This will be a quick story about my descent from eco-friendly home renovation guy to chemical warfare guy. It’s either a story of redemption or a sad tale of lost opportunities. I’m not sure yet which one.
Since February, I’ve been chipping away at getting all the glue off our downstairs family room floor a bit at a time, which we first shared with you in this post. (If you’re new here and what the full scoop on where we’re going with our family room, you might want to check out this post.)
Although we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do with the room as a whole, we did know some things we need to have in terms of flooring. First, the white carpet had to go.
It had to go because it was in horrible condition, but even more than that it had to go because we are not white carpet people. White carpet people don’t have pee-pee wiener dogs or spill-junk-on-the-floor-and-don’t-clean-it-up kids. We have both of those:
“Ella, what’s this nasty brown spot on the floor?”
“I don’t know… It’s been there since Friday night.”
That’s the kind of kids and dogs we have. We want a floor that kids (and canines) can spill stuff on and we won’t have to worry about them messing it up.
We decided that bulletproof flooring is easier than training our kids/dogs, so that’s why we arrived at a stained or painted concrete floor. Hey, all the cool coffee shops in Portland have stained concrete floors, so why not us?
We like the way they look and the nice part is that it would be very easy to put a different floor right on top of these later should we want to do something different. It’s also a very economical way to go. Total cost should be less than a hundredish bucks in tools and materials.
We started by pulling up a corner of the carpet to see what was up underneath it. There was some good news and bad news. The good news was that the slab underneath was in good shape. No cracks or uneven surfaces. The bad news was that there were 2 layers of glue on the slab. The first layer was a black glue which probably was as old as the house. The second layer was yellow glue which was used to glue down the current white carpet.
I’m trying to learn to be eco-friendly. We didn’t have eco-friendly in south Louisiana where I grew up. My mom kept a spray container of diesel in the shed for edging along the fence and sidewalk. We didn’t use no stinking weed eater; we’d just spray everything dead that we didn’t want growing.
My standard response to Rita when she catches me doing something not so eco-friendly is, “Hey, I grew up in the South!” Anyway, I’m trying to change my ways, so when confronted with the glue my first thought was to scrape it off by brute force. My first tool:
This one didn’t work so well. I managed to scrape off an area about one foot square. It took me about 45 minutes. I decided I needed more firepower. Trying to be earth-friendly, I went shopping for a better scraper tool. I ran over to Harbor Freight and found this guy.
This one worked way better. I was able to work at twice the speed as the smaller putty knife. I managed to get a 3 foot square area scraped pretty clean. It was damn hard work, though, and I could see that I wouldn’t be able to do much more than that at one time without a substantial break.
At this point we hadn’t removed any carpet. I just had a corner of it pulled back to experiment with how to get the glue up. I went looking in the garage for some chemical help. I had come to the realization that scraping by hand just wasn’t going to get the job done. With that in mind I figured if I used some chemical I already had at home then it wasn’t as big of an environmental disaster as buying new chemicals.
What I found and tried:
After trying the two above I decided I just needed to go out and buy something stronger. I was past the stage where I was thinking eco-friendly. I just wanted to get that damn glue up. I went with lacquer thinner. That stuff is strong.
I poured some lacquer thinner on the floor and let it sit for 15 minutes or so. If it worked at all, the effect was minimal. The fumes, though, were very strong. I had to open a window and put on a fan so I wouldn’t pass out. After a couple of attempts at it I decided that lacquer thinner was a no-go.
Next up: Goof Off.
This stuff was supposed to remove anything but didn’t work very well at all. It wasn’t as toxic as the lacquer thinner but it really didn’t do much to remove the glue. Now pretty discouraged, I decided to throw eco-friendliness to the wind and go out and find the most toxic chemical I could find to remove this glue. I was in too far to let this glue beat me down. I drove down to the Depot and looked over their shelves of toxic substances and found this guy:
This stuff looked super-toxic. As I read the description and warnings about burning the skin off your body if you make contact with it, I knew I had found what I was looking for. I bought the big container. It was 24 bucks, but this was my last attempt to get the glue off before we had to make a new plan that included the glue staying right where it was.
While I was there I bought a super-heavy-duty floor scraper that weighed a million pounds. I figured at this point I was in it to win it, and I may as well go out in flames if it wasn’t going to work this time.
When I got home I put on a pair of thick rubber gloves (and shoes!) and went into the family room to do battle.
I poured out some of the toxin on the floor. It glugged out thick like jello.
I smeared it out with my gloved hand. I knew I was on the right track because I got a tiny bit on my arm and it burned like fire. It has to sit for a while to do its work, so while waiting I went upstairs and fired up my espresso machine and made a latte. That was just the right amount of time. When I came back downstairs, I was greeted with a beautiful sight. The glue had bubbled up under the stripper quite a bit.
I shoved the big heavy scraper across the area with my shoe and watched in amazement as the glue just came right up. Success!
There isn’t much to tell about the rest of the story. I followed the directions on the can and applied a thick layer of goo and covered it with plastic for 15 minutes or so before scraping it up.
It took me a few sessions of pulling carpet, applying goo, and scraping before I had it all up.
Some lessons I learned along the way that others may find helpful:
1. Being earth-friendly is cool, but sometimes you need toxins.
2. Toxic chemicals can burn a hole in jeans when you kneel on it.
3. Toxic chemicals burn like fire when they touch your skin.
4. The more a toxic chemical burns your skin the better it will work at removing stuff.
5. The small hand scraper actually worked better than the big heavy one for getting off stubborn glue.
6. Open the doors and windows and turn on a fan if you don’t want to pass out.
7. This is an activity best done on a day when there are no kids in the house.
8. Shoes AND socks are a good idea when working with this stuff.
9. It’s sometimes very difficult to be earth-friendly.
10. Maybe my mother was on to something with the diesel.
And what we’ve got now is this:
We’ve got a large, discolored spot, but we don’t really mind it. We’re going to try putting some stain on this, and if it doesn’t look great, we’ll go with paint. Feels good to finally have all the nasty carpet gone. We’re finally making some real progress with this room.
Editorial note from Rita:
Cane’s tongue is so firmly planted in his cheek in this post, it might take a while to dislodge it. When I suggested that he add more of the serious conversation we had about our choices with this project, he said, “Why don’t you do that part?”
So: Seriously, we found that the question of flooring in this room presented the same kinds of challenges we ran into during our recent napkin debacle. Toxic chemicals are bad, right? So, why not just put in more of the eco-friendly cork floor that we used on the upper-level of the house? Well, the cork is eco-friendly, but the cork floor also has a super-duper poly coating on it. Doesn’t that mean toxic chemicals? We could replace the rug with more rug, but rugs (and their pads) are made with toxins, too.
It started to feel like we just couldn’t win with this one–so we went with the choice that’s more frugal and requires fewer materials that might later end up in a landfill.
And: If you are considering at all following any of Cane’s advice about how to do a job like this, please, please, please read our disclaimer first (please!). We joke about DIYing in our bare feet and testing the strength of solvent by noticing how much it burns your skin, but those are jokes. I mean, yes, we do sometimes work in our bare feet and, yes, Cane did burn some skin on this job. But we were definitely raised in the era of “do as I say, not as I do,” and we’re invoking that here.
And we’re invoking Sgt. Esterhaus. May his (not ours) be the voice you hear when embarking on a potentially risky DIY: