The Paper Flooring Experiment, Part II – Stain Options

 Welcome to round two of my most well researched project ever! The first part of this experiment covered paper options for flooring (read that post HERE if you missed it), this one is all about stain. Oil based vs. water based, different colors, etc. Everyone has a different opinion on oil based and water based products, I personally like everything to be water based except stain. Water based stuff is easier to use and easier to clean up, plus it doesn’t yellow like oil-based products. Oil based products (like paint and poly) may hold up better in the long run, but I haven’t found the difference to be worth the hassle. No one wants to mess with paint thinner when it comes to clean up, it’s just a fact. Stain though is different though. I like oil-based stain, it’s easy to work with and it goes on smooth. Water based stain, just…sucks, in my opinion. I’ve never liked it, it goes on weird and streaky and doesn’t give the depth that oil based stain does. For this experiment though I was really hoping I would love the water based stains on paper, because covering your floor in oil based stain or sealer produces some incredibly noxious fumes (not tub painting noxious, but still).

Anyway, enough fluff…lets jump right into the thrilling adventure that is staining paper.

stain options

So for this part of the experiment I took the plywood boards I papered and divided them up into quarters, trying a different stain on each section. I used the exact same stain on each section of the three boards. I tried to explain this to my husband when he came home from work and found me surrounded by stain cans, dirty rags, and colored paper…but he looked confused the entire time. Like there was no method to my madness or something. So I made you a chart….

stain chart

The left side of each board is oil based stains and the right is water based, the top are browns and the bottom are grays. Easy enough, right?

So here we go, lets start with the builders paper.

Builders paper with stain

  1. Oil-based Provincial – this is the stain and paper combination I used in my boy’s room and it is still one of my favorites.
  2. Water-based Toffee – this is the only water based stain that looks even halfway decent on all my boards. I used a brush to apply it and its a bit streaky, but I’d bet if you used lambs wool or a deck pad it would look nice and even.
  3. Oil-based Sunbleached – this went on really well and I have no complaints, except that I just don’t think it looks good. The color is weird and foggy.
  4. Water-based Slate – I applied this with a rag and it looks bad, the color is weird and it’s really uneven. Dark brown paper + gray stain is a big fat FAIL.

Here is a closer look at the oil based stains –

oil based stain on builders paper

You see how the Provincial has that oily sheen on some of it? It did that when I put down my boys floor too…I’m guessing that’s why the first layer of poly I applied was cloudy in places. I feel like I applied the stain really evenly, so I’m not sure what caused it.

Here are the water based stains…you can see the brush marks on the top one but it’s not bad.

water based stain on builders paper

Now for the Kraft paper. I had really high hopes for this one because it was my favorite to work with during the gluing process. Unfortunately it let me down, big time.

Kraft paper with stain

  1. Oil-based Provincial – I’m not sure what happened here, but it bleed like crazy. This is the only section on all the boards I had problems with this.
  2. Water-based Toffee – holy brush marks. No, just no.
  3. Oil-based Sunbleached – this is the best section on the whole board, but that’s not saying much. For some reason adding stain to the Kraft paper doesn’t bring out the wrinkles, and the wrinkles are a huge part of why I like this look.
  4. Water-based Slate – holy rag swirls. Water based stain and Kraft paper definitely don’t mix.

Here is a closer look at the oil sections –

kraft paper with oil based stain

and the terrible water sections –

kraft paper with water based stains

Just as a reminder, here is how the Kraft paper look natural. I think plain Kraft paper + poly is the winner here.

natural Kraft paper

Lastly we have the white art paper.

art paper with stain

  1. Oil-based Provincial – I’m not sure how I feel about this one. The stain went on really well, no lines, didn’t bleed. It’s brown without being too dark and it definitely has lots of interesting contrast. Maybe too much? I can’t decide.
  2. Water-based Toffee- I applied this with a brush and it is really streaky and kinda pink. This is a no-go.
  3. Oil-based Sunbleached – this is my absolute favorite out of everything. The grey stain brought out the wrinkles and edges in the white paper beautifully, and it’s light and subtle without being boring. Gray is the “it” neutral right now too (not in my house, but in other cooler houses) and as soon as I started applying it I got excited. This is the one people, the winning combination.
  4. Water-based Slate – once again the water based stain didn’t blend. Fail.

Here is a closer look at the oil stains –

oil based stain on art paper (one coat)

Here they are after a second coat of stain. The brown looks awkward here, but in real life it looks much more even and warm. I like it a lot after the second coat, actually (not as much as the gray though).

oil stain on art paper - two coats

And here is the water based stains….

water based stain on art paper

So there you have, more than you ever wanted to know about stain on paper. The white paper is super versatile, there are a ton of lighter oil based stains (and colored stains) I think would look great (plus the paper itself comes in 23 different colors). The Kraft paper looks best natural (in my opinion), and the builder paper looks good in brown stains, and I think either oil or water would work.

