Danish Soaped Floors

One of the first photos I Instagrammed while in Denmark was this photo of pine flooring:

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It is 12" wide, 2" thick Douglas Pine (or Douglas Fir as we more commonly refer to it in North America.)

It is the most beautiful floor I have ever seen. It is light, and rich, and matte and beautiful. Guess what it isĀ  finished with?

SOAP.

I thought there must have been something lost in translation. Surely you cannot finish floors with soap.

But you can, and it's beautiful.

I continued to see soaped floors everywhere I went in Denmark. Some lighter than others (they have also been treated with lye before soaping), but all absolutely stunning.

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I need them. I am obsessed.

Here is what I learned about how they are done:

After the floors are sanded, if they are to be lightened, they are treated with a wood lye solution. Basically, it acts as a bleach, and it also stops the wood yellowing in the future. After the lye process has been completed, the floors are mopped with a mixture of soap flakes & hot water. Then the soap is left to soak in, and mopped with clean water to finish. The soap is 100% vegetable based, and it soaks into the pours of the floor making a barrier against dirt. To maintain them, you just mop with a (more diluted) version of the soap & water mixture.

The results are light, buttery soft, gorgeous floors that smell amazing.

The only problem is, I don't need new floors right now (well, I do... upstairs, but I do not have the $ to get new ones right now.) HOWEVER. I have the basement that needs flooring. My plan was to use plywood. I wonder if I can lye & soap plywood? It is wood after all. Right?

So I went o Home Depot, bought 8 sheets of plywood. Had them cut into wide planks, and they are currently stacked in my basement ready for installation.

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Anyone have any tips on where to get lye that doesn't make people think I'm Walter White-ing it up in my basement?

13 Responses

  1. Great site! Found you through the Google and i'd like to do something similar. Have you taken this project any further? I would like to make some closet cabinets out of white oak ply and want to finish with soap. I've read this finish is generally used on solid wood and not on veneer because of the water, but I'm guessing it wouldn't be much of an issue with the modern glues used in ply. Any additional intel is appreciated.
  2. Hi I'm from Sweden and I just put pine floor with lye and soap in three rooms in my apartment. It was a hell of a job but turned out amazing. Tell me if you need advise.
    • Hi Daniel, Do you mind sharing with us what products you used? Thanks! -Kristen
      • Hi Kirsten I used a swedish producer, welins old soap/lye. I think it is only for sale here. But I guess there is similary products were you live if you ask at a floor store. Here is my floor. http://www.ladda-upp.se/bilder/enptswvjkbbehx/ I used screws and laid it on an older oak parquete floor. (bad quality) Sanded it down with a floor sanding machine. Put on the lye twice, let it be for 24h and then polished it. Then three layers of soap with polish machine in between.
    • Hi Daniel - I am planning to do this to my loft - can you tell me how you have maintained these floors and if there has been any wear and tear - what is your general upkeep - is it more arduous then normal stained floors? Just wondering if you think you will have to re-do them again soon? thanks! Amanda
  3. OMG. I found 15' long, 2x12" pine blanks at a reuse center for $.25 (Yes, TWENTY FIVE CENTS) a foot. They're stacked in my mudroom (sticking out into the garage) until I can put them down. To address shrinkage, if wood isn't TNG, bevel the edges. The expansion and shrinkage won't leave gaps, just slight differences in the wood. Now, to quote you: "The clouds have opened and the angels are singing" because I couldn't figure out how to stop the darned yellowing of the pine. I am SO happy! Thank you. (Found you via Pinterest and you're not Bloglovin'-ed. I made that word up.)
  4. Michelle
    Hi Looking forward to hearing about your floor liming experience. I have been wondering about using something like it to lighten pine planks at my cottage. Not sure if you need the same kind of lye as soapmaking but home hardware sells lye chrystals in a 3l jug. http://www.homehardware.ca/en/cat/search/_/N-2pqfZ67l/Ne-67n/Ntk-All_EN?Ntt=Lye Good Luck!
  5. Holly
    For lye and soap! Comes in natural and white. www.moncer.com
  6. This project sounds like it's going to be amazing! I am so curious about the whole process! Can't wait to see what you do :)
    • I'm going to be pretty much flying by the seat of my pants on this one! Wish me luck!
  7. Biggi
    Hahaha 'Walter White-ing it up' I'm curious if you are designing gaps between the boards to deal with shrinkage and expansion with our dry winters and humid summers? And if you do how? Using spacers like in tiling? Or does plywood not shrink/expand like 'real' wood? Just wondering :)
    • No gaps for this project. Plywood is pretty darn stable. The ply we choose is actually what we would have to use as an underlayment for VCT or peel & stick tile, so we just skipped the actual flooring. Fingers crossed it turns out as planned!

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