How to Remove Vinyl Flooring

Contractor removing an old linoleum flooring
cyano66 / Getty Images
  • 01 of 09

    Introduction

    Removing Vinyl Flooring from Subfloor
    Lee Wallender

    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, wood, engineered wood, and often ceramic and porcelain tile directly on top without any intervening underlayment.

    However, many homeowners prefer to remove the vinyl flooring altogether. Layering and height considerations may factor into this decision. Or they may just want to start their next flooring covering on a completely new 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 in this guide 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.

    Project Metrics

    • Working Time: 4 hours (200 square feet)
    • Total Time: 5 hours
    • Skill Level: Beginner
    • Materials Cost: $5 to $25

    Tools and Supplies You Will Need

    • Prybar: A flat prybar, rather than a large wrecking bar, is essential for pulling off trim and baseboards.
    • Five-in-one tool: This tool has several functions, but you will mainly be using the sharp blade at the end for scraping the flooring away from the glue.
    • Wood block: This scrap of wood assists your prybar in taking down trim, both by providing extra leverage and by protecting your walls.
    • Utility knife: Any type of solid utility knife with locking, interchangeable blades will work for this project.
    • Heat gun: A heat gun is a relatively inexpensive asset to your toolbox. Not only does it aid in flooring removal, but it will help with other projects around the house.
    • Mallet or hammer
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  • 02 of 09

    Remove the Baseboards and Quarter-Round

    Removing Baseboards Prior to Flooring Removal
    Lee Wallender

    Because baseboards cover the edges of flooring, the baseboards must be removed before removing the flooring.

    Quarter-round trim is sometimes installed in front of the baseboards as a way of covering the gap between the baseboards and the flooring. Gently pry off the quarter-round with the flat end of the prybar.

    Place the wood block a few inches above the baseboard. Put the flat end of the prybar 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 prybar with a rubber mallet or hammer.

    Gently pry the trim away in stages. Ripping back quickly may break the trim. Even if you do not intend to reuse the trim, it is still easier to pull off the trim 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 saving and repairing your current baseboards.

    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.

     

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  • 03 of 09

    Remove the Center of the Floor

    Cutting Out Center of Vinyl Flooring
    Lee Wallender

    Often, you will find that the vinyl flooring is entirely perimeter-installed, which makes this project go much faster. In other words, the middle of the flooring is not glued down; only a 6-inch perimeter is glued (or sometimes stapled).

    Cut about 8 inches away from the walls, keeping your cut parallel to the walls.

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  • 04 of 09

    Cut in Narrow Strips

    Cut the Flooring in Narrow Strips
    Lee Wallender

    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. You can 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 it.

    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. You might start to feel that the flooring is glued down when actually you are pulling up the weight of the floor itself. 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.

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  • 05 of 09

    Remove the Flooring With the Prybay

    Using a prybay to remove vinyl flooring
    Lee Wallender

    With the unglued middle section removed, you can now remove the glued-down perimeter. Hard scraping and tenacity are the best way to go about this. First, begin with the flat end of the prybar. Because the prybar is blunt, it will work only if the vinyl is lightly glued down.

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  • 06 of 09

    Peel Away the Flooring

    Scraping away vinyl flooring
    Lee Wallender

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

    As you start pulling off the sheet vinyl, it may seem deceptively easy. You might actually be de-laminating the sheet vinyl rather than removing all of the flooring. Make sure that you are removing all of the flooring, from top to bottom.

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  • 07 of 09

    Peel Away by Hand

    Removing vinyl flooring from the subfloor
    Lee Wallender

    Whenever you can get a grip on a section, try to pull it back either perpendicular to the floor or farther back. This gives you greater pulling power.

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  • 08 of 09

    Use the Heat Gun

    Removing Vinyl Flooring with a Heat Gun
    Hisham Ibrahim/Getty Images

    Turn the heat gun on low, wait for it to sufficiently heat up, and wave it around the junction between the flooring and the subfloor. Or, try to heat up the top side of the flooring in a small section, then pull that section back.

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  • 09 of 09

    Dispose of the Vinyl Flooring

    Disposing of old vinyl flooring
    Lee Wallender

    Your scored strips of sheet vinyl can be folded up accordion-style into squares small enough to fit into the garbage can. The first score will be easy to fold back because you are going with the score. 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.

    Dispose of the vinyl flooring responsibly. In most communities, sheet vinyl flooring cannot be recycled, so, unfortunately, you may have to landfill it. One alternative is to recycle the flooring in-house. 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 against moisture and oil drips.