Here’s the line-up one more time…

experimenting with paper bag floor techniques

Next week will be part three, sealer options. I haven’t actually started this part of the experiment yet – there are just so many options and I’m a bit overwhelmed. Also, none of them are cheap (compared to stain and paper at least) so I’m procrastinating. I’m really hoping I can get some definitive answers though, since this is the part I’m having trouble with on my floor.

So tell me…has anyone here tried Kraft paper and stained it? How did it turn out? I know there are some success stories out there.

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  1. Jamie Lynn says:

    I’m with you – the grey stain over the white paper is my personal favorite. It almost looks like stone! Very very cool and you are such a trooper for doing all this and blogging it!! Can’t wait to see what you end up doing in the end.

  2. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for sharing and for all the hard work you have put into researching this project! I love the white paper and grey stain as well. I may have to try it! Will you being doing more rooms in your house with your favorite? I am wanting to do this technique over ceramic tile…in your opinion would this be a possibility?? Thanks again!

    • I’ll be papering my guest bedroom in the next couple months but I’ll be doing the builders paper and dark stain again. I would love to do the white paper and gray stain, but the guest bedroom and the boy’s bedroom are right next to each other at the end of a hall and I want the flooring to match. Bummer, I know. I actually bought some ceramic tile to paper for part 4 of this series, but I have been told it works just fine. The grout lines will show through, but that may look kinda nice actually.

  3. This just reminds me of a science project, but so awesome and useful! Now when you get the many emails with questions about paper bag floors you are just going to shooting off a few links. Good luck figuring out sealers!

    • Seriously, I didn’t work nearly this hard for my science fair projects in school! I always picked really easy ones so I didn’t have to work too hard…I think one year I did “do plants grow better in sunlight, incandescent light, or darkness?” Luckily I proved that plants actually DO grow best in sunlight…you’re welcome science.

      I have to admit that my main motivator in this is to answer all the questions I get and just be able to send links. I don’t at all mind answering e-mail questions, but the amount I get on my paper floor is insane. Plus half the time I had no idea how to even answer the question…I will now though!

  4. Very cool that you are doing all these experiments. Hey–did you see this version of the paper floors?
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  5. I did my floors with brown Kraft paper and oil based Minwax stain. It looked beautiful! I used a deck pad to apply the stain. That may have been the difference in why yours didn’t work out so well? If only I had sealed the concrete floor first maybe I could still be enjoying the beauty. :(

    I believe the cloudy look you got after putting on the first coat of Poly in your boys’ room was actually from the Poly. We got it in a few spots too. Those seemed to be the spots we put extra glue on but I’m not 100% sure on that. Once we put another couple coats of Poly the cloudy spots disappeared.

    I think I’m going to wait until you do your sealer experiment before I attempt to do my stairs. I REALLY want it to work out and look great without having to spend a lot of extra money and time. That means I want it to work great the FIRST time! :) If only my hubby had waited to pull off the carpet. The stairs are so strange to walk on now even our cat is oddly cautious of them!

  6. I really want to do this in my house, however before I start I want to ask your opinion of something. How do you think it would look if instead of ripping the paper into the kind of rounded pieces, you cut the butcher paper into big pieces to fit the width of your flooring, crumble it up and then glue it down that way.. then you would still have the wrinkled textured look , but it would be in solid sections? Or even if you just did solid smaller strips? I know it would take more time and effort trying to line everything up evenly, but do you think it could work?

    By the way, thank you so much for putting all of your time, money, and effort into this project. I love reading your blog and I am getting hooked! We are remodeling our house and within the next few weeks I am – Lord willing – going to make the farm house table!! Oh hey, why not kill two birds with one stone! I was wondering where you got your chairs for your table, they are super cute. The only ones I can find are outrageously expensive, and this girl is on a budget! haha


  7. Those are really great, thanks for showing us your monumental experiment!
    I really love the oil stains on art paper – they look like marble! And the one you used in your boys’ room reminds me of old leather.
    The water-based stains don’t seem to work too well. Maybe because the glue kinda waterproofs the paper? I sometimes age paper to a vellum-like appearance by crumpling and staining it, so water-based stains might work better if you stained the paper before you glue it down…

  8. Wow! This has cleared up a lot I was wandering about the paper flooring. I agree with you, the sunbleached art paper is definitely the best one. What is the texture of the floor like though? Is it smooth when you put the poly on? Or is it all raised/bumpy where the edges of the paper are? In some of your pictures in the other posts about the floor, it looks smooth, but then in others it looks bumpy, so I was just wandering.
    Annie recently posted..Bees! Hard workers that need your helpMy Profile

