Eleven Earth Floor Methods

Poured adobe floor with clay alis highlights and boiled linseed oil finish.
Poured adobe floor with clay alis highlights and boiled linseed oil finish.

Adobe bricks with top coat of poured adobe
Set dry adobes on a bed of sand or sand and gravel, sweep sand in the joints and then trowel on a top coat of adobe mud.
Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB)
Set CEBs on a bed of sand, sweep sand in the joints, coat with sealer.
Tamped earth
Tamp 2” layers of moist road base, top layer is screened, coat with boiled linseed oil.
Teratile Dirt Cheap Dirt Floors
David Easton’s method using 1” thick layer of soil cement on top of 4” of well-compacted soil such as road base.
Soil cement pavers
David Easton’s pre-cast pavers made with soil, sand, pea gravel, cement and water mixed and poured into molds.
Tractor cob
Mechanized production that reduces the time and labor of building with cob by up to 90 percent.
Lime stabilized tamped earth
Mix sand or sandy soil with lime and water, tamp several layers.
Poured adobe
Mix sharp sand or crusher fines, clay, chopped straw and water, and trowel ¾”-2” layer on top of tamped road base, seal with boiled linseed oil and/or other oils.
Poured adobe with psyllium hulls
Mix adobe soil with 50% sand and psyllium and water, plus topping coat of sifted soil, screened sand and psyllium, then seal with Okan sealer.
Tamped earth with poured adobe top coat
Tamp moist layers of road base, then trowel on 1” layer of earth plaster mix consisting of sand, clay and chopped straw, then coat with linseed oil.
Earth Floor book by Bill and Athena Steen
Traditional southwestern thick adobe floor method built on drainage layer.

Which earth floor method is best? It all depends on the look you’re after, your skills, the materials available, whether you want a fast or slow drying floor and probably other factors. For instance, maybe you’re not good at troweling and so you might want to use CEBs or pavers set on sand.

Consider using stone, geopolymer pavers or recycled brick in high traffic areas and bathrooms.

41 thoughts on “Eleven Earth Floor Methods”

  1. I am in the process of oiling my poured adobe floor with linseed oil.
    So far i have used 50L of oil for a 35 square metre surface.
    just wondering if i have to go to the point of saturation to get a good level of protection? is it trying to fill the entire thickness of the floor or just the top few millimetres?
    Also have you done anything to achieve the gloss finish or is that just with enough oil? as mine is definitely more of a matt look…

    • When I finished the earthen floor in my house, I added some thinner (mineral spirits I think) to help it soak in more, probably just a few centimeters. Then I applied another coat or two of plain linseed oil, only allowing it to dry for an hour or so before wiping it down to avoid a gummy surface. Some people will do a wax over this, but I consider this optional; it makes it harder to re-oil the floor later.

  2. We are planning to put a yurt over an earthen floor. What is the best form for the wall edge so the floor has something enclosing it? Yurt will have attachment to keep it off the ground. Hope this question makes sense!!

    • i am just about to complete this same project.
      the yurt is not up yet but the base is almost complete so dont know if it has worked or not…
      but we used rammed earth tyres to form the circle, then two layers of bottle brick wall for the yurt to sit on. filled in with roadboase to the desired height, then a 8cm layer of scoria with 4 layers of the poured adobe directly ontop…
      hopefully this gives you some ideas….

  3. Hi, I am building an earthbag house and we are at the spot to do the floor. Thank you so much for all the help by the way :)
    My question is: can I just make a tamped earth floor, with my clay rich earth and finish it with linseed oil?is there any danger that some moister could affect the walls and be bad in any way with this setting? Im very keen to be able to make a floor with just dirt if possible but of course im open for sugfestions. I live tropical humid climate and the house will have plenty on ventilation and its on a hill.

    • You should be able to proceed with the adobe floor. My suggestion is to have a moisture barrier under the floor to keep moisture from wicking up from below. And if you used bags filled with gravel at the floor level then that will protect the walls as well.

  4. We built our home with an earth floor, and it is very dark and beautiful. Now I am trying to lighten up the house. Can you think of a way to lighten up the floor? I was wondering about adding something, lime perhaps, to the oil and applying a new top coat. Any ideas?

    • Hi.
      The only thing that I can think of to lighten the floor is to pour a new topcoat using light colored materials. The problem in terms of painting something on, is getting something to bind to the oil finish on the existing floor. You might want to contact Sukita Crimmel from Claylin in Portland, Oregon since this is her specialty. She may have some other suggestions.

