If you spill something on your laminate floor and the liquid seeps below the wear layer into the core, the core can swell. The affected planks push against the adjacent ones, causing the seams to rise. When a laminate floor is bubbling at the seams in this way, your only repair option is to replace the affected planks. That's the bad news.
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The good news is that you don't have to rip up the entire floor to make the repair. You can use one of two standard procedures for replacing damaged planks when a laminate floor is buckling. Disassembling part of the floor is an option, and in some cases, it's the best one, but you can also replace individual planks by cutting them out and gluing in new ones.
You Can't Use Wood Floor Bubble Repair Techniques
Laminate flooring may look like natural wood, but it isn't. The wood pattern is merely a very thin photographic layer covering a high-density fiberboard (HDF) core. The "photo layer" or "pattern layer" is coated with a hard clear protective coating, but if the coating gets scratched or otherwise damaged, moisture can reach the core of fiberboard, which swells when exposed to moisture. This means you can't sand out the defects as you would if the floor were hardwood and the hardwood floor were bubbling, nor can you scrape the edges or do anything else you'd do to solid wood.
HDF is unlike real wood in another respect. Whereas wood expands and contracts with changing moisture conditions, HDF only expands. If you apply heat to a buckled laminate floor in the hopes that it will flatten, you're wasting your time. That technique, by the way, seldom works for wood floors either because when wood warps, the warp is usually permanent.
How to Cut a Plank Out of a Laminate Floor
If a spill causes a laminate plank to bubble up, here's how to replace it:
- Set a circular saw to cut just deeper than a laminate plank, or about 1/2 inch.
- Make two straight cuts down the center of the damaged plank about 2 inches apart. Stop cutting just before you get to the end of the plank and finish the cuts with a hammer and chisel. Be careful to leave the adjacent planks untouched.
- Cut a single line across the 2-inch strip so you can break the strip apart and pull out the pieces. The space allows you to back the two halves of the plank toward the center so you can remove them.
- Get a replacement plank that matches the floor and prepare it by cutting off the lower lip of the locking groove along the grooved side and end of the plank, and cut off the tongue from the other end. You leave the long tongue edge intact. Spread carpenter's glue on the underside of the remaining glue lips and along the tongue.
- Slip the tongue side of the plank into the groove of the adjacent plank and lower the plank into the floor. Put a weight on it to hold it down until the glue sets.
Disassembly May Be the Better Option
Disassembling a laminate floor isn't the same as ripping it up. The planks aren't attached to the subfloor, and it's usually easy to unsnap them, although you probably wouldn't want to disassemble an entire floor this way. However, if the damage is near the wall, you only have to disassemble a few planks to get to the damaged one so you can replace it.
Whenever laminate flooring feels bouncy, you should suspect water damage and replace the planks that have the most give (as well as any damaged subflooring). Avoid walking on a bouncy floor because you can break the locking mechanisms of the planks that aren't damaged. If you do that, you might end up having to rip up the floor after all.