The thing about home renovation projects is that they can cost a fortune to see them through to completion. With that in mind, many homeowners look for ways to lessen the financial burden by rolling up their sleeves, picking up a hammer (or sledgehammer) and doing some of the work themselves. If you’re upgrading to hardwood flooring, one way you can shave a few dollars off the cost of the project is to remove any old vinyl or linoleum flooring yourself; of course, this is easier said than done. Here’s how to do it right.

Worker making flooring with vinyl tiles

Recommended Tools

A handyman – or in this case, a home renovator – is only as good as his or her tools; you certainly can’t expect the job to go smoothly and quickly if you don’t have the right equipment, but that doesn’t mean you need to rush off to the hardware store for tools you’ll only use for this particular task. Hopefully you have a decent collection of tools already, but if you don’t, chances are you can rent some of the more expensive items. Here’s a list of the items you’ll need to get started:

  • Wide putty knife
  • Utility knife
  • Brick chisel
  • Bully floor scraper
  • Hammer
  • Heat gun
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Toe kick saw
  • Oscillating saw
  • Screws
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Water and dish soap
  • Sander


Removal Considerations

Now that you’ve got your arsenal of tools close to hand, there are a few things to be aware of before you begin. The first, is not to expect the material to come off very easily. Since wood was likely used for the subfloor, the adhesives used to bind the vinyl or linoleum to it can be challenging to remove. If you choose to leave the old glue in place, be mindful that some warranties that accompany new vinyl flooring will be voided since the oils from the old adhesive can damage the new flooring. 

It’s important  to make sure that every iota of the old adhesive is removed to ensure the integrity of the new floor. Old glue beneath the new floor can break away, thus creating weak spots. You’ll also want to be prepared in the event asbestos is present in the flooring material you’re replacing. Asbestos was once a common material used in linoleum and flooring adhesives as recently as the 1970s. If your home’s current floor was installed around that time, carefully break off a small piece in an unobtrusive location and get it tested. If asbestos is present, don’t take any chances and have a professional remove the flooring for you. This is extremely important, as the most common way for asbestos fibres to enter the body is through breathing. While some will become trapped within the mucous membranes of the nose and throat, and can be removed, there’s a chance they may settle into your lungs or digestive tract and result in serious health problems.

If the test comes back negative for asbestos, there are three general methods you can use to begin removing your flooring. 


How to Remove Linoleum or Vinyl Flooring with Plywood Subfloor

If you’ve got a plywood subfloor and need to remove your old linoleum or vinyl flooring, you’ve got two options, each of them summarized below. 

The first option is diligently scraping away the flooring material and glue using the tools listed above. You can use a utility knife to cut the flooring material into manageable strips, then use the hammer and brick chisel or putty knife to break it loose. Once that layer has been removed, use a scraper to remove any excess glue. To make things easier you can soften the glue using the heat gun.

The second option is to remove the flooring and subfloor all together and start from scratch. Start by drilling a hole into the flooring to determine its depth. Set your saw to drill ⅛-inch deeper than the depth measurement you recorded and cut out a section of the floor and remove it. To cut away the floor flush from the wall, use the reciprocal saw.


How to Remove Linoleum or Vinyl Flooring Glued to Wood

If your linoleum or vinyl flooring is masking hardwood, the process for removing it will be pretty close to the process described in the previous section. Start by peeling away a section of the flooring in the corner of the room until you can determine which way the floorboards run. Next, use a utility knife to cut the vinyl or linoleum into manageable strips in the direction the floorboards run to reduce the chances of cutting the underlying flooring across the grain. Unlike the plywood subfloor, you’ll want to take great care as you scrape away any excess glue to avoid damaging the hardwood! When you’re cutting the flooring with your utility knife, make sure to only cut the flooring material you wish to remove. Heat the vinyl or linoleum with the heat gun to make it and the glue malleable and easier to work with. Once you’ve scraped away as much glue as possible, use the sander to sand the hardwood before refinishing.


How to Remove Linoleum or Vinyl Flooring from Concrete

Though removing your old flooring from concrete will still take considerable effort, it is arguably the easiest removal to accomplish. Cut the flooring in manageable strips using the utility knife and pull the strips up. If the glue is being difficult, use the heat gun to heat it and make it easier to scrape away. 


Alternative Approaches to Removing Vinyl or Linoleum Flooring

If you’re looking for an alternative to the manual labour described above, you can do what many homeowners choose to do: install the new floor right over top of the vinyl or linoleum flooring. In order for this to be a viable option however, the floor that is being replaced needs to be smooth in order for the new floor to sit properly. If this is the road you wish to travel, you again have two options.

The first option is to install a ¼-inch layer of plywood directly over the old floor to act as the new base. The new floor can then be installed on that layer. 

The second option involves raising the old floor by applying self-leveling concrete over top of the old floor. When dry, the concrete will be about ⅛-inch thick, and the new floor can be installed on that.   


If you’re looking to replace your old flooring, there are many ways to do so and even more available products for you to choose from. Replacing your old flooring is guaranteed to give your home a modern and stylish refresh. 

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