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.
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 wood, but it isn't. The wood pattern is displayed on a very thin layer covering a high-density fiberboard (HDF) core, and the pattern layer wears away very easily to expose the core. 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 wood.
HDF is unlike 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 part of the locking mechanism on the tongue side of the plank and the tongue end using a utility knife. Spread carpenter's glue on the underside of the upper parts of the tongues you cut.
- Click the groove side of the plank into the tongue 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. 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.