Paper Grocery Bags, Elmers Glue, Rit Dye & Polyurethane = Fabulous Floor! You’re Kidding, Right?

As you know, I’m participating in‘s “Get Your Crap Together Party”.  I’ve been frantically working on remodeling my woman cave/craft area.  Although this room is not large, the project is taking much longer than I anticipated.  Typical for my 1888 house!

Anyway, the floor was AWFUL in this area.  I looked on the web for various flooring techniques and I opted for trying out the a brown paper floor.  I based what I did on The Ultimate Brown Paper Flooring Guide on Lovely Crafty Home.

I forgot to take a before shot but the first thing I had to do was to remove the old tile.

Look what I found!  Ugly tar that was used as the glue for the old tile.  It’s spread across the entire subfloor!  UGH!  We may need to lay a new subfloor! :(

Here is the floor with all the tile removed.

The instructions at Lovely Crafty Home talk about applying stain to your papered floor (once the glue is dry before you apply your polyurethane) with a light hand.  I decided to try adding RIT dye to my glue mixture so I made a sample board.  You can see more about that here.
Anyway, I chatted with my husband about the tar issue and I decided to try out the paper bag treatment in a small corner of the room (glued & polyurethaned). Guess what!  It worked which means…no new subfloor needed!  However, a note to you.  Many of the other sites that discuss the gluing of the paper to the floor have your do so in this way
1.  brush glue/water mixture onto the floor
2.  lay your paper onto the gluey floor and smooth flat
3.  brush on a coat of glue/water mixture on top of the paper.
This is the method I did when I laid it onto my sample portion of the floor.  It stayed on well, however, I was able to remove it with a wall paper scraper and elbow grease.  My husband recommended that I soak the paper so that the glue goes through the entire paper:  this would help it adhere better.  Well, this is the method that lovely crafty home suggests.  So, let’s get started with the real floor!
We had to finish preparing the floor.  This meant going around and hammering in any nails that were sticking up.  We also needed to screw down the floor boards a bit more to ensure that they would not move when people walked on the floor.  Then, we finished with putting down fiberglass tape (you use when working with drywall) along the floor board joints to help strengthen these areas.
Now, it’s time to gather the supplies for the new flooring!
Paper grocery sacks (my room is 6′ x 10′ and took about 45 bags) or you can purchase a roll of kraft paper
1 gallon of Elmer’s Glue All (NOT washable glue).  I found this at Lowe’s
1 bottle of liquid Rit dye
1 gallon of Water Based Polyurethane (I found this at Home Depot)
Disposable Gloves
Large Paint Brush
Sponge (this is to have on hand in case you splash either your glue mixture or polyurethane on the walls)
The first thing you need to do is tear up your paper bags (or kraft paper).  Note with grocery sacks.  You can’t use the part that has printing on it; the ink will bleed through.  Also, the area where the bag is double thick (glued together) will not work.  Regarding the parts of the bag where there are creases where the factory folded the bag, these creases will probably show through onto your finished floor so check these out on your sample board to see what you think of this look.
Okay, back to tearing up your paper.  My pieces were anywhere from 4″ in diameter to 12″.  Most were about 6-8 inches.  I like the varied sizes, I feel it adds more dimension to the final look.  Also, smaller pieces make the floor look more leathery…but will add to the installation time.  I placed my pieces into two piles:  pile 1 had edges there were straight so that I could put these edges up against the wall while pile 2 had all roughly torn edges for use in the middle of the room.
Now, I did not previously tear my paper and I severely underestimated how much paper this project would take.  As lovely crafty home suggests, I would spend an evening tearing up paper while watching TV and place the paper in two different large plastic bags.  I would also crumple up the paper before I placed it into these plastic bags.  Here’s my pile crumpled up.
Back to the floor!  Next I mixed up my glue/water/dye mixture into a small batch:  about 1/2 cup of elmer’s glue to 1/2 cup of water and a splash of Rit dye (about 1-2 tsp).    Note, I later switched to using an old quart yogurt container to mix my glue mixture.

