Home Remodeling Floor Removing: Self-Stick Vinyl Tile Removal

Self-stick vinyl tiles got you stuck? Learn how to remove sticky vinyl tile and adhesive. Step-by-step how-to guide with tool list for removing self-stick vinyl.

Self-stick vinyl tile, often called "sticky tiles" are a wonderful, economical and easy solution to covering floors, but what do you do when you want to remove them? This is where things can really get sticky!! If you were the person who laid the original self-stick vinyl you'll know what material your dealing with, however, if you have moved into an existing home you may not know what type of vinyl tile you are encountering. So, you will want to take those extra safety precautions when gathering your tools and include a face mask or respirator as tiles made before the mid-1970's can contain asbestos and release harmful fumes as you are removing them.

What tools will I need to remove self-stick vinyl tile?

Depending on how you approach the vinyl tile removal, the following is a list of tools you might find useful as you work (and it will take a good deal of elbow grease and dedicated work) to remove your floor tiles. Some suggested items to have on hand are:

- Contractor grade garbage bags for disposal

- Floor scraper tool or putty knife

- Old washcloths and/or towels

- Heat gun or iron

- Vinyl Floor and Adhesive Remover

- Face Mask or Respirator

- Knee Pads

- Gloves

- Sponge with scouring pad

- Hammer

- Chisel

Where do I start with self-stick vinyl tile removal?

It doesn't matter if you start at the center or the edge of a room, but you will want to focus on the seams. The only way to remove self-stick tiles is to pry them loose from the existing subfloor. This is most often done with a floor scraper, a tool that resembles a common garden hoe but is on a straight handle with no curve. You can purchase a floor scraper in just about any home improvement store and they can run anywhere from $14 to $40 depending on the strength of the composition. You are best off with the most durable scraper you can find, and one with a sharp edge.

The process of using a floor scraper is simple, you pry up the tile and slide the edge under it. Then you scrape, and scrape, and scrape, eventually using the edge as a sort of shovel to get under the tile and remove it. If you're floor hasn't been down long, this could be a relatively hassle free process. However, more than likely you are looking at a long, time consuming process with adhesive that has hardened over time and will be difficult to remove. This is why gloves are necessary.

What if I can't get the tiles up with a floor scraper?

You can try loosening the tiles in one of two ways. The first and most effective method is to use a heat gun, holding it over the tile to help soften it for a few minutes and then going back at it with the floor scraper. If you don't have access to a heat gun you can lay an old wet washcloth on top of the self-stick tile and place a warm iron over it. This will help soften the vinyl and loosen the adhesive underneath. Again, you have to then pry it up with the floor scraper, or a putty knife if you have small sections that are being stubborn rather than a whole floor tile.

What about all that sticky adhesive and hard chunks underneath that don't come up?

The nice thing about self-stick tiles is you don't have to deal with applying adhesive, but unfortunately you do have to deal with adhesives when you go to remove them. The adhesive may be sticky or it can be hard depending on how long the tiles have been on the floor. If you have a few patches of sticky adhesive, you can use a putty knife to scrape them up. However, if you encounter larger sections of hardened adhesive, your only option is to try to soften them and save the sub floor so that you don't end up replacing it. This is when you may want those kneepads.

How do I soften the adhesive?

Again, there are a couple of ways. You can use the heat gun and iron methods above, but apply them to the adhesive patches that couldn't be scraped up. In this case, it's best not to lay an iron directly onto a washcloth. You want to skip the washcloth all together and just use the iron as a source of heat above the stiff adhesive. If you happen to touch the iron to the adhesive, you will most likely have a bigger mess than you started and will need to use adhesive remover on your tool instead of your floor. Be sure never to use an adhesive remover and a heating tool at the same time, as many adhesive removers are flammable.

If heating the adhesive to make it more pliable and scrapable isn't working, your other option is to purchase a commercial vinyl tile and flooring adhesive remover. If you have to resort to this, you will definitely want to make sure you are working in a well ventilated area and use a face mask or respirator while applying the remover and scraping it. Follow manufacturer directions for applying adhesive removers. Once again, you will need to scrape larger areas of adhesive once the remover has sat and softened it, or use an old cloth or a sponge with a rough scouring pad side to wipe up smaller areas.

What if I still can't get the adhesive off?

If softening the adhesive hasn't worked effectively and you still have hard sections of adhesive, you may need to resort to a hammer and a chisel. It is easiest to work with small sections at a time, and even though it seems time consuming, the slow, careful attention to smaller areas will get your job done more efficiently.

If it's so much work, why don't I just leave the vinyl self-stick tiles and put new floor over them?

While some flooring treatments can be applied over vinyl tile, you would still need to use what's called a skim coat over the tiles to fill in any cracks in most cases. Whenever you go over an existing flooring you also have more considerations such as a change in the height of the floor which could result in having to trim doors or use transition strips where you wouldn't have otherwise needed them. There is also the concern of what will happen if the vinyl underneath starts having problems years down the road and causes problems with the structural integrity of the new floor. It's always best when installing new flooring, to remove the old flooring first. While removal of vinyl self-stick tiles can be labor intensive and time consuming, you will be glad that you took the time to make sure your new floor treatment is the best it can be.

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