Laminate flooring is designed to look like hardwood, but that is the only characteristic it shares. Unlike hardwood floors, laminate flooring can't be refinished. When laminate flooring wears out or gets damaged by impacts, heavy traffic, water or pet urine, you can't sand out the defects, and the flooring usually has to be replaced.
Fortunately, laminate boards usually aren't physically attached to the subfloor. They float freely and rely on the baseboards to hold them down, which makes them fairly easy to remove. The basic strategy is to pry off the baseboards and then systematically disassemble the flooring, prying up the outside edge of each board with a pry bar or a chisel so you can grip and remove it.
The process may not be quite so straightforward if you're removing a very old floor. In the early days of laminate flooring, when the snap-and-click design hadn't been perfected, installers frequently glued the boards together. Glued boards are difficult to separate, even with a pry bar, but a few strategic cuts with a circular saw usually makes the job of removing them easier.
Do You Really Need to Remove It?
While you can't sand laminate flooring without ruining it, that doesn't mean you can't restore a worn laminate floor. It's possible to do a screen and recoat with some of the better-quality laminates. This means to run a floor buffer with a 120- or 150-grit sanding screen over the floor to scuff up the finish, then to vacuum and tack away the dust and apply fresh stain and finish. This process will work if the laminate veneer is 1/16 inch or thicker, but it isn't recommended for low-quality floors with a thinner veneer.
Even if you decide the old laminate flooring is too worn out or fragile to restore, you might not have to remove it. You can lay a new laminate floor or carpeting directly over an old laminate floor, provided the new floor covering doesn't raise the overall height of the floor by an unacceptable amount. Besides avoiding the work of removing the floor, you may save on underlayment with this approach.
How to Remove a Laminate Flooring
You can remove a laminate floor with furniture in the room, but the job is obviously easier if you remove all the furniture. Get a good pair of knee pads, because you'll be spending the bulk of your time on all-fours.
Things You'll Need
Step 1: Pry Off the Baseboards
The baseboards are holding down the flooring material, so they have to go. Pry them carefully if you plan to reuse them. The best way to preserve baseboards while removing them is to tap a chisel or pry bar behind each nail, wedge it against the wall and pry the board out.
Once the baseboard has lifted away from the wall about an inch, tap it back with a hammer, and the nail will usually protrude enough to grab it with pliers and pull it out. Number the boards as you remove them so you can put each one back in the same place.
Step 2: Remove Transition Strips
Pry up the transition strips in doorways and in other places where the floor switches from laminate to another material. The strips are snapped into a U-channel which is usually screwed to the floor. Remove all the U-channels as well as the transition strips.
Step 3: Start on the Tongue-Side of the Floor
Like solid hardwood floor boards, laminate planks have a tongue and a groove. The boards are easier to pry from the tongue side than the groove side. You can see the tongues in the 1/4-inch expansion gap you uncovered when you removed the baseboards. It's best to start the removal process on this side of the floor.
Step 4: Take Out Each Laminate Plank Individually
Work the pry bay or a chisel under the free edge of one of the flooring planks and lift it high enough to allow you to grip the edge with your fingers or with pliers. Wiggle and pull the board to disengage it, then lift and pull off all the boards in a single row. Repeat with the next row, and continue until you have removed the entire floor.
Step 5: Rip Out the Underlayment
Remove the foam underlayment or underpadding after all the flooring is gone if you plan to install anything other than new laminate flooring. If the padding is fastened down, remove the staples holding the underlayment by wedging a flat-head screwdriver under each one and prying it up. As long as you don't plan on painting the subfloor, you can also simply pound the staples down with a hammer.
Removing Glued Laminate Flooring
If the laminate planks have been glued together, you won't be able to pull them apart. This type of flooring isn't reusable, so you don't have to be delicate about removing it. An easy way to get it all out quickly is to make a series of wall-to-wall cuts with a circular saw, creating strips that you can pry out. After making these cuts, you can make a series of cuts in the perpendicular direction to create small squares that are even easier to remove. Set the depth of the blade to about 3/4 inch to ensure it doesn't cut deep grooves in the subfloor.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.