  9. Your comment on your science project made me laugh. I was exactly the same! Once I did a science fair project on whether bread went moldy faster in the fridge, on the counter or in a cupboard. o_O

    It’s great to see all these results. I’m wondering about coloured stain on the white paper. I bet you could produce some pretty results! I’m guessing the above commenter was right about the water based stain, too, that if you stained first then poly’d (polied?) it would work better.
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  10. I like the grey on white paper too. I can’t believe you went through all those boards and will end up using the same stain you already used in your sons’ room. One thing I did notice is that the can of the Provincial stain says it’s a sealer too. This may be why your sealer came off the two sealers weren’t compatible..
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    • I know, I knew going in that I wasn’t going to use any of my experimenting for my own floor (besides the sealer info). This project’s for the readers :) Interesting about the provincial being a sealer, I didn’t notice that.

  11. I was wondering, what would it look like if you mixed the papers, using both the brown bag and the white…. I think it would be interesting.

  12. Theresa says:

    I have a vinyl floor in my kitchen that has seen better days, do you think I could do the paper flooring over it? I am alittle afraid to rip it up not knowing really what Lies underneath.

  13. Thank you so much for doing all of this work so we don’t have to. :) I am wondering how much glue and stain you think would be needed to do approximately 1,000 square feet? Thank you so much!!

    • Let’s see… I did about 130 square feet and used half a quart of stain (or less) and a gallon of poly when I used the RustOleum stuff, and about a third of a gallon of Bona Traffic. So I would say a gallon of stain would be plenty, and the sealer really depends on what type you use.

      • Great! Thank you so much!! Also, should I plan to go through a lot of glue?

        • Yeah, I went through almost a gallon for each one of my rooms. I used a ton though, I wet each piece completely and then smeared more glue on top. I’m sure that was overkill, but the paper went on better and smoothed out easier if it was really wet.

  14. Hello! I am trying out the art paper currently… and I was curious did you leave your stain on after you applied until it dried, or did you wipe it off after an hour or so and then let it dry? Thanks!!

  15. Brittany says:

    Im having the hardest time finding the Varathane Sun bleached, can i ask where you bought it? i may be calling every hardware store in 3 states tomorrow!

    • I found it at Menards. However I highly recommend testing out a sample board with it before you get too far. I tried the art paper with that stain and I did not have any luck with it. The photos look beautiful… but when I tried it myself it looked like I painted the floor. You couldn’t see any of the pretty lines or crinkles.

      • Oh no! Did you use an oil based stain? Every water based stain I used looked like paint and I hated it, but I didn’t have any problems with the oil based ones.

    • I just bought it at Home Depot… you can’t find it there? Minwax makes a gray stain too, weathered oak I think? That would probably work if you can’t find the Varathane.

      • Brittany says:

        None if the home depots in a hundred miles! Did you do the gray/light colored floors with success?

        • Thats crazy! They have it HERE on Amazon if you want to go that route. They gray floors were my favorite when I did the experiment, but I had always planned on doing the dark brown floor again, to match the floor I did in my boys room. I only did the experiments because I was getting an absurd about of e-mail questions about them and figured I should answer them all.

  16. Brittany says:

    So once it was in a larger area than the plywood sheet it looked poor? That’s a bummer! The pictures do look so good. I have done, brown Kraft paper and added rit dye to it to make darker, it turned out fine, but messy. :) So I was looking for direction to stain and found your blog. I would love to do a lighter color as my house paint is grey.

    Did you wipe away the excess stain. When I was reading reviews on Amazon, I guess people were having problems with it being to heavy/sticky? IDK.

  17. What about STAIN + POLY
    Varathane has a couple that are that type….
    i know you would still need to poly a few coats over the top but have you heard anything about this?



  19. I have used paper bags with stain and it looks great. I covered two hat boxes and got a rich leather look. I actually added Minwax Poly Shades to the glue, then brushed it on lightly, building up coats until I got the depth of color I wanted. Even though the stain contains poly, I still sealed it with water based polyurethane. It’s perfect for these small projects, but I don’t know how well it would work on something as large as a floor.BTW… awesome job on your project!

  20. Did you let the paper samples dry completely before you put on the stain? or did you put it on when the paper was still wet?

  21. Thanks for the quick reply. have you ever considered staining first, then gluing? Maybe the water-based stain would work better if the paper weren’t already soaked in half Elmer’s glue.

    • I’ve never done it personally, but I’ve had readers do it and say it worked well. I would think it would take longer, but if you want each piece to be a different stain color (for a stone look) it’s really the only option.

  22. Hi everyone. I used a product called liquid iron (lawn&garden) from Lowe’s to stain directly over concrete. 6 bucks a gallon. ( this is same stuff folks pay money to clean off their driveways and homes from sprinklers off shallow wells) After cleaning concrete then applying liquid iron plus poly. it came out marbleized and reddish brown and no lines defining paper edges, messy gluing. Guest thought it was really marble. Once iron is applied the longer or heavier the application the darker it gets. Amazon DIY has list of powders like copper, turns aqua. add water then use. 15 bucks of powder may do 1/2 house.

