Flooring Glue Removal Q&A

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Dear NH,

I own a house built in the 1940's. Someone covered the floors with black felt paper and vinyl tiles. The tiles came up easily enough, but the black paper will not. I have tried using a heat gun and scraper, but the results are very slow. Any ideas on how to speed up the process? I have a whole house to do!

VJ from Kernersville, NC


The first thing to try would be warm or hot water. Try spraying a little on a portion of the paper and see if it will absorb it. If it does absorb the water, it may still soften the paper enough to make your scraping easier. Don't dump buckets of water, work a little at a time. If it works but the going is slow, you could try a wallpaper steamer. You can rent one from most any tool rental store and some paint stores. Just don't rub it on the floor; you don't want to get any goo on it!

If water doesn't work at all, you have a few chemical options.  There are adhesive removers that are designed to take off most common flooring glues.  If this is ineffective you may have to try a paint remover. I would avoid using solvents except as a last resort, due to the toxicity and flammability inherent in them. Because of the large area involved, use a low odor, water-based remover, again testing out the product on a small area at a time. The going will be slower with this less toxic product as compared with a methylene chloride remover... but it will be healthier for you and yours.  Of course, have plenty of ventilation and also wear an appropriate respirator.

It would probably be a waste of your time with any sort of sanding.  The glue residue will quickly clog the paper.

Dear NH,

I am tearing up old linoleum and replacing with new vinyl flooring. Do I need to get ALL the old glue off the floor if I am using a thick, high quality new vinyl? If yes, what is best method??

SP from Indianapolis, IN


That is a question best answered by the company selling the vinyl. As a general rule, vinyl flooring will over time tend to show defects in the subfloor. However the "padded" vinyl's are somewhat thicker and more forgiving.

So I would suggest getting as much of the old adhesive as you can to get a fairly smooth surface. Though you can use paint remover to lift the glue, warming it with a heat gun and scraping it off is the least noxious method... just don't burn the glue by overheating it.

One thought, though... do you really need to remove the old linoleum? Generally speaking, if the old linoleum is mostly in good shape and stuck firmly, you can install new vinyl right over it. Any loose seams or small defects can be cut out and filled with a leveling plaster such as Level Best before installing the new vinyl. Again, consult with the flooring supplier for the correct adhesive for this application.

Also, some old flooring contains asbestos and is better left undisturbed if possible due to the health risks.

Dear NH,

I removed linoleum from my bathroom floor. Some of the old paper backing is still stuck to the floor. I have really used a lot of 'elbow grease' in attempting to remove it but, it's tough. Since it seems to be on there really solid and, I am replacing the old linoleum with 1/4" x 12" x 12" tile, is it really necessary to remove that stuck on paper?

LW from Mt. Vernon, WA


With large ceramic tiles it is very important that the floor be level so that the tiles don't "rock". Otherwise they may eventually crack. You can easily tell if the residue left on the floor is a problem by simply placing a few tiles here and there and seeing if they are solid.

If you are intent not to waste more time on the old floor AND the amount of rocking is very slight, use "thinset" to glue the tiles down. Thinset is a Portland cement product that dries very hard, so it will support the tiles and resist cracking on a slight "lump" better than any premixed "mastic" tile adhesive or construction adhesive.