Wood flooring and vinyl flooring both look great when you first install it, but it can eventually get worn out and start to look shabby or dated. Torn or worn vinyl flooring isn’t effective or easy to repair, and this may lead you to wonder how to remove vinyl flooring.
Usually the best way to deal with this issue is to tear it out and replace it with another flooring covering, and this is why it’s important to know how to remove vinyl flooring. You want to understand your options and the scope of this project before you take it on.
Typically, the easiest thing to do is to leave the vinyl flooring in place and install a new floor covering over it. As long as your current vinyl flooring is in good condition, it can handle carpet, some wood flooring, laminate, and some other vinyl over the top.
However, many people who wonder how to remove vinyl flooring aren’t looking to simply cover it. Instead, they want to strip it out entirely, and things like height considerations or layering could come into play. If you want a fresh slate to start new, this is the only option you have available. There are liquid chemical-based adhesive removers available as well as dry, chemical-free methods available when you wonder how to remove vinyl flooring.
In this short guide, we’re going to outline how to remove vinyl flooring with a step-by-step guide. We’ll list the tools you need too and give you a good understanding of the scope of this project. By the end, the goal is to have a thorough understanding of how to remove vinyl flooring so you can decide if it’s something you want to do or if you should call in the professionals.
Wondering how to remove vinyl flooring? This can be a labor-intensive project to undertake, especially if you have a larger room. You may need to recruit friends or family members to help you or call in professionals. Old and new come together by moccasinlanding / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Important Safety Considerations
Using a heat gun can be invaluable when it comes to learning how to remove vinyl flooring, but it’s also dangerous. Holding the heat gun and getting it far too close to flammable materials can cause a fire to ignite. Make sure you keep your heat gun away from your work materials, and it’s a good idea to wear gloves.
Equipment, Materials, & Tools
When you start learning how to remove vinyl flooring, you’ll need to have all of the correct tools on-hand. Doing so will make the project go much smoother from start to finish, and you won’t find yourself leaving in the middle of the project to go get more items. You’ll want:
- Five-in-one tool
- Flat pry bar
- Heat gun
- Mallet or hammer
- Utility knife
- Wood block
- Work gloves
How to Remove Vinyl Flooring Step-by-Step
Gather all of your tools and get to the room where you’re going to remove the flooring. Organize everything before you start the project so you don’t look for items when you’re in the middle of removing everything. Go through the following steps on how to remove vinyl flooring one by one.
Step One – Remove any Quarter-Round Trim
The first step on how to remove vinyl flooring is to get rid of the quarter-round trim that covers any gaps between the flooring and the baseboards. You want to carefully pry the trim away using the flat end of your pry bar, making sure you don’t accidentally cause damage to it if you want to reuse it. Once you get it off, set it to the side out of the way or dispose of it.
Step Two – Remove the Baseboards
In a lot of cases, your vinyl flooring will be installed right up to the edge of the baseboards to sit beneath the quarter-round trim. The baseboards could also be installed right over the flooring. If this is the case, you need to remove them before you can get to all parts of the floor to remove it.
Get your wood block and put it against the wall a few inches above your piece of baseboard. Put your pry bar’s flat end on top where the trim meets the wall. A hard rap with your gloved hand should be more than enough force to push the pry bar under the trim. If it’s not, you’ll want to get a hammer or rubber mallet and give the pry bar a light hit.
Using stages, gently pry the trim away, and work your way along the wall. Prying the baseboards back quickly could cause your trim to break. Even if you have no plans to reuse all of your trim, it’s easier to pull it off the wall in one piece than it is to pull off broken, smaller pieces.
When you’re figuring out your budget for how to remove vinyl flooring, consider baseboard costs. It’s not uncommon for this piece to get damaged during the removal process. So, unless you have expensive, quality baseboards in place, you want to decide if the cost of buying whole new baseboards is worth it when you consider the time and effort you put into repairing or salvaging the old ones.
- Pro Tip – If you want to reuse your baseboards, come up with a marking system for the back of the trim to make installation easier. You could write a one on the back of the first piece of trim with an up arrow and continue in a clockwise, orderly fashion around the room as you remove it.
Step Three – Try to Remove the Center Flooring Section
It’s not uncommon for vinyl flooring to be 100% perimeter installed. This makes the project go much faster when you consider how to remove vinyl flooring. Usually, there is only a six-inch perimeter that gets stapled or glued down. The middle of the floor lays loose, and this makes it much quicker to rip up and get rid of. The real work comes in getting rid of the perimeter.
Slice through your flooring around the room’s perimeter. Try to leave around eight inches from the walls intact. Keep your cuts parallel to the walls. Once you get it cut, see if it lifts away easily. If it does, you have a perimeter installed floor, and it just made your how to remove vinyl flooring project much easier.