      Best of luck!
      Janine Bjornson

  5. Hello,

    3 yrs ago we purchased our lovely adobe home in Corrales, NM. Due to a roof leak(now repaired), we pulled the carpet in masterr bedroom and was delightfully surprised to find an adobe floor. We would love to restore it. What is the best way to remove the carpet glue and will just resealing it with linseed oil get back the shine or do we need to sand and reseal? We have radiant heat underneath.

    Thanks for your sage advise.

    PS. We’ve discovered this is the 1st of 4 floors to restore. ?

    • Probably the best way to remove the glue is with some sort of scraper that physically releases it from the adobe below. If you are lucky this will leave the surface unscarred and you can just shine it up with some more linseed oil (assuming that this was the original finish). If it was waxed then another application of wax may do the trick.

      Chances are that this will result in some unevenness in the surface which will need to be repaired. I suppose that it would be possible to use a floor sander to grind it all down to an even surface, and then refinish it. Or it might be possible to find a similar adobe mix and fill in the depressions with moistened adobe paste, then refinish it once the adobe is dry. This is all likely to require some experimentation.

    • Most carpet glues are not water based so it may take some chemical to soften it. Then it’s elbow grease and a sharp floor scraper – like a straightened out hoe. A carpet/flooring business might be better able to advise you.

      Then linseed oil will do the trick Thin it half and half with thinner or turpentine or citrus oil thinner. After twenty minutes wipe or blot up any oil that remains on the surface. That which remains will turn gummy and ruin your day. Or week. Several applications may be needed to get the shine you want. Blot after each.Put oily rags or paper towels in a can of water. Linseed oil is the stuff that spontaneously combusts as every volunteer fireman gets to see in training videos.

      You have a treasure!


  6. What is the best method of ‘tamping’ and how do you know when it has been done right/is tamped enough?

    I am writing this well after many of the other comments, but blood mixed into the floor adds a beautiful hard sheen to the surface, and done right, prevents cracking.

    • I have not made a tamped earth floor, but I watched a demonstration once. The instructor used a heavy metal tamping head about 6″ square and continued tamping until the damp soil mix resounded with a slight pinging sound.

  7. Hi Owen, I have researching on how to create an eco-friendly sustainable at my farm. The idea to build with sand bags and finish off with earth plastering. I really need help it will be one of its kind in my country Zambia

    I intend to use about 2 acres of the 17.6 hectares for retreats and recreation.
    Occupying atleast 20 -30 people at any given time.

    Your help will surely be a Blessing. If you have any volunteers who would like to visit Africa I can offer board and meals including local transportation.

    • Do you have a blog, website or facebook page to promote your project and document the process? This is the best way to connect with lots of people and spread the word.

      Keep reading our websites and watching our videos. Everything you need is here. It just takes time and effort.

  8. Hallo Owen,

    Just a quick thought.

    Looking back over the years I was countless times on your site. Whatever I am looking for in the world of natural and alternative construction your site pops up regularly.

    Just letting you know that I really appreciate your work and passion you put in here. You have build something of great value for lot of us out there!

    Anyway, thanks again mein Freund and have a good Sunday.


  9. Hi Owen. Thanks for posting.
    I’d like to do an earth floor in my limestone cave home (call me Wilma!)
    I’d like to use the surrounding earth, which is also a very crumbly limestone without much nutrients. Can you give me advice on a recipe I should use?


    • It’s easy to turn crushed limestone into rock hard floors. Do some small experiments. You may be able to just tamped the soil in place as is. I’m not an expert in this area so buy a book on earthen floors. There’s a new book on the market.

      • Good idea… this one from Amazon has good reviews :Earthen Floors: A Modern Approach to an Ancient Practice Paperback – 1 May 2014
        by Sukita Reay Crimmel (Author), James Thomson (Author)

        I just want to know if you can get that lovely earthy look in an area where the soil is fairly barren. Don’t really want to import soil from far away.

        Thanks for replying

        • Yes, that’s the book I was referring to. It should provide everything you need.

          Barren soil? Most earthen floors are just subsoil and sand. Don’t use topsoil with organic matter. If it’s color you’re concerned about, you can add natural iron oxide pigments to get any color you want — chocolate brown, etc.

          • I think you’re right about just tamping the floor into place!
            I may do a leca subfloor to be safe….depending on budget, but I don’t think I’ll need to.
            Those caves have been lived in for centuries with earth floors…I was making a molehill out of a mountain..ha ha!

            Thanks again for taking the time to reply…and I’m so in awe of all your great work.
            Generous, amazing and inspiring.