I stirred this up and poured some into a bowl. I also crumpled up some paper pieces and placed them in the bowl to soak (notice in honor of lovely crafty home, I found a similar bowl to use!).
Once the paper has absorbed the glue (you can tell, the texture will feel different but don’t let it soak too long or it will fall apart), wearing rubber gloves, pick up a piece and starting in a corner, lay out a piece and smooth it out.  Continue working by first adhering pieces toward the wall and then filling in with middle pieces.  Make sure the pieces overlap, the edges do not fold under and that the edges are laying flat.  Also work to see that there are no bubbles underneath the paper pieces: you want to make sure the paper adheres to the floor.
You can see that I switched to the yogurt container!  Also, see how the purple glue mixture is beginning to dry brown (look in the corner).  Yes, the dye looks purple when you first mix it but it does dry brown.  Continue to lay paper.
Here is my floor once it has been completely covered with glued on paper!  
Now you need to wait a minimum of overnight to ensure that your floor is completely dry.  Here’s the floor the next morning.  It looks pretty cool so far and I’m getting pretty psyched.

Here’s an up close picture.  You can see hows the dye darkened not only the edges of the paper but all the veining from where the paper was crumpled.  Pretty cool!
Now it’s time for the polyurethane.  Find a larger disposable pan or paint tray (I used an old liner from a food purchase from Costco).  Pour some polyurethane into the pan.
Now if you were happy with the color of your floor, you could just use the polyurethane as it is and add clear coats.  I wanted a little darker floor so I added some Rit dye to my polyurethane and yes, it turned purple again!
In a lot of blogs they have you attaching your brush to a piece of pipe or something so that you can apply it while standing up.  Since I have dye in my polyurethane, I didn’t want to risk splashing it on the walls so I got on my hands and knees and applied a coat.  Yes, it does look purple!
You will need to have your polyurethane dry between coats.  To keep from having to continually wash out your brush, you can wrap it in either a plastic bag or plastic wrap to keep it from drying out between coats.
Apply enough polyurethane until you get the smoothness and look you want.  I applied 5 coats. Here’s the floor before we attached the baseboard.

Here is an up close picture so you can see some definition on how the floor looks!

Here’s the floor with the base board attached.  I think it looks awesome!!

Now one of my main hurdles in completing my “get your crap together” challenge is the floor needs to finish curing….which means I still can’t move furniture in!!  I will keep you abreast of how my project progresses.  I just didn’t get everything done in the time frame I had hoped.  If you’d like to see the other before and afters from people who participated, go here.  You’ll find some great transformations and hopefully some inspiration as well!
UPDATE:  August 27, 2012
I just did a paper bag floor in my bathroom that had cement leveler.  If interested, check it out here.
UPDATE:  September 3, 2014
It’s been over 2.5 years and look how well this floor still looks!
{Click here to read more}
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  1. says

    Wow – that’s a big project and you’ve done well!! Nice job!! I have a half finished basement with carpet, but I want to take the carpet out, so I can have a wine cellar. I have concrete under the carpet and I’m trying to decide what to do that would be cheap.

    Thanks for sharing this on the Take it on Tuesday blog hop!!

  2. says

    This looks fabulous, Marilyn! I bet people’s jaws drop when you tell them that it’s brown paper bags. Ha ha! I’m excited to see your finished room!

  3. says

    Ohhh I think your floors look great! I love the brown paper flooring, you are much braver then I am too chicken to try it! I tried to get my room done in time for Lovely Crafty Homes party too, but the flooring I ordered still isn’t here. So I totally feel your frustration. Can’t wait to see your final product, I’ll have to stop by when you’re done!

  4. says

    This is a really cool floor technique. I had never heard of it before. Do you know if you have to use brown dye since the paper bags are brown? Would you be able to use a blue or dark green?

  5. says

    unbelievable!! I never heard of or thought of anything like this before! really cool…you are on to a whole new trend!!
    I am your newest follower..pls follow back if you can.

  6. says

    Wow When I first started reading I did see how it would work. BUT IT LOOKS GREAT!I am now following you on Linky Follower. I would love it if you followed me back. I always enjoy meeting new Bloggers.

  7. says

    This is amazing!! We love it! We loved having you link up to our “Strut Your Stuff Saturday!” We hope to see you back next Saturday with more fun ideas! -The Sisters

  8. says

    So glad I found your lovely blog. I’m following you with the new Linky tool, straight from the Linky blog hop. I look forward to getting to know you better, Lori

  9. says

    I am just speechless, and that rarely happens. The world needs to see this one!!! This looks like some expensive concrete floor texture. I am featuring this on my link party. It goes live in just a few minutes, so sorry for the last minutenes!!! Thank you so much for sharing.

  10. says

    Oh geeh, you did soo good. It came out great. I was thinking this was going to be a disaster story, but no. Good for you.

    I am actually coming to your site from the FOLLOWER linky blog hop, and am following you ! :-) Will you follow me back?? Thank you so much when you do.