Step Four – Cut the Flooring into Strips
Your utility knife should always be at hand. You want to slice your flooring in narrow, long strips. The strips shouldn’t be more than 18 inches wide at the biggest point. When the strips start to get in your way or get unwieldy, you can cut off the length to make it easier to work with. Keeping the strips no more than 18 inches wide will help later on when you want to get rid of your old vinyl flooring.
You may be tempted to start pulling up or rolling up big vinyl sheets at one time. This isn’t recommended when you’re working on this project on your own because sheet vinyl can quickly get difficult to manage and heavy. Unless you plan on reusing the vinyl in another part of your home like for an upcoming kitchen remodel or giving it to someone, trying to keep it in large sheets is useless.
Step Five – Use the Pry Bar to Remove Glued-Down Flooring
Whether it’s just the perimeter or the entire floor, it’s best to remove your glued-down flooring using a lot of scraping. You can start this process by doing as much of the prying as you possibly can with the tip of the flat part of your pry bar. You’ll chisel under the vinyl to separate it from the underlayment in this section of how to remove vinyl flooring. The pry bar’s end is blunt, so this will only work well if the vinyl is lightly glued to the floor below it.
Step Six – Refine with the Five-in-One Tool
When it’s not possible to keep scraping with the pry bar, the next step in how to remove vinyl flooring is to switch to a five-in-one tool because it’s sharper. Using your freshly sharpened five-in-one tool, force it between the subfloor and the sheet vinyl in short, jabbing strokes. If the adhesive is in bad shape or older, you’ll find out that it chips away quickly.
As you chisel away, take your other hand and peel the sheet vinyl back. When the strip starts to get too long, cut it off using a utility knife. If you notice that the sheet vinyl starts to pull away far too easily, you’re most likely delaminating the vinyl sheet. If you are, you’re separating the backing layer from the vinyl later. You want to remove the entire thing as you chisel and pull or it’ll be a mess later.
- Try and Peel the Vinyl Flooring Away by Hand – Whenever you think you can, grab onto a section of flooring and try to pull it back. Try to pull it backward toward you or straight upward to give yourself more pulling power.
- Use a Heat Gun – A heat gun can be essential for helping you loosen up adhesive that is difficult to scrape. Turn it on low, allow it to heat up, and wave it around in the junction between the underlayment and your vinyl flooring. You can also try to heat up the top side of the flooring in a small section before pulling it back.
If your vinyl flooring is loose in the center, you’ll have a much easier time pulling it up. The edges will take some work, but you can use a chisel, five-in-one-tool, and a heat gun to help encourage the adhesive to let go and pull the flooring up. Vinyl Flooring by Wendy Diedrich / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Step Seven – Dispose of Your Old Flooring
You can fold up your long strips of sheet vinyl by folding them up accordian style into squares. When it comes to this step on how to remove vinyl flooring, you want to score the surface of the vinyl with a utility knife. The first score is easy to fold back, but the other scores will be more challenging. Force each score a bit to snap them into your fold.
You usually won’t be able to recycle vinyl sheet flooring in your community, so you’ll have to landfill it. Bag up your folded squares and toss them into your household trash can. You should double-check with your local authorities and see if they allow vinyl flooring to be mixed in with your household trash as some won’t allow it. You may end up taking your flooring to a specific site.
How to Remove Vinyl Flooring from Hardwood
Did you know that a lot of people covered their beautiful hardwood flooring with vinyl or linoleum? This was a very common practice, and the process on how to remove vinyl flooring that is glued to wood is very similar to the process we outlined above.
First, you want to gently peel away enough of the vinyl flooring in a corner until you can see which way your hardwood floor runs. Carefully cut through the vinyl to create six-inch wide strips in the same direction that your hardwood floor runs to minimize your chances of cutting across the floor’s grain. You have to be very careful as you scrape this floor because you don’t want to damage the floor below it.
Set your blade from your utility knife just deep enough that it’ll go through the vinyl. Heat the vinyl using your heat gun and pry it away from the wood. As the glue softens due to the heat, it’ll come up with the vinyl. Scrape away as much of the glue as you possibly can without gouging your floor. Once you cleaned it as well as you can, you’ll want to sand and refinish the floor.
How to Remove Vinyl Flooring from Concrete
Although concrete is arguably one of the easiest surfaces to get your vinyl flooring off of, it’s still a decent-sized project to undertake. Cut your vinyl into six-inch wide strips. Pull the vinyl up in strips to show the glue. You may need to bring in your heat gun to soften the glue and make it easier to pull up.
You can scrape any glue that is left off your concrete floor using a floor scraper. If it’s being stubborn, you can soak the floor overnight with dish soap and water to soften it. You’ll need to get a paint scraper to remove the softened glue.
