Learning how to remove linoleum flooring isn’t as easy as putting a new one down or removing vinyl, and one workaround you can consider is laying the new floor directly over the current one. However, this will raise your floor height by at least ¼ inch or more, and this can create a tripping hazard. If this isn’t an option you want to consider and you want to put in nice hardwood flooring.
However, a word of caution before you go any further. Flooring and the glue or backing can contain asbestos, especially if it’s an older floor where the fibers were added to the flooring to increase the strength or durability. If the asbestos crumbles when you’re learning how to remove linoleum flooring, the fibers get released into the air, and this poses a very real health hazard to anyone who breathes them in.
It is possible to take a sample of the flooring to a lab and test it for asbestos, but this takes time. Instead, you can safely assume that any house built before 1980 has asbestos in the flooring adhesive. If your flooring does have it, you shouldn’t remove the adhesive yourself. Most areas have laws and regulations that prevent homeowners from removing this adhesive, and you’ll have to call in a professional to do it for you.
However, if you’re sure that there isn’t any asbestos in your flooring, you can learn how to remove linoleum below and use it to strip away your new floor to start new to refresh your room.
Linoleum is a very sturdy flooring that is low-maintenance, and it was very popular for decades to install in high-traffic areas of the home.
Figuring Out if You Have Linoleum or Vinyl Flooring
It’s easy to confuse vinyl and linoleum flooring as they have many similarities. However, it’s essential that you determine which one you have before you start the removal process because vinyl is much easier to peel back.
|Felt or burlap backing||None or soft backing|
|Underlayment (felt liner)||No liner|
|Doesn’t melt||Will melt with heat|
|1920s to 1950s||1950s to today|
Why Linoleum Is Challenging to Remove
Unlike wood floors, linoleum is challenging to remove. This is why it’s so important that you learn how to remove linoleum flooring correctly to ensure it all pulls away from the floor with as little fuss as possible. The top three reasons why linoleum is a challenge to remove are:
- Adhesives – Linoleum always gets glued down. These strong adhesives, often rock-hard and decades old, create a very solid bond between the subfloor and the linoleum.
- Asbestos – Adhesives used to make linoleum more durable have asbestos if it’s before the 1980s. If you find it, don’t try to mechanically abrade the adhesive or flooring.
- Backer and Liner – Linoleum flooring has felt or burlap bonded to the back of it. Also, this flooring was often installed on top of a felt liner, very similar to underlayment that you find on laminate flooring today. These layers of burlap or felt combine with the flooring to form a thick flock that bonds secretly to the floor below it.
Part One – Removing the Linoleum Topper
When it comes to learning how to remove linoleum, you have to realize that it’s a process that has multiple steps involved. If you go step by step and take your time, it should peel away or break away in pieces to leave you with the subfloor.
Step One – Clear Your Work Area
First, you have to clear the area. Pull out and remove any big appliances, furniture pieces, or other obstacles from the surface of your linoleum. Also, before you can pull up the flooring, you’ll have to remove all of the baseboards from the room. Be sure to make the back of each piece you pull out with the location if you plan on reinstalling it once you lay out your new floor. To remove them, you’ll:
- Wiggle your chisel or pry bar between the wall and baseboard, starting in a corner. If you want, you can slide a piece of wood or cardboard behind the chisel or pry bar to stop from scratching the wall.
- Pry using a steady, gentle motion until the board pulls away from the wall.
- Remove any nails with your piers once you can easily reach them.
- Store your baseboards in another room if you plan on reinstalling them.
Once the baseboards are out of the way, you want to cut the linoleum into 12-inch strips using a sharp utility knife. Removing the easier, smaller strips will be a much quicker process later on than trying to pull up entire linoleum sheets at a time.
Step Two – Heat it with a Heat Gun
The next part of learning how to remove linoleum flooring is to get a heat gun and heat the linoleum topper with it. This will soften it up and make removing it easier. In order to get the topper layer pliable and soft, you should heat a section at a time with the heat gun. This will allow you to peel the topper away relatively easily.
If you don’t own a heat gun and can’t easily get your hands on one, a hair dryer can work. However, it most likely won’t get hot enough to do the job efficiently. You can try it and see if the hottest setting on the hair dryer will remove the topper or make it soft.
Although you may not have a heat gun on hand, you can rent one from your local home improvement store to help you complete this project.
Step Three – Manually Peel Back the Linoleum Stirips
Get a hand scraper or a 5 in 1 tool and use it to lift up the edges of each section of flooring and then tear them away. The outer skin should come away easily since it’s soft from the heat. However, if the linoleum was fully bonded when it was installed, you might end up with big sections of soft backing and adhesive that will need more attention before they peel away.
