How to Remove Vinyl Flooring

Removing Vinyl Flooring from Subfloor

Lee Wallender

Overview
  • Working Time: 5 hrs
  • Yield: 200 square feet
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to $25

Vinyl flooring looks great when first installed but eventually it can run its course. Dated, worn, or torn vinyl flooring cannot easily or effectively be repaired. Often, the best way to deal with this is to replace it with another floor covering. In many cases, it is easiest simply to leave the vinyl flooring in place and to install the new floor covering over it. As long as the vinyl flooring is in good structural condition, it can accept laminate, some wood flooring, carpet, and some types of vinyl. 

However, many homeowners prefer to remove the vinyl flooring altogether. Layering and height considerations may factor into this decision. Or, you may just want to the next floor covering on a completely fresh slate. In this case, removal is the only option.

Liquid chemical-based adhesive removers such as Klean-Strip can help with vinyl flooring removal, but they come with their own set of problems, such as odor, mess, cost, and safety. In addition, liquid strippers often do not work as well as promised. The dry, chemical-free method described here depends on patience and determination, coupled with the right tools and an understanding of how vinyl flooring is glued down in the first place.

Safety Considerations

A heat gun is invaluable when removing vinyl flooring but it can be very dangerous. Holding the heat gun too close to flammable materials can ignite a fire. Be very careful about keeping the heat gun far enough away from the work materials, and be sure to wear gloves.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Flat pry bar
  • Mallet or hammer
  • Five-in-one tool
  • Utility knife
  • Heat gun
  • Work gloves

Materials

  • Wood block

Instructions

  1. Remove the Quarter-Round Trim

    If quarter-round trim has been installed in front of the baseboards as a way of covering the gap between the baseboards and the flooring, this must first be removed. Gently pry off the quarter-round with the flat end of the pry bar.

  2. Remove the Baseboard Trim

    In some instances, the flooring is installed just up to the edge of the baseboards, beneath the quarter-round molding, but it is more common for the baseboards to be installed over the flooring. In this instance, you'll need to remove the baseboards completely in order to remove all the old flooring.

    Place a wood block against the wall a few inches above the baseboard. Put the flat end of the pry bar on top, where the trim and wall meet. A swift rap with a gloved hand should be enough to force the bar under the trim. If not, rap the pry bar with a rubber mallet or hammer.

    Gently pry the trim away in stages, proceeding along the wall. Prying back quickly may break the trim. Even if you do not intend to reuse the trim, it is still easier to pull it off in entire lengths rather than in small, broken pieces.

    Baseboards often get damaged during removal. So, unless you are removing quality, expensive baseboards, you may want to price out the cost of new baseboards against the work of salvaging and repairing the old baseboards.

    Removing Baseboards Prior to Flooring Removal
    Lee Wallender

    Tip

    If you plan to reuse the trim, devise a marking system on the back of the trim for easier installation later. You may want to begin by writing "1" on the back of the first piece with an "up" arrow, then continuing in this method in an orderly, clockwise fashion around the room.

  3. Try Removing the Center Section of Flooring

    Often, you will find that the vinyl flooring has been entirely perimeter-installed, which makes the removal project go much faster. In other words, only a 6-inch perimeter has been glued or stapled down; the middle of the vinyl flooring lays loose.

    Cut through the flooring around the perimeter of the room, about 8 inches away from the walls. Keep your cut parallel to the walls, and see if the center of the flooring pulls up easily.

    Cutting Out Center of Vinyl Flooring
    Lee Wallender
  4. Cut Flooring into Strips

    Keep your utility knife always at hand, and slice the flooring off in long, narrow strips, maintaining a width of no more than 18 inches. Cut off the length only when it gets unwieldy and in your way. Keeping the strips narrow will benefit you later when you dispose of the old flooring.

    It can be tempting to start pulling back or rolling up large sheets at a time. This is not recommended, as the sheet vinyl can become heavy and difficult to manage. There is no reason to try to keep the vinyl in large sheets unless you plan on giving it to a friend or reusing it in another part of the house.

    Cut the Flooring in Narrow Strips
    Lee Wallender
  5. Remove Glued-Down Flooring With a Pry Bar

    Whether it is the entire floor or just the perimeter, glued-down flooring is best removed through tenacious hard scraping. Begin by doing as much of the prying as possible with the tip of a flat pry bar, chiseling under the vinyl to separate it from the underlayment. Because the pry bar is blunt, it will work only if the vinyl is lightly glued down.

    Using a prybay to remove vinyl flooring
    Lee Wallender
  6. Use a Five-in-One Tool

    When you can no longer scrape with the prybar, switch to a sharper tool. With a freshly sharpened five-in-one tool, force the sharp end between the sheet vinyl and subfloor in jabbing strokes. If the adhesive is old, you will discover that the tool chips away the adhesive fairly easily.

    As you chisel, use your other hand to keep peeling back the sheet vinyl. When the strip gets too long, cut it off with a utility knife to make it easier to work.

    If, as you start pulling off the sheet vinyl it seems to come away too easily, it's likely you are delaminating the vinyl sheet—separating the vinyl layer from its backing layer. Make sure that you are removing the full thickness of the flooring as you chisel and pull.

    Scraping away vinyl flooring
    Lee Wallender
  7. Peel Away by Hand

    Whenever you can get a grip on a section of flooring, try to pull it back, either straight upward or backward toward you. This gives you greater pulling power.

    Removing vinyl flooring from the subfloor
    Lee Wallender
  8. Use a Heat Gun

    A heat gun can be very useful for loosening adhesive that is very hard and difficult to scrape. Turn the heat gun on low, wait for it to sufficiently heat up, and wave it around the junction between the flooring and the underlayment. Or, try to heat up the top side of the flooring in a small section, then pull that section back. A heat gun also works well when you are removing glued-down vinyl tiles.

    Removing Vinyl Flooring with a Heat Gun
    Hisham Ibrahim/Getty Images
  9. Dispose of Old Flooring

    Long strips of sheet vinyl can be folded up accordion-style into squares if you score the surface with a utility knife. The first score will be easy to fold back, but the second score and all alternating scores are more difficult. You'll need to force them a bit to snap them into a fold.

    In most communities, sheet vinyl flooring cannot be recycled, so you probably will need to landfill it. Bag up the folded squares and add them to household trash collection. In some communities, building materials are not accepted in household trash, so check with local authorities on proper disposal methods. This may involve taking the flooring to a specified waste disposal site.

    One alternative is to recycle the flooring. For example, if your woodshed has an oriented strand board (OSB) wood floor, laying down a sheet of vinyl makes it easier to sweep and will protect it against moisture and oil drips.

    Disposing of old vinyl flooring
    Lee Wallender