One of the most frustrating home remodeling tasks is trying to remove an old linoleum or vinyl floor. Even when the linoleum is pulled off, things only get worse. Now you’re faced with gobs of old glue that seem harder than meteorites all over the floor.
Before getting depressed while reading this article, remember that there are a few ways around this formidable task.
One common alternative to removing old linoleum or vinyl floors is to put a new one right over it. If the existing floor is still smooth or can be smoothed with a few patches of FixAll, then the new floor can be laid directly on top of the old.
In some cases, a layer of 1/4-inch plywood is laid over the old floor to provide a smooth base and then the new resilient floor is laid on that. In still another approach, the old floor is floated with a self-leveling concrete that is about 1/8-inch thick when dry. The new floor is put on that.
When adding a new floor, particularly when adding plywood or self-leveling concrete, consider that this process is going to raise your floor noticeably. The most important concern is that it will not connect smoothly with the adjacent floors. This height difference could trip the unwary, particularly guests or the elderly. Also, you will not have the same clearance under the toe kicks and you may have a problem in the future sliding out your dishwasher, refrigerator, or stove.
Removing old linoleum or vinyl is generally quite difficult because wood, a common subfloor, is porous, thus absorbing the adhesives. One reason why the old glues must be thoroughly removed is because some older adhesives had oils in them that chemically react with new vinyl to cause a yellow discoloration. Most warranties on new vinyl do not cover this type of failure.
Another reason the old adhesives must be removed if you’re installing vinyl stripping is because they can eventually become brittle. If old glue breaks loose under new vinyl, it can cause failures in the new floor covering. Moreover, any bumps or cracks in an old floor will soon appear as bumps or cracks in your new linoleum.
Homeowners also need to be aware that asbestos was used in some old linoleum and flooring adhesives, particularly in those made in the 1970s and earlier. Removing this material involves a health risk. If in doubt about your resilient flooring, break a small piece from a corner or behind the refrigerator and take it to an asbestos abatement firm for testing. Wetting the vinyl as you break it off and putting it in a baggie will keep any possible asbestos fibers from flying around. Asbestos abatement firms can be found in the Yellow Pages.
If asbestos is not present in your flooring, below are three ways you can remove it yourself, depending on the subfloor.
With a plywood subfloor, you have two choices: a) scrape away the linoleum or vinyl and glue or b) just cut out the subfloor and linoleum or vinyl flooring as one piece.
- To remove old resilient flooring, first cut it into parallel strips about 6 inches wide with a utility knife. Use a hammer to tap a stiff putty knife or brick chisel under the linoleum to break it loose. Pull the linoleum up in strips to reveal the backing or the glue. Once the surface layer is gone, use a paint scraper to remove the glue. You can also use a heat gun to soften the glue as you scrape it away with the paint scraper. Some old linoleum has tar-based adhesive, which can be softened by applying mineral spirits.
- To remove the linoleum and subfloor together, drill a hole through the floor to determine how thick the plywood is. Set the saw blade to cut just 1/8 inch deeper and cut away a section of flooring on one side of the room. To cut flush against the walls, use a reciprocal saw, but be careful you don’t cut the floor joists. Cut the floor into manageable sections about 3 or 4 feet long as you continue to remove it. When laying down the new subfloor, nail crosspieces between the joists to support adjacent plywood subfloor edges, particularly if the old floor was tongue and groove plywood.
It’s not uncommon to find a perfectly good (or what used to be) hardwood floor under linoleum or vinyl. Peel away enough covering in a corner until you can judge which way the flooring runs. Cut through the vinyl in about 6-inch-wide strips in the same direction the floor runs to minimize any chances of cutting across the grain. Set the utility knife blade just deep enough to get through the linoleum or vinyl. Heat the linoleum with a heat gun and then pry it and the glue up while the glue is still soft. Scrape away as much of the glue as you can while being careful not to gouge the floor. Once you have cleaned the floor as well as possible, sand away any remaining glue and refinish the floor.
If you are having trouble deciding between hardwood and carpet flooring, see how they compare.
This is probably the easiest type of subfloor to get linoleum or vinyl off of, but it’s still no picnic. Again, it’s the same process of cutting the flooring into strips, heating it with a heat gun to soften it, and then pulling it off. The remaining glue can be scraped with a floor scraper or soaked overnight with water and dish soap, which helps soften the glue.
As you struggle with your old flooring, just keep thinking good thoughts and reminding yourself that you and the house will both be better for it when you’re finished.