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Home Improvement: How To REMOVE Hardwood Floors

 We recently moved into a new home and have been busy re-vamping, tearing down, and re-constructing this/that in our new home.  It’s been fun……but a complete learning process.  If you’d like to see other Home Improvement Projects that we’ve been figuring out (from the help of friends, family, and the ol’ internet), be sure to check them out.



We decided after moving into our home, that the floors on the main level needed some love.  There was a mixture of hardwood and old carpet (about half and half).  The old carpet really had to go (do you ever imagine who/what has been on old matted carpet?? it’s not a good place for your brain to go…) and the hardwood had us stumped.  We considered keeping it and sanding/re-staining or just adding more wood and staining it a color that closely matched the already existing wood.  But, we ultimately wanted a completely different plank of wood.  So, it seemed crazy to put money into re-staining the old wood or trying to match it……when we didn’t really like it.  So, we decided to tear it out.


Steve and I chatted with 2 of our brother’s……..and gathered some tips and advice. And then learned a few things along the way that we are GLAD we figured out!



Time savers (and muscle savers) are priceless tips. ;)



SO here you go…


***Even if you’re not installing your own hardwood floors, doing the demo will definitely save you some cash.  Just ask your installers what it will save you. (But we installed our own floors and a ‘How-To’ on that will be shared soon.)***



First off all, there are several ways to remove a hardwood floor but we chose the QUICKEST option.  However, if your wood is in good condition, consider selling or donating.  You may have to pick through to salvage the good pieces of wood if some of yours is rotten (like ours was in some places) but there are people who are in the market to purchase old hardwood floor pieces.  Even if it’s cut into pieces like ours was.  (But some may want the full pieces.)  Also, if we would have had more time, we were thinking of posting an ad, stating that we had old hardwood floors that would be free with removal.  Then, the interested person could come and remove it as carefully as they wanted to……and then we wouldn’t have had to do a thing.  But I guess, you also have to be careful who you allow into your home for many days while they remove it.  So, yeah.  Pros and cons to weigh here.


But we chose the quickest route possible.  And have a pile of salvaged wood pieces, ready to be donated.



Okay, so the fastest way to remove old hardwood floors is to cut the boards into smaller sections.  This is helpful because hardwood planks are all different lengths and make it really tough to remove quickly.  So cutting them into smaller pieces of wood, makes it easier to pry up.  So, using a Circular Saw (ours was a worm drive…..and it gave it some ooommph), cut lines into your hardwood, perpendicular to the direction the wood is laying.  And cut each section about 1-2 feet wide.





IMPORTANT:  Be sure your saw blade is set to the thickness of your hardwood floors, so that you’re not cutting through your sub-floor.  Our hardwood was 5/8 inch thick….so that’s how far the blade fell beneath the base of the saw.


Then start sawing away (and get ready for a TON of dust).




Now, it’s time to start prying the wood up.


We used a 2 inch Pry Bar and a Mallet.  We purchased a Dead Blow Mallet, which has sand inside of the head.  Each time you strike something, the sand propels forward in the head, giving you some extra force.  Great tool……and we totally noticed a difference.  (So, a great investment!)




We used both tools and started prying up all that old wood.




And yes, it seems daunting but progress is pretty quick with these tools.  (It’s the clean up that takes more time.)




Now…… are 2 MUST HAVE tools that we used for removing the metal.  And we would NEVER remove hardwood floors without them.   Do you realize how many nails and staples are used to install hardwood floors?  About a trillion. :)




So, for removing staples…….the Nail Claw was faster. And those little suckers popped right up using the claw.  Just insert under the staple and rock back.  The staples will pop right up.





However, if you have a broken staple (that snapped in the middle and no longer has a place to hook the nail claw), we used the Curved Vice Grips.  Just pinch, rock, and they pull right out.  These Vice Grips also work well for nails.  We originally just used these Vice Grips for everything……..but because you have to squeeze to close and then release, they just take a little more time.  You know, like a half second per staple.  But hey…..that adds up.  That’s why we also purchased the Nail Claw (above) and loved that for ripping out all staples.




