How to Remove Vinyl Flooring

Removing Vinyl Flooring from Subfloor

Lee Wallender

Overview
  • Working Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to $25

Vinyl flooring looks great when first installed but eventually, it begins to wear down. Dated, worn, or torn vinyl flooring cannot easily or effectively be repaired. Often the best way to deal with an issue is to replace it with another floor covering. In many cases, it is easiest to leave the vinyl flooring in place and install the new floor right on top of it. As long as the vinyl flooring is in good structural condition, it can accept laminate, some wood flooring, carpet, and some other types of vinyl. 

However, many homeowners prefer to remove their vinyl flooring altogether. Layering and height considerations may factor into this decision, or you may simply want to install your new flooring on a completely fresh slate. In either 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 a strong odor, mess, and safety concerns. In addition, liquid strippers often do not work as well as promised. The dry, chemical-free method described here requires patience and determination, coupled with the right tools and an understanding of how vinyl flooring is installed in the first place.

Safety Considerations

A heat gun is an invaluable tool to have in your arsenal when removing vinyl flooring, but it can be dangerous. Holding a heat gun too close to flammable materials can ignite them. 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
  • 5-in-1 tool
  • Utility knife
  • Heat gun

Materials

  • Wood block
  • Work gloves

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 be removed before you can start on the vinyl flooring. Gently pry off the quarter-round with the flat end of the pry bar.

  2. Remove the Baseboard Trim

    In some instances, the vinyl flooring may be installed just up to the edge of the baseboards, beneath the quarter-round molding. However, it's more common for the baseboards to be installed over the top of the flooring. If that's the case in your home, you'll need to remove the baseboards completely in order to remove the old flooring.

    To start, place a wood block against the wall a few inches above the baseboard. Put the flat end of the pry bar on top of 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. Make sure to take your time and go slowly—prying back too quickly may snap the trim. Even if you don't intend to reuse the trim, it's still easier to pull it off in entire lengths rather than small, broken pieces.

    Baseboards often get damaged during trim removal. 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 trim, devise a marking system on the back of the trim pieces 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 vinyl flooring has been entirely perimeter-installed, which makes the removal process 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.

    To check and see if this is the case in your room, 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 the Flooring Into Strips

    When removing vinyl flooring, it's a good idea to always keep your utility knife handy. As you remove pieces of flooring, you can slice them up into 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 of vinyl flooring at a time. However, this is not recommended, as the sheet vinyl can become heavy and difficult to manage. There's no reason 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's the entire floor or just the perimeter, glued-down vinyl 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 5-in-1 Tool

    When you can no longer scrape up the flooring with the prybar, switch to a sharper tool. Force the end of a freshly sharpened 5-in-1 tool between the vinyl and subfloor. Use sharp, jabbing strokes. If the adhesive on your floor is old, you'll discover that the tool chips away at it fairly easily.

    As you chisel, use your other hand to keep peeling back the vinyl. If the vinyl seems to come away from the floor too easily, it's likely you are delaminating the vinyl sheet, which means 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 hard adhesive that is 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. Alternately, you can 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 the 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, vinyl flooring cannot be recycled, so you need to dispose of it along with your traditional trash. However, in some towns, building materials are not accepted in household trash—check with local ordinances on proper disposal methods in your area. This may involve taking the flooring to a specified waste disposal site.

    Disposing of old vinyl flooring
    Lee Wallender