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How To Remove Polyurethane From Floors

Polyurethane is a type of coating for hardwood floors that can be applied to the floor with either a roller or brush. While polyurethane offers many benefits, it does have some drawbacks as well. Depending on the type of polyurethane used, it may contain toxic substances which are harmful to humans and animals. When this substance dries out, it creates an extremely difficult-to-remove residue that sticks to any wooden surface it comes in contact with—including your clothes.

In this article, we'll discuss a step-by-step process for removing polyurethane from wood floors. It's important that you read the entire guide before beginning your project to ensure proper safety and efficient removal of material without damaging your flooring or other surfaces.

How To Remove Polyurethane From Floors.


  • Broom
  • Dustpan
  • Mop
  • Bucket
  • Rubber gloves
  • Clean cloth
  • Coldwater
  • Chemical stripper / Lacquer thinner
  • Dish detergent
  • White vinegar
  • Work clothes
  • Plastic scraper
  • Fine-grained steel wool / Metal Brush
  • Paintbrush
  • Safety glasses

How to Remove Polyurethane from Wood

How to Remove Polyurethane from Wood

Step One: Wear protective gear like thick rubber gloves, safety goggles, and a dust mask to avoid coming into contact with polyurethane.

Before beginning the removal process, it's important to take precautions to protect yourself from potential harm. Wear rubber gloves, safety glasses, protective clothing, or wear any clothing you don't mind getting dirty.

Step Two: Sweep up debris to collect any loose polyurethane or dust.

Use a broom and dustpan to sweep up as much dirt and any remaining debris or chunks of polyurethane on the floor surface. Make sure to get into all the nooks and crannies, so you have a clean wood surface to work with.

Step Three: Use a wet mop to clean the floor.

Using warm water and dish detergent, thoroughly wash down the entire surface of your wood floors. Dip your mop in the soapy water and wring out excess liquid. Mop the polyurethane residue from the floor, being sure to avoid spreading it around further. Rinse your mop frequently in hot water to keep it clean. This will help break up any oil-based residue left behind by polyurethane (which is water-soluble). Make sure you remove all traces of dirt or grime because this will make it more difficult to remove the polyurethane.

Step Four: Apply a chemical stripper / Lacquer thinner.

Use a polyurethane stripper or paint stripper to help break down the polyurethane coating on your wood floors. Follow the instructions on the bottle for proper application. Before removing polyurethane, allow the paint stripper to soak into the polyurethane for several minutes so it can work its magic.

If the polyurethane residue on your wood floors is particularly thick and stubborn, you may need to use a chemical-based stripper. You can find this type of cleaner at most hardware stores or home improvement centers. Simply apply the solution directly onto the floor using an old paintbrush, wait about 20 minutes for it to penetrate the polyurethane layer, and then wipe away with a damp rag. Make sure that before applying any kind of chemical cleaners or solvents that you consult product labels—some chemicals are very dangerous/flammable and should never be used indoors without proper ventilation, so make sure that you're working in a well-ventilated area or at least ensure that all the windows are open to allow fumes to escape.

Step Five: Use fine steel wool to remove the remaining polyurethane from hardwood floors.

Once the stripper has had time to soak in, it will be much easier to scrape up the polyurethane residue remaining on your wood floors. Using a plastic scraper or metal paint can opener (if you don't have anything else), simply slide underneath the loosened polyurethane and break it free from the surface of your floorboards.

If you don't want to use chemical cleaners or need to remove polyurethane that has penetrated your wood floor (like on the edges), then you can try using a fine-grained steel wool pad instead. Wire steel brush and metal brush attachments are available at most hardware stores for electric drills, which makes this process much less time-consuming than it would be if trying to scrape away with steel wool pads by hand manually.

Step Six: Use warm water and dish detergent again to clean up any leftover residue from scouring the hardwood floors.

Before beginning polishing procedures, wash down all residual dust/debris left behind after removing as much of the polyurethane as possible with hot water mixed with dish soap. This will ensure that you don't accidentally damage your wood flooring as you begin refinishing the surface.

Step Seven: Polish your hardwood floor to restore its shine and luster.

There are a number of different products on the market today that can help remove old polyurethane residue from hardwood floors while also polishing them back to a high-gloss finish. Some types include commercial cleaners/polishes, which come in liquid or paste form—you just apply it with a clean cloth and wait for the product to dry before buffing off any excess material using another clean rag. Other options may require mixing up solutions yourself by adding powder chemicals together until they achieve an appropriate consistency for use (like baking soda & water). 

However, you choose to polish your wooden surface floors, always test the product in a small, inconspicuous area before applying it to the entire surface to ensure that it won't damage your wood.

Step Eight: Use a wet/dry vacuum to remove any excess polishing compound from your hardwood floors quickly.

After you have finished the refinishing process, use a damp rag with warm water and dish soap once more to clean up any leftover residue or dust left behind by the polisher. Then, finish cleaning up using a dry towel until all traces of moisture are gone so they don't attract new dirt/dust particles as they continue drying out (which can lead to stains). 

Finally, run your electric floor cleaner over the top for good measure—this will help pick up any final bits missed during cleaning and provide some additional shine on freshly polished surfaces.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Can paint thinner remove polyurethane?

Paint thinner is ineffective in removing polyurethane from wood. You may combine paint thinner with paint stripper to enable the polyurethane to be softened, after which it can simply be wiped off the wood surface. Then you must sand the board's surface to give it a clean appearance.

Can you use baking soda to remove polyurethane?

Baking soda can be used as a homemade cleaner to help remove polyurethane build-up on wood floors, but it is not as effective as a commercially available product.

Can you put polyurethane over the paint?

No, if the paint on your wood floor is chipping or peeling, it will need to be removed before applying a fresh coat of polyurethane. Polyurethane cannot be applied directly over old paint as it will not completely dry or adhere properly.


Now that you know how to remove polyurethane from floors, you can go ahead and give your old hardwood a fresh new look. Just be sure to take your time and follow the proper steps, so you don't damage the surface in the process. And if at any point you feel overwhelmed or uncertain about what to do next, remember that there are plenty of online resources as well as experienced professionals who can help guide you through this project. Happy refinishing.


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