Now……..after all nails and staples are removed, you’re going to have piles of debris.  Something that we figured out while working, is that a large magnet would save us some grief.




Just glide across the floor, gathering up everything metal……




……and dispose.



And then the rest of the small wood pieces and saw dust can be sucked up with a Shop Vac.  (because most shop vacs won’t suck up metal and you don’t want those pieces to clog or cut up your vacuum anyway.)


Then repeat, repeat, and repeat some more.

. . . . .



In case you need an idea……we tore up about 700 square feet of hardwood and we probably spent about 10-12 hours tearing it all up.  We would tackle it in the evenings after the kids were in bed, and would work for 2 hours or so.  It really wasn’t so bad and was pretty satisfying as we worked.  Demo work is actually pretty fun.  And besides, you’re getting a good work out without even trying. ;)


Oh wait, wait, wait………a few last minute MUST HAVE ITEMS:


**I would NEVER tear up hardwood without the above pictured items.  You’re on your hands and knees for HOURS, so those knee pads were a life saver.  And yes, your hands will get torn up without gloves… don’t even consider working without them.  And there’s all sorts of dust and pieces of wood flying around……so those glasses will save you. :)



And that’s it.


I hope that was helpful.  And a little encouraging.  Because even if you’re not laying your own hardwood floors, doing the demo will definitely save you some cash.


(But if you ARE laying your own hardwood floor, I have a whole post on how we installed ours.  Almost done.)


Best of luck!





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Ashley Johnston
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Ashley Johnston

Owner at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with the craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!
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  1. deck builders richmond va says:

    All of the questions on my mind were answered. Thank you very much!

  2. Tex Hooper says:

    It sounds like a lot of heavy equipment is needed to redo hardwood floors. I need to get new floors put into the living room. Our old ones are too stained and rough.

  3. Matt says:

    Love the new hardwood floors in your pictures. Do you mind me asking what kind of new flooring you used? Thank you!

  4. panasonic vacuum says:

    Hey verry nice blog!

  5. Richard_Reclaimer says:

    There is a far faster, far easier way to remove hardwood flooring that allows one to recover nearly 90% of the floorboards in perfectly re-installable condition with no need to remove nails or staples from either the substrate or the recovered floorboards It is a shame that the beautiful wood from the floor was destroyed and promoted in the article as “the easiest, fastest way”
    Basically, one cuts down the middle lengthwise of the first or second row near the wall the tongues are facing. If the ends on the side walls are trapped under molding or sometimes they are ratty and nailed down from the top, one can also cut across boards for the length of the side walls to facilitate removal with no splitting or damage to the rest of the board’s length (ends are typically cut anyway, so you are not losing end tongues or grooves, generally..
    Now use wrecking bars and or claw hammers to take out the next course or two. Just try to get them out using those tools and you’ll see how darn near impossible it is to do so without damaging the boards – but it is only these first couple of rows that need to be done like this.
    Once you have the space, use a 4-1/2″ or larger die grinder with a thin metal cutting wheel and working your way down the length of each course, one course at a time, observe where each nail or staple penetrates in the top of the tongue and undercut the board between the floorboard and the substrate deep enough to nip the nails or the staple prongs. Once the whole row is done, and it doesn’t take long, pull the boards forward and they pop out, completely intact without any cracking or splitting – at all.
    Once you get the hang of it, you can get it down to where you are leaving a thin semicircular cut into the bottom of the board simultaneously with a matching dig into the substrate floor and no protruding nail or staple ends under the board or on the floor. As you progress on the next row, it is easy enough to grind down or nip off any short protruding spikes because you undercut slightly higher on the boards during the previous course. These “divots” have no impact on the structure or stability of either the substrate or the floorboards because their span is only a couple of inches.
    I removed the flooring from a 10×15 room in 3 hours using this method, brought the boards home and ran them through a planer to skim the original finish off. With nipping cut ends for a nice square edge and cutting out damaged sections from boards from the first few rows, I recovered 132 square feet of perfect boards (in terms of tongues and grooves being 100% intact) and with the faces as beautiful as new and only slightly thinner than new (in fact thicker than if someone sanded the finish off in place due to the precise control of the planer.
    These boards are bundled and in my attic until I need them for an upcoming project and when I do go to install them, all I have to do is avoid nailing in the spots where nail heads are already imbedded from the original installation. One does need to make darn sure they are securely imbedded and that the ends on the bottom are shaved down so as not be protruding before running the boards through the planer, but this is the fastest, best and most responsible way to remove a hardwood floor.