Step Four – Get a Vinyl Floor Scraping Machine
You can automate this process too when you’re learning how to remove linoleum by getting a vinyl floor scraping machine that has a rigid blade attached. You should rub a small amount of petroleum jelly on the blade to keep it from collecting glue or dust as you use it. Begin using it by sliding the automatic scraper under the pre-cut seam on your floor and lift up the linoleum using your free hand. Follow the pre-cut seams in the flooring to remove the topper from the linoleum. Depending on the floor, this process can go quicker than trying to do so by hand. You can rent these machines if you don’t have one.
Part Two – Remove the Adhesive or Underlayment
Removing the underlayment or tacky paper that sticks the flooring to the subfloor can be time-consuming and tricky to take on. It’s one of the least favorite parts of learning how to remove linoleum flooring. Early linoleum flooring got fastened to the subfloor with underlayment, and this can have tar like you see in driveways. If your flooring is a few decades old and this layer is very difficult to remove, you may want to call in a professional.
Step One – With Older Linoleum, Check for Asbestos
With older linoleum flooring, consider breaking a small piece from your floor with the underlayment or tacky layer attached and get it tested for asbestos. A lot of the pre-1980s linoleum flooring, including sheeting or tiles, have asbestos. These small fibers are dangerous if you inhale them. Although it is possible to correctly and safely remove asbestos in your home, it may be safer and easier to bring in a company to do it for you. It may be the law that you have to call in a professional in your area too.
- One way to make it possible to make the asbestos content in the sheeting or tiles less dangerous is to dampen it before you remove it. Dry asbestos goes airborne very easily, even if you don’t see it. Wet asbestos won’t be airborne as easily. Be very careful when you dampen the underlayment if you have wooden floors as it can cause damage.
- You should use a respirator mask and goggles to filter out any asbestos fibers from your body’s more porous parts. You should use them for safety regardless of whether or not you think there is asbestos in the flooring.
Step Two – For More Delicate Linoleum, Use a Scraper
For delicate flooring, you want to scrape the adhesive or underlayment off using a scraper. You may need to apply a moderate or extreme amount of pressure, depending on the adhesive’s strength. This can be a very time-consuming process, but it removes the risk of damaging your subfloors.
- You can try to use an automatic oscillating scraper and heat gun to remove the adhesive layer, just like you did on the topper. However, you might find it very difficult to get the scraper blade under the adhesive. The heat gun will slowly soften the adhesive and make it easier to get off the floor.
Floor scrapers are usually metal, and you can use them to get the glue off of the floor and out of your way without damaging the subfloor.
Step Four – Heat the Adhesive
For more durable or stubborn subflooring, soak the adhesive using boiling water and allow it to sit for a minimum of 15 minutes. Again, only apply your water if the subfloor is a replaceable plywood or concrete. Wood warping is very likely with any type of water application, so you have to be careful when you have hardwood subfloors that you can salvage.
Next, we’re going to go over how to get the boiling water onto the underlayment or adhesive without creating a huge mess or flooding in your home. Line your sections of flooring with towels, and they have to be towels you’re okay with getting rid of. Pour the hot water over your towels, letting the towels absorb most of it while heating up the adhesive. Wait 15 minutes before you pull up the towels.
- HappyDIYHome Tip: It’s also possible to cut the floor open in several places using a sharp blade and pour a floor stripper into the gaps to help encourage the linoleum to loosen.
Next, scrape away the adhesive using a manual scraper. You’ll want to get your hands on a bigger scraper for moistened adhesive because it comes away much easier than dry. This gives you plenty of room to take wider swaths.
Step Five – Try a Wallpaper Steamer
If you’ve tried everything and the stubborn adhesive won’t budge, try using a wallpaper steamer. You can rent these from your local hardware store for cheap. Allow the steamer to warm, and place the applicator pad of the steemer over a section of your adhesive and let it steam for 60 to 90 seconds. Move the steamer to another close section and scrape off where you just heated the floor. This is a relatively quick process compared to the dry method. You should be able to get through a 100-square foot section of flooring in under two hours.
Part Three – Finishing the Floor
Once you get all of the adhesive up off your floor, it’s time to finish it so you get a clean slate to lay down new flooring or refinish the wood floor under it. To finish the floor, you will do the following:
Step One – Apply a Chemical Stripper
You can apply a commercial-grade chemical stripper to any remaining stubborn adhesive following the manufacturer’s instructions. Most chemical strippers use the same active ingredients that you’ll see in common paint strippers, and you can buy them at your local big box or hardware store.