    PLUS: There is also a party on our blog, where you can feature ‘your best creative work’. There are some great projects to see already, but we want to see your work!

    Use this link both to FOLLOW and to PARTY:

    Hope to seeing you around!!
    Have a happy, creative day!

  11. Anonymous says

    I’ve been working on this with my hallway first. Instead of stain or dye, I have used craft paint and a sea sponge, colors are black, brown, and gray. To give it a “slate” look. I’m loving it much better than carpet and plan to do the rest of the bedrooms.
    Great job!
    Paula Pfister

  12. says

    I love, love, love this idea! But, as I have all wood floors throughout my house, I have nowhere to do it. Then I had a brainstorm! I’m getting ready to redo my bedroom and a smaller version of this done on a piece of thick plywood will make a great headboard! Now I can’t wait to get started.

  13. says

    Girl, this is exactly why I host the “Drab to Fab” party! So I can learn from creative geniuses like yourself who come up with and execute things I would not come up with in a million years! I’d love to see more of your great links in about 3.5 days!
    I’m your newest follower too!

    Amy @ Sugar and Spice

  14. says

    Absolutely amazing. Who would have ever thought a paper bag could create such an amazing effect! Thank you so much for sharing this at Project Queen’s Party last week. I will be featuring it tonight at the Highlight Party.


  15. says

    WOW that is a pretty cool project. Completely different. I would have never guessed it was paper bags. Love how it turned out. :) I’m stopping over from The Scott’s Crib Party. Have a great day. :)

  16. says

    That is the biggest modge podge job I have ever seen! What an awesome outcome!!
    Coming from the Feed Me Friday Hop, Hope you can do the same
    Oh! My Heartsie
    Tweeting your blog post! @myllls
    Have a great weekend, Karren

  17. says

    Hi – I came via Inspire Me Monday. This is an epic project! I’m not much good with DIY and I don’t know if I’d have the patience but this really does look amazing! Kudos on a great project

  18. Anonymous says

    I did this in my bathroom, kitchen and dinning room. I love the look but now that I have had it completed for 3-4 months it looks like crap. There are scratches everywhere. I used a brown stain so the scratches in the floor turn white because of the drid glue. I reseached a ton before doing this and I must say I am disapointed in this. I also have spots on my floor that are faded and look “foggy” did anyone else have these issues? If so, did you do anything to fix it and found that you did something different? I love the overall lookand it looks better then what I had but I can see its not going to last long and I will have to reinvest in a short time again. Any help would be much appreciated!

    • says

      It’s been about 3 months since I finished my room and I am not experiencing any of the problems you have encountered. I wonder if perhaps your glue wasn’t completely dry before you put your polyurethane on?

  19. says

    I just found your blog after researching TONS of info about brown bag floors. I am going to attempt this in a whole house remodel. The whole house is on a concrete slab with awful nasty grey carpeting, linoleum and some weird parquet looking wood. It was built in 1978, so it’s still stuck in the 70’s look. I do have a few questions (I’m blog hopping and asking everyone I can find).
    What did this actually cost? and how long did it take for this room?
    I’m going to be doing about 1500 square feet. I am hoping it will take about 2 weekends but don’t know if I’m under estimating that time or not………..thanks for any help.

  20. says

    I want to do this in my spare room. However, in your finished photo, the floor looks dark brown. Did it turn brown or is it purple?

  21. Anonymous says

    Your floor looks great. I just finished a bedroom with the paper bags. However I have some wrinkling in the paper after the glue has dryed. I put lots of glue on the back and front & used a wall paper squezee to get the air out but still has wrinkles. I have not put the polly on yet waiting to dry. Just wondering if you had wrinkling also. Not all is wrinkled. Please let me know thanks debbie

    • Anonymous says

      Thanks for your reply but it has been 24 hrs & still have the wrinkles. Hubby thinks I should have waited to overlap after the bottom pieces dried first hard to say but it still looks good. Thanks for your pics

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  28. Patty Garcia says

    I am so glad I found your idea for adding Rit Dye to the glue mixture. This is so mush faster and easier than try to stain the floor afterwards.
    I brown bagged my living room,dining room,foyer and hallway between 2 guest bedrooms. I LOVE this floor and the durability of it.
    Thanks again for you help with this!
    Here are some pics I posted of my floors:

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  30. says

    Thanks for this great tutorial! I was wondering if I could save time by ROLLING the multiple coats of polyurethane onto the floor instead of BRUSHING them on? Thanks!

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