What is the easiest way to remove a
linoleum or sheet vinyl floor?
Important Note from NH regarding Asbestos: Prior to 1980, many household flooring adhesives, flooring products and other household items contained asbestos. Asbestos under some circumstances can cause disease if the dust is inhaled in sufficient quantities over long periods of time. There is little evidence that short exposures lead to disease, though research is ongoing and probably will be forever! It is common sense that you should minimize your exposure to any dusts by using proper dust masks or respirators as needed.
Even though it is difficult to get asbestos-related diseases, the risk was great enough that most asbestos use was stopped or severely limited decades ago. Nevertheless, all homeowners and contractors should exercise caution when sanding, breaking or tearing products that may contain asbestos. Asbestos can only be conclusively ruled out with laboratory testing and any home built prior to 1980 should be assumed to have some asbestos in the construction. Again, unless the asbestos is made to become airborne, it poses no danger according to the experts.
There are special procedures for removing asbestos-containing flooring materials to minimize or eliminate dusts. These include isolating rooms with sheeting, using moisture to keep the asbestos in a "slurry" and special vacuums. Mechanical removal is discouraged because of the dust. Also, most localities have regulations regarding whether or no a homeowner can remove asbestos themselves or must hire a licensed contractor. Needless to say, these costs can be astronomical.
What? You're tired of scrubbing dirt from that old floor? Looks just as bad when you're done as it did when you started? First, be sure you really need to remove it! If the old floor is smooth and firmly attached, you may be able to put new ceramic tile, Pergo, or vinyl floor over the old... though it may mean adding a 1/4" layer of plywood underlayment.
If the additional floor height is not a problem for you aesthetically, don't bother to strip. However, if you can't afford the height, or just want the old floor out at all costs, read on. All flooring manufacturers have recommendations concerning installation of their products, and you should know them before doing any preparation work!
How "easy" removal will be depends on how the floor was originally installed. Sheet flooring is installed two different ways.. full bonded or perimeter bonded. Full bonded means that the entire subfloor was coated with adhesive before the floor was laid. Perimeter bonded means that only the edges of the floor and seams are glued down... the rest of the floor floats over the subfloor.
The first step is to get a sharp utility knife and cut the floor into manageable strips, from 6 to 12" wide usually works well. Use a flat 3 to 5" putty knife to start lifting the floor, and then tear the rest off, strip by strip by strip by strip. You may have to use the putty knife underneath the flooring if it is particularly stubborn.
Now... the hard part!
Once the tough outer skin on the flooring is removed, you will be left with a softer backing and adhesive. Use a stiff scraper such as a wall scraper to remove it. This will take some time, but think of the reward that awaits you if you do this job right!
If you find that the adhesive is impossible to remove mechanically you can use a chemical stripper. These products contain methylene chloride, which is the same active chemical used in many paint strippers. Caution should be taken to provide adequate ventilation, and to be safe all instructions should be carefully followed! There are more environmentally (and physically) safe paint strippers available that should work on most adhesives but they will take much longer to do the job!
That's right... years of scrubbing dirt from a new floor! Enjoy!