Step Two – Scraped the Treated Areas
Scrape away any treated adhesive using a putty knife to remove anything that is left behind. Since most of the adhesive should be off the floor before you apply the stripper, this should be an easy process.
Step Four – Sweep or Vacuum
You want to sweep or vacuum when the area dries to get rid of all small debris that is left. Your subfloor is now ready for a new flooring material, like laminate or tile.
When you finish, you should have a smooth, flaat, clean surface to lay down your new floor and refresh your room.
Removing Glued Down Linoleum From a Wood Floor
Vinyl and linoleum are sturdy and classic flooring materials that you find installed in living rooms, kitchen, hallways,and other high-traffic areas. But, because they have a very strong adhesive holding them in place that gets stronger over time, learning how to remove linoleum can be challenging.
This whole process gets even harder when you have a salvageable wood subfloor under it because you have to be careful not to damage it. This quick portion of the guide will outline how to remove glued down vinyl or linoleum from a wood floor, and we’ll touch on what you should and shouldn’t do to keep it intact.
You’ll most likely have most of the materials you need in your home, especially if you’re an active DIYer. However, if not, any missing things can be bought or rented for a small price at your local home improvement store. You’ll need:
- Block of Wood – Use a pry bar and this tool to pull baseboards from the wall
- Heat Gun – A heat gun will help loosen the hard adhesive and make it easier for you to scrape off. If you don’t have a heat gun and can’t get one, you can try to sub in a hair dryer with a very high setting.
- Pry Bar – A pry bar makes it possible to pry two objects apart. For example, you pry the baseboard from the walls.
- Rubber Mallet – This will come in handy if you can’t get enough force with your hands to remove the baseboards.
- Scraper – A scraper will help separate the glued down portion of the flooring from your wood floor.
- Utility Knife – You’ll use this to cut through the flooring.
- Work Gloves – Any puncture-resistant gloves are great.
How to Remove Linoleum From a Hardwood Floor
The following guidelines will help you carefully remove any glued-down linoleum flooring from a hardwood subfloor while preserving the wood flooring.
Step 1: Remove the Baseboard and Quarter-Round Trim
Some flooring will have a quarter-round molding to cover the gap between the baseboards and the floor. If your linoleum flooring has them, you’ll use your pry bar to carefully remove them. Once you finish, you’ll remove the baseboards. These are usually installed over the flooring and you have to pull them out before you start removing the flooring itself.
To start, you want to put your block of wood against the wall roughly two or three inches above the trim. Next, insert your pry bar between the wall and the baseboards. If you have trouble getting the pry bar in, gently tap it using a rubber mallet to force it in. Pry the baseboards away from the wall, starting from one corner and working over. Go slowly and avoid snapping the boards. Even if you don’t want to reinstall them at the end of the project, pulling them out in full lengths is easier than broken, small pieces.
Step 2: Remove the Middle Portion of Your Linoleum Floor
Usually, vinyl or linoleum flooring will get glued down right around the edges, and this makes it easier to pull up and remove. So, there is usually only around a five-inch perimeter that is glued down. The middle of your flooring should lay loose. Get a utility knife and cut around the flooring roughly seven inches away from each wall, making sure you keep your cuts parallel to the wall. Don’t cut too deep or you risk gouging the wood floor under it. Now, gently pull up the middle part of your floor and see if it comes away easily.
If you’re working on a larger floor, consider cutting narrow, long strips to make it easier to pull up. A 15-inch strip of flooring will be much easier to pull up and move than a four-foot sheet, especially if you’re only using one person for the project. Narrow strips are also easier to get rid of than sheets. You won’t need to keep your linoleum in bigger sheets until you plan on giving it away or using it again. It may be tempting to pull back or roll up larger sheets, but this is also much heavier, and it can be difficult to move.
Step 3: Remove the Glued Portion of the Linoleum
To get any glued-down linoleum up off your subfloor you’ll have to scrape it off. You can start the process by prying the flooring and scraping under it to make it detach from the wooden subfloor. Hold your scraper at a 45-degree angle to avoid gouging or chipping the wood.
For the most part, you’ll only get flooring out at this time. Depending on how you hold the scraper as you work, some of the glue may come away too. However, the scraper will mostly only loosen the linoleum. Work in small sections at a time, and you want to push the scraping tool in short thrusts until you remove it. Using your free hand, peel back the flooring. If you remove an older floor, you’ll find that your scraper is very good at chipping away the adhesive.