    • I’m reporting on projects done by others. Many people have built poured adobe floors like this. Millions of people do tamped earth floors. They last hundreds of years. They can be resealed if needed.

  10. What kind of floor is this? This floor made of woods too? or this is laminated flooring? It’s look elegant for me and eye catching.

  11. Hi I was just reading Simon’s post. Where in Quintano Roo are you building? We are moving to Quintano Roo also. Looking into building Tulum, or Holbox! We are very excited to get started next mos in June! Will be nice to create a community of Earthbag homes. we have a friend who is very knowledgeable in building sustainable homes with solar panels etc. Feel free to write me druannajohnston@aol.com

  12. The floor I mentioned on my webpage was done with the native soil as it was on the ground. That soil was Mancos shale, a blackish very contractive type of earth. It really pulls when it dries and opens up wide cracks. Dries very hard.

    The cracking, comically, wasn’t part of the plan, but the owner went with the flow and the cracks,once filled with white highly contrasting grout were nice! The owner got her blood from a slaughter house in barrels. She did seal it later with linseed oil. No odor or anything bad.

    The absence of clay soils here in Baja California and the need for quicker drying suggests the use of some cement in the floor. Floors get pretty tortured at times. Imagine the scraping force exerted when someone pulls a heavy table around to move it, for example. My fear is always that damage will occur.

  13. Check out this quote from this: http://www.bajagreenbuilder.com/soil-cement.html link: “In Colorado, I saw a floor I’ll never forget that was made with blood. The soil there was a type of shale. The builder just loosened the topsoil, poured on blood and water and mixed it in. The clay soil while drying, pulled open leaving a web of wide cracks. When completely dry, she filled the cracks with a contrasting light colored mortar and the floor came out looking like an amazing perfectly laid floor of natural random stones, tightly fit together.”

    I couldn’t use blood, and I’d want to prepare the floor area first, not use topsoil. But the idea of doing one layer and allowing it to crack, then filling in the rest for the effect described there is pretty appealing! Just one layer, nifty looking results. I wonder what part does blood play in this process? Could one achieve similar results without it?

    • Lots of good points here. Blood is not required. It is a traditional additive in earth plaster and floors. But much like baking cookies or something, there are lots of ways to build things. Blood probably works fine, just like fresh steaming manure works fine, but for me… no thanks! There are other less messy ways to achieve satisfactory results as you can see from all the floor building methods presented here.

      Filling the cracks with different colored material is common practice. You say they used white to accentuate the cracks. That’s real interesting. Most choose a different shade of brown or black so cracks don’t stand out too much. The end result is extremely beautiful and very natural looking — similar to what you might find on plants or rocks or even animal fur. For sure, it does not look like you’re filling or hiding a defect!

      Also note, the builder probably didn’t use topsoil. They probably removed the top fertile layer (if there was one) because it won’t work.

        • Clay is a good binder. You could add some fiber for reinforcing. Adding sand would reduce cracking. Most floors are sealed with boiled linseed oil. Bioshield and probably other companies have high dollar sealers that aren’t so smelly.

          Also keep in mind that tamped earth is way stronger and harder than what one might think. It’s not just ‘dirt’. Tamped earth floors can last hundreds of years with only minor repairs. Millionaires and movie stars are using earth floors in custom homes in Santa Fe, etc. They do so because there’s super beautiful, comfortable under foot (more so than any floor I can think of) and very sustainable.

  14. Certainly beautiful and some interesting methods, but I really wonder how many people are willing to wait weeks for their floor to dry and be finished? The poured adobe floor according to the link provided could take weeks or months to finally cure/ be finished.

    • Earth floors tend to get lumped together as one type of floor. Poured adobe is probably the slowest drying method. That’s one of the main reasons I decided to list eleven different earth floor methods, because most people can’t or don’t want to wait weeks or months. Some methods have almost no additional drying time if you tamp the base near the beginning of the project and let it dry as you build the house. Then you can add CEBs, pavers, etc. that were made previously.

      • Any Ideas what would be the best earthern floor for an area with lots of underground critters? We are about to start an earthbag house in Quintana Roo Mexico where there is no top soil, lots of loos rocks and water underground everywhere. I am worried that because lots of animals live/travel below the rocks they will try and surface in our house. I may be worrying for nothing but there is a lot of movement down there.

        • Raise the building site with tamped road base. Add 6 mil plastic sheeting. Make a durable floor such as soil cement that will prevent pests from entering through the floor.


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