How to Remove Old Linoleum Floors

At the Pearl House the entire second floor was covered in a not so beautiful linoleum sheet floor. When we did a little more investigating, we found that there were wood plank floors beneath the linoleum, so we decided to try to uncover all of it. It was risky since usually when things are covered in old houses it means they are trying to hide something! In this case, it seems they were just covering the subfloor in something with a little spunk! A herringbone linoleum floor.

These old floors are usually stuck on with a really nasty glue. In my case because I wasn’t sure what exactly the material was, I made sure to get a piece of it tested for asbestos before breaking into the project. I used this testing company. When the sample came back negative we got started!

Tools used
Floor Stripper Rental – 1 day
6″ Steel Floor Scraper with 52in Handle
Wonderbar Pry Bar
1 Gal Pump Sprayer

Step 1: Remove the Linoleum

Most likely if you’re here reading this your linoleum is stuck to the floor with a black glue paper (tar paper?). There were some spots that were looser we could easily wedge a crowbar under and pry up large sheets, but more often then not it was easier to use a machine. It was tedious and frankly straining on our backs. We used the crowbar to get stubborn edges to lift and used the rented Floor Stripper from Home Depot for the bulk of the job.

The Floor Stripper we rented is extremely heavy. Michael and I both needed to lift it to get it up the stairs without really damaging anything on the way up. It’s meant to apply pressure at the blade and peel up beneath the surface of the material. We made a great team with Michael pushing the Floor Stripper around and sweeping up the majority of the linoleum while I clean up edges, removed the quarter rounds, and helped pry up any edges the Floor Stripper couldn’t get beneath.

Floor Stripper method.

Pry bar method.

Total time for this piece of the project was about 8 hours including: transit time, rest time, and clean up. We rented the Floor Stripper at 12:00 on Saturday and spent about 6 hours that day at the house. Since we forgot an extension cord we only could reach a couple feet into the front room. We managed to peel up all the linoleum from the other three rooms with the exception of a few square feet of very stubborn bits in the middle room.

The next day we came back with an extension cord for a couple hours to get the final room. By that time we had learned a lot from the day before and had a really great process down. We returned the rental at 12:00 pm on Sunday.

Throughout the project we were constantly cleaning up after ourselves. One tip for when you’re trash bagging this stuff: get two long strips of flooring and place them in in an “X” position inside the bottom of your trash bag first to make a sort of “basket” within the bag. They will keep your trash bag open for you and provide a protective edge for any sharp bits of linoleum from piercing the bag.

By the time you are all done your floor should then look something like this:

Step 2: Remove the Tar Paper

I read all sorts of how-to’s to remove this stuff, watched plenty of YouTube videos and honestly the options were pretty limited. I could rent a floor buffer with a special attachment, use a wallpaper steamer to heat up a couple square feet at a time and painstakingly scrape each section, use a chemical cleaner, or use a heat gun.

I wanted the least amount of effort and least amount of money option I found. Turns out my brother discovered a very low effort solution by accident. While he renovated his floors in him home one night he left a wet towel on the floor overnight. The next day he picked up the towel and the gunk melted off the floor with ZERO EFFORT.

So, I did a little experiment and left a small wet towel on the floor for a full 24 hours and came back the next day. And it WORKED. It scraped off insanely easily and very cleanly.

Test patch for the wet towel method.

I knew we couldn’t just put wet towels on the whole floor and leave it there overnight, so I tailored the findings to be more practical. The key here is just moisture. You need to soak the black paper through to the glue layer for it to slide off like it did in the experiment.

We purchased 1 gallon water pumps from Home Depot and evenly soaked the floors. We probably sprayed the floors 5 times through to make sure they stayed soaking wet. We even left and had lunch only to return to amazingly easy to remove floors! If you got it wet and its not coming off, soak it some more and wait. Wait at least an hour after its been soaking and I promise it will come off.

Once you scrape the paper off, there will be a glue residue leftover. While it’s still wet, take a damp rag and wipe this layer off. This is the messy part. You will need a bucket of water and a rag or a mop. Since I didn’t have a mop, I used a rag. Clean that gunk off and whallah! You will finally see your wood floors underneath.

Use a floor scraper to lift the paper.
Notice the light color of all the glue.
My bucket set up. I also carried around a little grocery bag for all the black paper bits.
During cleaning phase
After the full removal

In all the paper removal piece of the project took one day to finish. We started around 9am, had a casual lunch, and was finished around 5. This is for about 600 square feet. If I were to do it again, I would have more trust in the process and more patience! We did exert unnesseccary effort at the beginning because we were eager to make progress. If we had just let the magic water do it’s thing, we could have just dragged the scraper across the floor and called it a day!

I’m really happy with how its shaping up and I can envision what these floors will look like buffed, sanded, and sealed! It will probably cost me around the same as slapping a vinyl tile floor over the top, but will have a definite impact in the end.

Stay tuned for the next phase where we get them buffed and sealed (and the trim and walls will look a lot better too)!! Thanks for reading! Let me know if you try this method and how it works out for you.

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Hi! I’m Kristy Pedersen. I’m renovating houses in Philadelphia and sharing the process one step at a time. Follow along for DIY tutorials and home renovation projects.

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