    1. noire says:

      Are you located anywhere near Denver Colorado…. I am not nearly this handy, but would
      Love to find someone or a business that can do this as I would like to pull out a 5 inch rustic cherry floor from one part of my home potentially put it somewhere else if it is cost effective. The floor is only 15 years old.

    2. steve says:

      25 years in hardwood flooring here. Wood stored in an attic will not be stable enough to use on a floor anymore do to extreme dry out from the heat. The wood will be brittle and unstable. The wood also cannot be stored on concrete “directly” due to the fact concrete emits moisture. I’ve handled wood that has been stored in an attic ,the splinters are no fun. I will only use wood stored that way to make small repairs on and existing matching floor and the wood has to be acclimated per nofma’s guidelines to the area I’m using it in .

  6. Whitney4THD says:

    Hi Ashely! We love this tutorial on removing hardwoods! We’re pinning it to our Flooring, Carpet & Rugs board. Thanks for the tips! – Whitney, Senior Editor @ Home Depot

  7. Tony and Lisa says:

    My husband and I are getting ready to remove and install our floors (approx. 1400 sq. ft.). This info is the best I’ve seen yet. Thank you for your post! Question: What is the best online solid wood flooring store?

  8. zeba says:

    Hi, I am a mom of 4 amazing boys .we are about to purchase a 1962 house. It is very beautiful but needs tons of Reno’s. I lived ur pic. Of tearing down the floors. Pls. Post how u installed it. Ur minute details r great. We live in Ontario.pls. post soon.

  9. Josh says:

    Its a very nice topic and good information shared by you. Thanks a lot for sharing this with us.

  10. Jamie says:

    We’re about to start our reno on our newly purchased 1966 house……….needless to say it needs a LOT of TLC!!! lol I love your tips….keep em coming!!

    -TX DIY Mom

  11. Maureen M. says:

    Impressive! I did paint three old brass light fixtures (the timing on your previous tutorial was PERFECT) and I am about to use your wall painting tips in another room, but as for hardwood…ours is good :)

  12. amanda says:

    We took out the old carpeting that was on top of our wood floors. In most places they used staples and nails to hold down the flooring. In my office they used glue to stick the carpet to the floor. BLACK glue. Unattractive, and I couldn’t get it all off. We will sand and reseal the floors eventually, but for now I got a big area rug that covers the worst of the stains.

    Also, we used my husband’s leatherman to pull up the broken staples and the headless nails. I think your pliers would be more comfortable, though!

  13. Deanna says:

    Do you have a store that sells recycled construction products in your area? That would be a great home for the wood if you don’t use it for art. We have a few here Seattle, and they are a great source of recycled home improvement and art supplies like old hardwood flooring.

  14. Ashley B says:

    Please, please, please share your post on installing your new floor soon. My husband just tore up our super outdated ceramic tile in our kitchen and we should be receiving the hard wood by the end of this week. My hubs is a pretty handy guy and I have full confidence he can do this but any tips from someone who has just done it is always so helpful.

  15. Amber says:

    Those little pieces of wood would be great sanded and painted and made into an art piece or doing a whole wall with those planks going different directions. Endless possibilities! Now I think I may have to go check out the Habitat store for some hardwood!

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh, great idea! I may have to think about that before getting rid of my pile. :)

  16. birdy boots says:

    We did this same thing this winter — I thought I would never see the end of all of those staples and nails holding down the yucky old carpet and worn hardwood floors! And the knee pads are a must! ;)

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh gosh, they do seem to go on forever……but something about it is very satisfying! :)

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Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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