t know the difference, but when I tried it (it’s cheaper, and I succumbed…) I had awful oily splotches. I had to tear it ALL up and lay the paper all over again. And the smell- it was so bad, and for days. I’ll never use an oi-based product on it again.
13. Can I stain it? How?
- Yes, readers have successfully stained it. You stain it one of three ways:
- Stain the floor right after the glue/water mixture has fully dried, BEFORE starting the poly coats. Use the stain you’d like and apply it with a foam pad applicator or brush. Let dry fully before starting the poly coats. Here’s one reader’s technique (though I still don’t recommend using anything oil-based with the paper).
- Mix a water-based stain in the glue/water mixture, effectively staining the paper as you go. This is more time-saving than the first option, but you have to experiment with the mixture first to get the ratio so that the floor ends up the color you want.
- For concrete floors, since you’re not using the glue/water mixture, you’ll need to tint the polyurethane (some poly comes with stain in it- you can experiment with that).
14. Can I put another floor over the top of it later? Do I have to rip it up?
- I think that’s one of the nice things about this- if you ever want to install wood (or, heaven forbid- carpet :-), it would go right over the top with no problem. About the only thing you couldn’t do would be to paint it, although people surprise me all the time…maybe someone will do this one day!
- I wouldn’t bother removing it, but I suppose that depends on what you’re putting on top. Guess what? Yeah…do a test patch. *smile*
15. How do you clean it?
- I clean my paper floors like I clean wood floors: I vacuum with a canister vac weekly and use a slightly damp mop as needed (ours are in bedrooms- the need for mopping is not that great). Like wood floors, I never put a lot of water on them- just a damp mop is good. They really are easy care!
16. Can it be repaired if it tears? How?
- Yes, easily. Simply tear and crumple a new piece of brown paper to cover the area to be fixed. Use poly only and brush the floor with it, lay the new piece on the area and brush more poly over the top. Let dry and repeat for the number of coats you’d like.
17. What about resale value?
- As far as renovations go, this is a pretty inexpensive one, even if it’s just for a few years before you can afford something else. But as I mentioned in another question, we sold our other house with this flooring on the stairs and second floor with no problem. In fact, the new family thought it was cool (we sold it ourselves, so we heard all their comments). Everyone who’s ever visited our houses have thought it was a great floor and many of them have wanted to do it to their own floors. Each situation is unique, though, and I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t like it (they’re probably carpet people!).
- UPDATE: We’ve sold the house pictured here with no problems with the flooring, as well.
Whew! As you can tell, I really have gotten a lot of questions about this. If you’ve made it this far, you must be interested in trying this so if you have any more questions I haven’t mentioned, be sure to leave them in the comments and we’ll do our best (or our readers will!) to answer them here. I’ll just keep adding to the list.
And be sure to tell us if you’ve done this technique and leave a link if you’ve posted about it on a blog or website!