  23. Ashley, thank you SO VERY MUCH for researching and writing this series on paper flooring. I’m so grateful for all of you work! You’ve really gone the extra mile (10 miles) in helping answer every question I could possibly have about attempting this. I’m going to be papering the floor of a bathroom soon and I know exactly which method and products I want to use, thanks to your trial and error. I appreciate you!

  24. Michelle says:

    Forgive me if this has already been asked…
    I did my daughters room via the brown paper from Menards (on the roll). I used the Varathane Water based Floors Gloss. I am loving the result but we just finished it yesterday so cannot speak on long term durability for a bedroom. The paper turned out darker than we expected, as if we stained it. That was a nice surprise. We also decopauged a big flower made of scrap book paper on the floor before we put the poly on. Not only that, we did her walls under the chair rail in die-cut circles with scalloped edges pasting them all over her walls and then giving one coat of poly for a shiny finish. All looks great!
    In experimenting with the stain, I first stained her flower petals a whitish oil based from Minwax. It took WHAT SEEMS forever to dry (almost 2 days). HOW LONG DID IT TAKE FOR THE OIL BASED PROVIDENTIAL TO DRY? I really like the end result but need to consider the dry time factor before I put my family out of a major room of our house. THANKS!!
    We live up north by a major lake and 4 seasons (I am assuming this will affect dry time in some way?)

    • It took days to dry. In fact, I never even let it dry all the way because I ran out of patience and just sealed over it when it was still slightly sticky.

      • Michelle says:

        So what happened? Did it still look nice??
        I ended up (do to lack of patience) gluing the scrapbook paper over it, which ended up looking even better!

        • Oh yeah, it still looked nice and turned on fine after the first coat of poly. I did the same thing on both my paper bag floors…I’m really not sure the stain would have ever completely dried!

          • I wondered that as well…(If the oil based stain would ever dry!). It is neat to know that the poly over the tacky stain did not leave a negative result! I love the result of the oil stain and ploys, but the dry time is just not possible for us!

  25. Krista Sparks says:

    I haven’t even read the whole article yet, but it made me so happy to read
    “[…] the thrilling adventure that is staining paper”, that I had to immediately scroll to the end of the post to comment on it. Because while that statement might have been intended to be received as somewhat tongue in cheek – it’s still so nice to find such an informative post made by a person who actually finds things like staining paper to be thrilling. Because it is, dang it!!! Anyway, thanks so much for sharing this- I’m excited!

  26. i was looking for the perfect combination to paper bag old counter tops and this gave me some good ideas! I really like the oil stains on the white art paper, It looks like stone!!

  27. Lisa Trahan says:


    I just wanted to let you know that I probably discovered the reason for your clouding/stain issues when you did your boys room. When I did my son’s room I tried testing out my theory. I was right. The brown contractors paper actually has two sides. When you feel the paper after soaking it in the glue mixture there is a rough and smooth side, I laid the paper down with the rough side up and didn’t have any of the issues with my floor. And I used the same stuff you did. If you look closely at your pictures, before the poly application, you will see sections that are more shiny than others. That is the smooth side.

    Have a great day,

  28. Hi I used to do a lot of oil staining on walls and over acrylic paint in my faux finishes. I always used acrylic to seal them as well. But to avoid the Oilily residue your getting I applied the stain with recycled grocery bags turned inside out. The plastic creates friction heat which dries stain faster and no brush marks. Good luck.

  29. Is there a printable list of materials and insructions?

  30. Love it. Only thing I would of liked different was to of seen the same color of stain on each one. So we could see how it pulled the same color out differently with different bases and papers.

  31. Donna Rice says:

    I tried the white paper and Sunbleached stain. And it streaked BADLY!!
    Is there anyway to fix it, other than take it down to the wood and start over?
    I am DETERMINED to get it right and looking beautiful like yours!

    • Oh no! It’s hard to give advice since I didn’t have the same problem and I can’t see your floor. How many coats of stain have you done? If you’ve only done one I would do one or two more and see how it looks then. Also, did you wrinkle it first, because that covers up a variety of flaws.

  32. Donna Rice says:

    PS I have not gone past stain step.

  33. Susan Hopkins says:

    I did my bathroom with Gunmetal grey craft paper from Dick Blick’s Art Supplies and water based poly . Because the paper was dark grey, there was no need to stain it. It looks like stone/slate. 5 years later and it still looks fine. I might do a couple more coats of poly this year to freshen it up. Great $16 fix for an old linoleum floor and an interesting way to update an old 1940 pink tile bathroom.

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