DIY: How to Remove Old Carpet

Replacing old carpet with a new floor covering is one of the most expensive changes homeowners can make. The materials alone are costly; plus there are installation, furniture moving, old carpet removal and disposal charges. Removal charges can be as expensive as installation fees, so by removing the old carpet yourself you can easily save hundreds of dollars or more.

Professional carpet installers want to get in and out of your house as quickly as possible. They won’t necessarily be as cautious about moving your furniture and personal items. After removing the carpet, there may be sub-flooring or baseboard issues you want to correct. Whatever these issues, the installers will just lay the new carpet right over them.

Carpet installation is a tricky and labor-intensive process. While it’s advisable to get professionals to install new carpet, or even new hardwood floors, it can save a lot of money to remove the old carpet and padding yourself. Follow the tips below and you’ll be on your way to saving money and getting the finished product you want!

Start early. Moving furniture and removing old carpet takes time, so it’s important to start early enough to get the job done before the installers arrive. If you’re only replacing the carpet in one room and don’t expect any sub-floor issues, this may only require a few hours, but larger jobs could require a full day or two of preparation. The more furniture and personal items there are to move, and the more rooms you are removing carpet from, the more time you need to allow. Keep in mind that this process is similar to if you were moving to a new home. Every single item has to be removed from the room and stored somewhere else until the new carpet is in.

If you have a lot of shelving or display cabinets, start emptying these right away. Use boxes or plastic bins to help move items in bulk and make them easier to store. Remove drawers and shelving from cabinets to make the furniture pieces easier to move.

Have a plan. This is particularly important if you are replacing the carpet in multiple rooms. Figure out ahead of time where each piece of furniture will be going. Measure to make sure the furniture will fit through doorways and into the space you’re planning to store them in. It’s not uncommon for door widths to be inconsistent throughout the house. Don’t assume that if a piece fit through one doorway, it will fit through another. It will save a lot of struggle and anguish (and possible hernias) later if you map out the furniture moving before lifting a single item.

It takes two. If the carpet will only be replaced in one room and there is no large furniture, one person can do the job. However, it’s best to have two people or more to be efficient, and eliminate chance of injury when lifting sofas or entertainment centers. Enlist family members or friends to help.

Protect yourself. Carpet is held down with tack strips and staples, and the raw edges of carpet can also be sharp. It’s important to protect your hands with heavy work gloves and to wear shoes with thick soles. Removing carpet can also require a lot of kneeling, so knee pads are a good idea. Be careful when kneeling once the carpet is up, because of the exposed tacks and staples. Keep small children and pets out of the area to keep them safe.

Cut the carpet. Once all the furniture is out of the room, it’s time to pull up the old carpet. It’s easiest to pull it out and dispose of it if you cut the carpet first into manageable strips. Carpet is tough to cut through, so it’s important to have a strong blade in your utility knife. Special carpet knives are available at home improvement stores for anywhere from $3 to $15.

Start cutting along the short side of the room, about three feet from the edge. Press just hard enough to get through the backing of the carpet; you don’t want to damage the flooring underneath. Be sure to keep your legs out of the way as you cut to avoid injury. If a few strands are left as you cut, don’t worry. The backing will tear apart when you pull on it.

With two people in the room, one person can cut the carpet while the other pulls up the strips. If several rooms are being done, it works well to take turns at cutting and pulling the carpet, to cut down on any repetitive stress fatigue.

Pull up the carpet. The edges of carpet are held down by tack strips and also tucked underneath the baseboards. It’s easiest to grab the first strip of carpet by the newly cut edge to avoid sticking your fingers where the tack strips are. Grab the cut edge near the baseboard. Pull up and then towards yourself. The carpet should come up fairly easily, popping off of the tack strips and then slipping out from under the baseboards. When you’ve pulled the first strip of carpet completely off the tack strips, drag it into the center of the room and roll it up for easy carrying and removal.

Once the first carpet strip is done, removing the rest is much easier. Grab the cut ends of the next strip near the baseboard, and pull upwards. When that edge is free of the tack strips, you can start rolling the carpet along the floor until you reach the opposite edge. Pull the rolled carpet from the remaining edge along the baseboard, and remove from the room.

When removing carpet from a staircase, be aware that it is usually stapled into place. Cut the carpet into sections, removing a few stairs worth at a time. Then roll the carpet carefully with the backing side inward, keeping the sharp ends of the staples inside the roll. Watch for loose staples if you rest your hands or knees anywhere on the stairs.

Remove the padding. Under most carpet you’ll find a layer of padding, usually stapled into place. A carpet knife can be used to cut the padding, but scissors can also be used. Scissors will keep the blade away from the floor underneath and prevent damage. Follow the same pattern of cutting, pulling, and removing the padding. In most cases the padding will pull free easily, leaving the staples embedded in the flooring.

Leave the tack strips in place. Check with your carpet installers, but in most cases the tack strips can be reused. You can use a pry bar to remove any damaged pieces, and the installers will replace them with new ones.

Remove the staples. Carpet installers generally lay the carpet over anything. Homeowners with recently built homes will likely find plaster, dirt, paint, loose screws and nails underneath the padding. In our home there was even a stray razor blade under the carpet. If you’ve ever walked on a mysteriously sharp or bumpy part of your carpet but found nothing on the surface, this is the reason why. Removing the old carpet yourself allows you to get rid of these hazards and annoyances.

Removing the staples from the subfloor is fairly easy, but it does take time. A screwdriver and pair of pliers are all the tools you need. Use the screwdriver to pry the staple out of the flooring. If part of the staple remains embedded in the floor, use the pliers to pull it the rest of the way out. It’s a good idea to have a trash can nearby, to deposit the staples in as you remove them. If a staple is particularly deep and difficult to remove, it may be best to leave it in place. The goal is to have the smoothest surface possible for the new carpet.

Clean up. Using a dustpan and broom, or a sturdy Shop Vac, clean up all the loose debris from the subflooring. Do not use a home vacuum; any staples, nails, or wood chips could cause damage to it.

Prepare subfloor. This is the perfect time to repair any damage to the subfloor. If any pieces are warped or water-damaged, they can be replaced. Any surface stains to the subfloor can be painted over with a primer/sealer, to protect the floor and seal in any odors. Baseboards can be repainted easily, with no concerns about getting paint on the carpet. Some touch-ups might be necessary after the carpet installation, but it is preferable to trying to paint along the new carpet edge.

Now the rooms are ready for the new carpet to be laid. With a little time and energy, homeowners can save a lot of money, and have the peace of mind that the subfloor is in perfect shape for that brand new carpet. The more attention to detail you have, the better and more long-lasting the finished product will be!

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