Step 4: Heat Any Leftover Adhesive
Heating your floor will help to soften up any hard adhesive and make it easier to peel back. To start, turn your heat gun on low and wait until it heats up. Once it does, hold it over the adhesive, roughly three or four inches away. Don’t let it touch your adhesive.
Next, grab the scraper and scrape away the softened glue using short, sharp thrusts. Work at a 45-degree angle so you don’t dent or scratch your flooring. Scrape small sections of the floor, and if the scraper starts to move through the adhesive very easily, you want to stop and reheat it to loosen it more. Depending on how hard to glue is, you may need to heat it up several times to get it loose enough to scrape away.
Step 5: Dispose of Your Old Flooring
There is a very good chance that you won’t use your old linoleum flooring again, and this means that you will throw it away. If you cut strips of linoleum using a utility knife, you can fold them up into small squares. In most areas, you can’t recycle old linoleum flooring, so you’ll need to toss them into the trash. However, you should keep in mind that some places won’t accept building materials in the trash, so you may have to take it to a designated waste disposal area and pay a fee to get rid of it. Double-check with your local ordinances to figure out how to safely and legally get rid of it.
If you have hardwood flooring under your linoleum, you can carefully strip it away to preserve the old floor under it so you can restore it.
How to Remove Linoleum With Dry Ice
Dry ice is simply carbon dioxide in a solid state. So, when it melts, it emits carbon dioxide. If you get enough carbon dioxide building up in a smaller space, you can suffocate. Open all of your doors and windows if you want to use this way how to remove linoleum before you start. Don’t drink or eat dry ice, and don’t touch it with your bare hands. Also, always wear safety glasses.
Tools and Equipment:
- 120 grit drum sander sandpaper
- Breathing, eye, and hearing protection
- Flooring drum sander
- Flooring orbital sander
- Floor scraper
- Insulated gloves
- Pry bar
- Shop vacuum
- Asbestos test kit
- Dry ice
- Old towels
- Sheet plastic
1. Test for Asbestos
Get your asbestos test kit and use it as directed before you start working on your linoleum flooring. If the flooring tests positive, you want to stop the project and call a professional to get advice on how to proceed. Working with asbestos is possible for non-professional DIYers, but you have to be 100% sure of what you’re doing.
2. Buy and Prepare Your Dry Ice
Buy your dry ice just before you’re ready to remove the linoleum. Dry ice won’t keep solid in the freezer, but the freezer can slightly slow the shrinkage. Buy it at large grocery stores or sporting goods stores. Handle is only with insulated gloves on.
3. Ventilate the Room
Before you bring the dry ice in, open up your doors and windows to bring as much oxygen in as you can to prevent carbon dioxide buildup.
4. Cover the Linoleum
Start at an edge of your flooring, and cover roughly two feet square with plastic. Put the ice on the plastic cover, and try to work in one foot square sections at a time. You want to leave a plastic border around the dry ice. Cover your ice with a few old towels.
5. Wait for the Linoleum to Freeze
Give the dry ice two to three minutes to work and freeze your linoleum.
- HappyDIYHome Tip: You may hear a pop when the linoleum loosens from the backing or adhesive. If you do, quickly move to the next step to avoid letting the adhesive soften and harden again.
6. Move the Dry Ice
Grab the edge of your plastic after you hear the pop and slide it to an adjacent tile to start the process again.
7. Pry the Linoleum Up
While the dry ice goes to work freezing the next section of flooring, you want to force your pry bar under the edge of the frozen section and pry it up. If you’re removing a sheet of linoleum, you want to pry up as much as you can. Repeat this process on the next section of flooring.
8. Sand off the Remainder
Once you get the linoleum up, you can remove the rest of the felt, floor adhesive, and burlap using an orbital floor sander.
You want to be very careful when it comes to handling and using dry ice as it can burn your skin and cause breathing issues without good ventilation.
When to Call a Professional
If your linoleum adhesive has asbestos, you want to call an asbestos remediation or abatement company. Even if you know how to remove linoleum flooring safely, calling in a professional is a safe bet since this is a difficult project. If the linoleum is cemented directly to the subfloor without a felt liner, it may have an extremely tight bond to the wood. Chipping away at the linoleum may severely damage or splinter the floor under it. This is another instance where a professional can help remove it without damage to the subfloor.
Updating your old flooring and learning how to remove linoleum can be a large project. While removing it can be a DIY project, it’s best to call in a professional if the flooring has asbestos. If the flooring is free of it, remember that this project is a marathon instead of a sprint. With the right tools and a little patience, you can get the linoleum off your floor and lay the groundwork for a solid, sleek new floor.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.