How To's - How to Remove Hardwood Flooring

How to Remove Hardwood Flooring

Demolition and removal of an old hardwood floor is simple, but to keep it from becoming back- and knee-breaking labor, you need a process.


The first step of the process involves identifying how much you will remove. Are you removing the entire floor or only a section of it? Next, you need to determine if you will save or dispose of the wood. If the wood is in good condition, you may be able to repurpose or donate it. What you plan to do with the flooring will determine how you go about removing the hardwood. Finally, you will need to assemble the tools and set aside plenty of time for the task.


Here you will find instructions on how to remove hardwood flooring, whether you plan to dispose of it or keep it.


Tools Needed


You will need two types of equipment to remove hardwood flooring: the tools to pull it up and the protective gear you’ll need to wear during the process. The gear is vitally important as the process will expose you to nails, staples, broken wood and a lot of dust. Here is the breakdown of tools and equipment you will need.



• Masks
• Protective goggles
• Thick work gloves
• Construction knee-pads
• Work boots, ideally
• Tarps and tape (painter’s tape works fine)



• Circular saw
• Reciprocating saw (optional, but really handy)
• Prybar
• Mallet
• Hammer
• Nail claw
• Chisel
• Vice grips
• Large magnet (optional, but recommended)
• Broom and shovel/dust bin


A couple notes on the tools:

- In place of a nail claw, the claw of a hammer can work just as well, though the nail claw might be better along edges or other narrow spaces you might encounter.

- A mallet is gentler on the prybar than a hammer, but a hammer can work too.

- The reciprocating saw is not a must, but it can be used in tough-to-reach places better than a circular saw. However, it should be used with extra caution as its “play” can make it difficult to control the depth and straightness of a cut.

How to Remove Hardwood Flooring if You’re Not Keeping the Hardwood

To get started, if you will keep any of the floor, mark on the floor with tape where you will stop. Why not draw a line on the floor? It could get lost in the dust. Next, tape up plastic over doors and opening to keep dust (as best you can) out of other rooms in the house.


Now, let’s remove that hardwood flooring.


Step 1. Cut the boards into manageable sections.


You will use your circular saw for this step. (The reciprocating saw might be handy here depending on the room, but again, it is not essential.) Cuts will be made perpendicular to the direction of the wood planks.


If you have tape on the floor to show what area will remain, make the first cut there. Set your circular saw to the depth of the hardwood flooring. If it’s 3/4”, set your saw depth to 3/4”. This will prevent you from cutting through the subfloor.


Make the cuts every 12-24”. Shorter boards may come up easier, but you’ll be prying up a lot of them.


Step 2. Pry up the boards.


It’s typically best to start in the middle at one end of the floor. Grab your prybar and mallet. Get the prybar underneath a section of the floor. Pull back and the board should come free.


For best results, pry the wood planks in the direction they run. This should reduce breaking and splintering. If for some reason they don’t come free easily, grab the chisel, and tap it under the board to create space, then get the prybar in place.


Step 3. Dispose as you go.


Do your best to keep the area clean. Keep trash bags or bins around and toss the wood and other refuse in as you work. This will reduce the chance of getting splinters or stuck with an old nail or staple.


Step 4. Pull nails and staples.


Get your hammer, nail claw and vice grips. Go through the room removing any remaining nails and staples. If you keep a small bucket next to you, it gives you a place to put the nails and staples as you pull them and will save you a little time with clean up.


If you come across any nails or staples that simply won’t come free, you can take the hammer and pound them flat into the subfloor.


Step 5. Clean up.


Sweep up as much as you can and dispose of the debris. If you have a large magnet, you can use it to help pick up any staples and nails that remain—otherwise, use your hands or a shop vac.

How to Remove Hardwood Flooring if You’re Keeping the Hardwood

Ok, so you’re going to keep the hardwood. This will require time, care and patience to keep the wood in good shape along the way. Here’s how to do it.


Step 1. Saw one board along the length.


You will sacrifice one board to gain access to the length of all the other boards. Choose one board somewhere in the middle. (You may need to lose more than one board to get access for removal of other boards.)


Set the circular saw to the depth of the wood (and no greater, to avoid damaging your subfloor) and make the cut lengthwise. If you have thin planks and cutting doesn’t make sense, you may need to sacrifice a couple of boards and start at Step 2.


Step 2. Pry each board slowly.


With the prybar, carefully remove each board individually. To avoid bending or splitting the boards, pry slowly at the location of each nail. Position the prybar beneath the wood at one end of the board and gently lift. Stop if you hear anything that sounds like strain or cracking!


Once you get it raised, move down the board 6-8” and lift to create space. When you get to the next nail, again pry gently. Continue all along the board until you have freed it.


Repeat this process for each piece of wood. The process will go much faster if you have a helper.


Step 3. Remove nails and staples.


With all the boards removed, it’s time to remove the nails and staples. Use the vice grips, nail claw and hammer to pull out staples and nails left in the floor. Then, carefully remove staples and nails from the wood. Some nails may need to be hammered free; do this only if absolutely necessary.


Keep a trash bin or bucket nearby to collect the staples and nails.


Step 4. Sweep and clean the area.


Sweep the area thoroughly. Then grab the magnet, if you’re using one, and go through the room collecting any remaining nails and staples. Sweep again, and use a shop vac to collect any remaining dust.


Step 5. Clean and store the hardwood.


A damp cloth is all that’s needed to clean the wood. Wipe down each piece. Store in a cool, dry location until you will reuse or recycle it.

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