How to remove vinyl flooring from concrete or hardwood follows the same basic guidelines of removing it from a plywood subfloor. You will have to take more care with it though so you don’t accidentally damage the floor underneath it. Hardwood Floor Project by Chris Borresen / CC BY-NC 2.0
How to Remove Vinyl Flooring with Plywood Subflooring
You have two choices on how to remove vinyl flooring when you have a plywood subfloor. You can scrape away the vinyl and glue using a utility knife, wide putty knife, paint scraper, brick chisel, bully flooring scraper, or a hammer. The second option is to cut out the vinyl flooring and subfloor in a single piece.
Option One – Scrape the Vinyl Flooring and Glue
If you have resilient old flooring in, you’ll cut parallel strips using your utility knife that don’t exceed six inches wide. You’ll pull the vinyl up in strips to see the glue or backing. Once you manage to get the surface layer up and out of the way, you’ll get a paint scraper to remove the glue.
At this point, if the glue is being stubborn, you can break out your heat gun to soften up the glue as you scrape at it. Some older flooring can have a tar-based adhesive to it, and you can apply water or mineral spirits to it and let it soak to loosen it up.
Option Two – Remove the Vinyl and Subfloor Together
One other option you have when it comes to how to remove vinyl flooring is to pull out the vinyl flooring and the subfloor in one piece. You’ll drill a hole through the floor first to help you figure out how thick the plywood is. Get a saw and set the blade to cut ⅛-inch deeper than the plywood’s thickness. Cut away the section of flooring on one side of your room.
You want to cut flush against the walls, so you’ll need a reciprocal saw. Do make sure you don’t cut the floor joists. You’ll cut the floor into manageable sections that are between three and four-feet as you continue to remove everything.
When you lay down your new subfloor, you’ll nail crosspieces between the joists to help support the adjacent plywood subfloor edges. This is especially important if your old floor was traditional tongue and groove plywood to keep it structurally strong. This is a more labor-intensive option, but it eliminates the need to remove the vinyl and glue.
Other Options to Consider
If you’re not sure about how to remove vinyl flooring by yourself, there are other options you may want to consider that could be easier on you. One common choice is to put a new linoleum, tile, or vinyl floor right over your existing vinyl floor. The existing floor has to be either smooth or to a point where you can smooth it out with a few patches. If it is, you can lay your new floor directly over it.
You’ll have two options available if you want to put your new floor right over the existing one. In the first scenario, you’d apply a layer of 1/4/-inch plywood over the old flooring to give it a smooth base to put your new floor on. The section option you have is to raise the old floor using a self-leveling concrete. It should be around ⅛-inch thick when it dries, and you’ll layer your new floor on it.
When you add your new floor, especially when you use self-leveling concrete or plywood, it’s important to note that this process is going to noticeably raise your floor. This means that it won’t connect smoothly and seamlessly to the adjacent flooring. The height difference could present a tripping hazard. Additionally, you won’t have the same clearance under the toe kicks. This could give you a problem later down the line when you want to slide out your refrigerator, dishwasher, stove, or other large appliance.
How to Remove Vinyl Flooring – Frequently Asked Questions
Asking questions about how to remove vinyl floors can help you understand this project while seeing if you should call in a professional company to do it for you. New SBF Showroom Floor by Slaughterbeck Floors / CC BY 2.0
It’s not uncommon for a lot of questions to pop up when you’re trying to figure out how to remove vinyl flooring. We’ve put the most popular questions below in a short list so you can have all of your answers in one place before you attempt this project.
1. How do you remove adhesive from your vinyl flooring?
The first thing you want to do is get a paint scraper and try to remove the adhesive. If this doesn’t work, you’ll want to get a heat gun and use it to warm the glue to soften it while scraping at it. This should be enough to get rid of it.
2. Is it safe for you to remove this flooring by yourself?
Did you know that old vinyl products could contain asbestos? However, unlike the majority of asbestos-containing materials, vinyl flooring is generally safe for you to be around. If you try to DIY and it has asbestos, it’s not safe. You’ll want to contact a professional and ask them where you should go from here. Chances are, they’ll have someone come out and advise you on how to remove vinyl flooring or suggest their company do it.
- How do you remove a sticky residue from vinyl?
You can drench a rag or paper towel in white vinegar or rubbing alcohol. Wipe the drenched rag or towel over the affected area. Both white vinegar and rubbing alcohol have properties that can safely dissolve this sticky residue without impacting your vinyl. Repeat the process until it’s gone and allow it to air-dry.
4. Is it possible to use acetone on vinyl flooring?
If you’re wondering how to remove vinyl flooring and you’re not worrying about damaging it, yes, you can use acetone on it. This is a very harsh chemical that will dull and damage the floor’s finish. It can help remove adhesive and glue too. Just make sure the area is well-ventilated because it can have a strong smell associated with it.
We’ve walked you through how to remove vinyl flooring, and you can decide whether or not this is a project you want to take on yourself. It can be labor-intensive, depending on the option you choose. However, you’ll end up with a clean working surface for your new flooring if you do it right.
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.