My ‘PaperBag’ floor

Here’s the story of how I wound up essentially decoupaging an otherwise unpleasant particleboard floor into an attractive, warm, sealed, and easy-to-clean floor.


floor with fallen stars

Living in an old craftsman, I was a sub-tenant with a nice size bedroom lined with old wall-to-wall carpet.  After a few asthma attacks (first in decades!), I closed the window that opened on the musty back porch, laden with musty old boxes and rugs; commenced an intensive vacuuming regimen; replaced the existing fold-out couch thingy with a new wood slatted bed-frame; and started keeping the cat out.

Asthma only slightly alleviated.

Then one day, while turning my bed around, I discovered the carpet beneath it was damp.

Turns out the water heater – installed on the musty back porch – had leaked into the room.

The carpet – thankfully not glued or stapled down – lifted easily to reveal nasty old particleboard, probably full of formaldehyde, now swollen with water.  The landlord suggested I cut that bit of carpet off and get a new piece of rug for that spot. Uh, yeah.


Beneath the particleboard is a musty wood underfloor, which is all that was between me and the large dirt crawl space where live and play animals such as cats, possums, meeces, raccoons, and skunks; oh yes, skunks.

No wonder I’d been having asthma.

I had to do something, or move out. I thought: Well, someone will have to do something, so why not me; besides, it’d be too crazy to move right now…

I searched online for an affordable, non-toxic solution that I could do myself, and first, found Marmoleum tiles – natural, linseed-oil based linoleum-like, only not as cold to the feet – total yum, BUT: expensive, and surely I’d have to hire a pro.

But then I found-

The Awesome Paper Bag Floor! The perfect depression era solution! Handmade and under $80!

Many amazing photos here; and she credits:

Essentially, you are paper-macheing the floor, then varnishing it.  In my case, the perfect seal for all that must and critter dander!

Here’s another good link:


Many people did this in one room and liked it so much they did others; some did variations on this theme; one used wallpaper on the entryway and it looks like a big rug and is much easier to keep clean!

A bit of time shopping, and all the ingredients – even with more expensive polywhey varnish ($75.00) – cost only around $100:


1 gallon Elmer’s glue (hardware store, NOT Home dpt.)

Builder’s paper – I used Red Rosin for a pinkish rather than tan paper bag colour.

non-latex gloves

4 inch broad synthetic brush

stirring stick

big bucket (could also use a big bowl)

Varnish – I used Polywhey by Vermont Natural:

After clearing the room, getting rid of the carpet – YAY! – vacuuming and removing any nails/staples that were sticking up, I spent a few evening hours ripping up the paper, keeping straight edges separate and stuffing all into big garbage bags.

I decided to do a special border to seal the crack between the wall and the floor, using some 1920s vintage wall paper samples I’d been holding onto for years, saving the bits on the back corners, with miniatures of totally fashionable ladies wearing dresses to die for –


Finally all was ready.

Based on recommendations, I mixed a 2:1 water to glue ratio, and mixed it up in a big bucket.  Wearing the non-latex gloves, I soaked pieces of the ripped paper in the glue mix for a few seconds, then proceeded as with paper mache: spreading/overlapping pieces on the floor and smoothing them out, mostly using my hands, sometimes the brush.

The whole floor took less than 3 hours.

It was fun, and so easy.  I listened to great music and enjoyed myself.

Lesson #1: Do a TEST PATCH!

While still damp that night, the floor looked amazing.



But the next morning, to my dismay, I saw this:


My heart sank.  ALL the paper had shrunk back, away from itself, away from the floor, AND had also ripped the 1920s paper away from the wall, ruining it all.

I was deflated, tired, and there weren’t no one there to even make me a cuppa, ol’ chap.  sigh.


I figured I’d mixed too much water with the glue, and the particle board just soaked it up.

I considered patching it back together, but that would’ve been impossible: the old stiff and shrunken stuff would never mix with the new.  So I sliced open a few sections, and the whole thing lifted off the floor in 4 huge pieces.  Sad addition to a landfill, but hey, it’s only paper!

On the brighter side:  I’d torn up twice as much paper as needed, so I only had to buy another gallon of glue and get back to work the next day.

Researching back through other posts, I came across one person who’d done a 1:1 water to glue ratio, so I mixed 1 gallon water with 1 gallon glue – very sticky stuff.

Using the brush, I first pasted the glue onto the immediate area of floor, then one side of the paper; placed that glued side of paper down, then pasted over the top, using my gloved hands to squeeze out bubblings along the way.

I again papered over the crack between the wall and the floor using straight edged pieces of paper.

This time it took 6 hours.

It looked wonderful again, and there were fewer wrinkles.


To my relief, the next morning all was still stuck to the floor, hadn’t shrunk back, and hadn’t torn itself away from the wall.

It was totally dry, so that evening I began varnishing. Using a broad synthetic brush, on my hands and knees, the whole floor took less than half an hour to cover. The Polywhey has a nice texture, goes on smoothly, doesn’t smell ghastly, and was completely dry in a few hours, so I applied another coat that night, and over the week, I worked my way up to 5 coats.


(you can see the edges of torn wallpaper, which can be covered with border paper, or scraped and painted.)


Though 5 coats are enough, I think that’s a minimum, and only for a low traffic room. I’d go to 7 (and actually seem to remember marking off 7 on my fridge list…)


The floor is so smooth the rugs slide on it a bit, as does the cat (Madcat Racer); socks are slippery too; wonder if there’s a solution for that…My bare feet doing yoga tend to squeak, but…It is warmer than linoleum, lovely to look at it, and cleaning it is a breeze – dust/vacuum/lightly damp rag all over does it.


In a high traffic room, you might even go up to…12 coats?  One person did, and it looks amazing (they also used a dark stain):


One thing: I’m a sensitive gal, and fumes, formaldehyde, offgassings, ac, fake air and poly anything make me quite queasy; many folks barely noticed a smell using lowVOC products, and could move back in within days (Polywhey has the same reputation); for me it took more than two weeks of consistent air circulation.  Perhaps weather helps or hinders, but if you’re sensitive, allow time.

Re: Spills:  Liquid beads up at first, so catch it right away.  If left, it can soak in and reach the paper; that happened with plant water overflow, but the spot merely dried a slightly different shade.

Repairs are easy:  If tears happen, do a patch job with glue and paper, then varnish over it.

Another plus:  If one wanted to put down another room size rug/carpet, or lay down tiles, it would be no problem…

And that’s it!

If I’d done it all right the first time, I would’ve only used:

1 gallon of Elmer’s glue;

Less than half a roll of red rosin/builder’s paper;

Almost all of 1 gallon of varnish (enough left for repairs over time).

Note: Over a cement floor, I’d say follow similar rules, maybe use undiluted glue, but DO A TEST PATCH!

Here’s a link for over cement, which recommends epoxy based glue:

Here are a few more links (the comments can be very helpful), though there is plenty on the web at this point:

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