Removing Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl flooring styles have changed drastically through the last fifty years, and if you are tired of your old vinyl flooring, you can consider replacing it. First, you need to decide if you are going to floor over it or remove it. In many cases, new flooring can be laid directly over top of your existing vinyl flooring. This is typically the route I would recommend taking, as removing vinyl flooring is hard work and can be dangerous if the flooring contains asbestos, as many vinyl floors did prior to the 1970s. Be sure to learn how to tear out vinyl flooring before you tackle it

Are you tired of looking at that old vinyl floor that has been in your kitchen since the 1970s? Then you need to remove and replace it! While the process of removing vinyl flooring is actually very simple, you will need a lot of patience and good old fashioned elbow grease, as the work is physical and time consuming.

There are so many different flooring choices available for you to use in the kitchen and changing the flooring can make a huge difference in the look and feel of your kitchen. If you like the feel and ease of vinyl flooring, these days there are many modern and up to date patterns of vinyl flooring available on the market that can update your kitchen at a budget price. Whichever replacement flooring you choose, you need to first evaluate whether or not the old vinyl flooring will need to be removed or not.

Covering the Existing Vinyl Flooring

Many flooring choices available on the market can be laid directly over your old vinyl flooring, as long as the floor is flat and even. If there are just a few places where the flooring is uneven, you can build these places up with a floor filler to make the surface smooth and even. If the flooring is very uneven, you can also lay down a new subfloor with a 1/4-inch piece of plywood and then install your new flooring on top of that. Keep in mind that anything you add to the floors on top of your old flooring will make the thresholds that much higher too, which can also impact any appliances that fit under the counter, like your dishwasher or stove. You will want to consider and account for this before you begin your work. You may also find that the height change between rooms may cause a tripping hazard.

It may be worth checking with a contractor to see what method they recommend for installing your new flooring and getting a few estimates on what a professional would charge for this.

Removing Vinyl Flooring

If you just can’t live with that old vinyl or are wanting to expose hardwoods underneath the vinyl, then you want to tear out the old vinyl. Before you arrive at this decision, you need to know that tearing out vinyl flooring is a hard job. Most of the time, it will take sweat and effort and several days of work to get up the old vinyl flooring as there is no magic way to remove it. For this reason, unless it is absolutely necessary, you may not want to try to remove the vinyl flooring but lay the new flooring on top of the vinyl.

Checking For Asbestos

Before removing the vinyl flooring, you need to have the flooring checked for asbestos. Vinyl flooring made in the 1970’s and before were made with asbestos backing, so you want to make sure that you remove it correctly for you and your family’s health. A good rule of thumb is that if your home was built and the flooring installed prior to 1980, you should assume there is asbestos.

If you’re unsure, you can also send a sample of your flooring to a lab to be tested to see if it does, in fact, contain asbestos. Before taking the sample, you will want to use a spray bottle to dampen the flooring thoroughly, as cutting into a material with asbestos in it can release the asbestos particles into the air and breathing this in is toxic. Use a utility knife to cut through the entire depth of the material for samples of the requested size (usually about 1 square inch). Seal the area from which you removed the samples with duct tape in order to prevent asbestos dust while you wait for results. Most labs will require that you send three samples for testing, and testing results can be back within 24 hours or as long as two weeks.

Alternatively, there are home-test kits available, but the price is typically comparable to sending the pieces off to a professional lab testing company and, as asbestos is nothing to mess around with, this is the route I recommend.

If your flooring does have asbestos, many times you can still lay existing flooring overtop as long as you seal the flooring layer with asbestos. If you are removing vinyl flooring that has asbestos, getting an asbestos removal company to remove it is the best method of having it removed because they have experience and equipment necessary for removing asbestos materials and will know the best and safest way to remove it from your home.

Removing the Flooring

If your flooring was definitely made and installed after the 1970s, you can remove it yourself. You will want to start by removing baseboards and trim and all furniture and appliances so you can get to the flooring. Plan to take a couple days to remove the vinyl, in most cases as the process is long and tedious. The good news, however, is that removing vinyl flooring doesn’t require any special tools or know-how.

The best way to tear out vinyl flooring is to pull up the vinyl and then go back and remove the remaining glue and pieces of flooring. For sheet flooring (or rolled flooring) or vinyl flooring tiles that are larger than 2x2 feet square, you will want to score the flooring into 12 inch strips to make it easier to handle and pull up.

If you are removing vinyl flooring from a wood subfloor, you don’t want to get it too wet as it can cause issues with the wood. If, however, the vinyl flooring was laid over concrete, you can soak a 2x2 foot area of the flooring with warm water for about 5 minutes before scraping it up, which helps ease the process tremendously! Heat about 1/3 cup of water in a microwave or on a stove top until it’s too hot to touch, but not boiling and pour this over the area you will be removing. Use a paint scraper to dig underneath the vinyl and then elbow grease to pull it up.

To remove vinyl flooring from a wood subfloor, you may want to try one of the following three methods:
  1. Warm Damp Towel: While you do not want to soak the wooden subfloor, you can lay a warm, damp towel over the flooring to soften in before pulling up the vinyl.
  2. Electric Heat Gun: Some people choose to use heat guns to soften/steam the flooring’s adhesive, making it easier to remove. Heat guns can be rented from most home improvement stores, but are also not particularly expensive. I’ve seen hair dryers recommended in a pinch, but truthfully these are not as effective.
  3. Iron and Towel: You can lay a towel over the vinyl flooring and run a regular clothes iron over it to heat the flooring and the adhesive making them easier to pull up. You will want to use a cheap iron you don't mind ruining, and the towel will also need to be trashed afterwards.

Alternatively, some people just pull up the vinyl flooring without any pre-work. It is doable, especially if the vinyl is already peeling and the adhesive has broken down overtime, but a little pre-work to soften the vinyl will make the job significantly easier. Whichever method you choose, keep in mind that this process is going to take some time and effort, but it will be worth it in the end! To get an idea of the method you want to use to scrape up the vinyl, take a look at this video.

Removing the Remaining Adhesive

Now that you have your flooring up, you are probably looking at adhesive still on your subfloor. Removing this will take some tools and time (we told you removing vinyl flooring was not for the faint of heart!). Using a long handled chisel to scrape the adhesive up as much as possible is one way to remove the adhesive. You can also use a heat gun like recommended above to soften the adhesive. Other experts suggest removing as much of the loose adhesive as possible and then laying the new floor on top of the remaining adhesive. As long as you remove the loose adhesive and the rest of the surface is smooth, this should pose no problems for your new flooring. To smooth the remaining adhesive on a wooden subfloor, use an electric sander with a very course grit.

Other options to make it easier to remove the adhesive left on the flooring include:
  • Commercial Adhesive Remover/ Floor Stripper (such as Bostic)
  • A vinegar/water solution of 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water
  • Shaving cream
  • WD40
  • Dry ice
  • Hot water

As with the vinyl flooring removal part, if your subfloor is wood, you will want to be careful not to soak the floor with any of the options above or let any of the solutions sit on the flooring for long, as this can damage the wood.

Finally, rent a shop vacuum to remove any remaining loose adhesive or vinyl flooring particles. You are now well on your way to having a beautiful new kitchen floor. All you need to do now is lay your new flooring and enjoy the look of your renovated kitchen. Your kitchen will never look or feel the same.

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