Many vinyl flooring adhesives are water-soluble.

How to Remove Sheet Vinyl Flooring Without Damaging Fir Floor Below

by Chris Deziel

If you live in an older house, there's a good chance that the old vinyl flooring in the den or parlor is hiding a treasure. Someone may have covered a vintage fir floor, and if you can get the vinyl off without damaging the wood, refinishing will give you an elegant antique floor. You shouldn't simply scrape off the vinyl if you want to preserve the wood, however, because fir is soft and easily damaged by the scraper. Heat may soften the glue and loosen the bond. Conversely, extreme cold will make the flooring brittle and easy to break.

Remove all the baseboards with a pry bar. De-nail them with a claw hammer, number them to make them easier to replace and set them aside.

Lift a corner of the flooring to see which way the floorboards run. Cut the vinyl into strips that run in the same direction as the boards, using a utility knife. Keep the knife handle at a shallow angle with respect to the floor so that the blade penetrates the vinyl but not the wood underneath. The strips should be about 6 to 10 inches apart.

Point a heat gun at the end of one of the strips and keep it there for about 10 seconds. Grip the end of the flooring with your finger and pull. If the heat softened the adhesive, the flooring should come up. If so, continue heating and pulling along that strip until you reach the other end.

Make the flooring brittle with dry ice if heat doesn't soften the adhesive. Cut the ice in 12- by 12-inch pieces and, handling it with gloves, set one piece on the end of one of the strips. Remove it after a minute and pull on the end of the flooring. It should just break off the floor. Continue along the strip to the other end, then remove all the other strips in the same way.

Pour boiling water on a section of the floor after you've taken up the vinyl and try scraping the glue with a scraper. If the glue is water-soluble, you should be able to remove it without much effort. If the glue doesn't dissolve, you may be able to remove it with paint stripper.

Use a stripper that contains methylene chloride. Paint it onto a section of the floor with a natural bristle brush. Wait for at least 10 minutes before you scrape it off with a paint scraper.

Wash the floor with clean water to neutralize the stripper. Let the floor dry before you sand it.

Items you will need

  • Pry bar
  • Claw hammer
  • Utility knife
  • Heat gun
  • Dry ice
  • Paint stripper
  • Natural-bristle paintbrush


  • It doesn't matter if you leave a small amount of glue on the floor. It will come off when you sand.
  • Keep dry ice in an ice chest or in your freezer.


  • If your flooring is old, the backing may contain asbestos. If testing a small piece reveals asbestos, you must follow a rigorous procedure to remove it and are probably better off calling a licensed contractor to do the job.

About the Author

Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/ Images