Ripping Up Old Carpeting And Prepping For Hardwood Floors

Dude, removing wall to wall carpeting (and all the layers under it) is no joke. We learned that when we finally tackled that task this weekend – and lived to tell the tale. Let me just tell you, progress smells a lot better than old carpeting. Even when there’s a substantial amount of sweat involved…

When we bought this house we knew that the four bedrooms upstairs (along with the hallway) needed new flooring since the once-cream (now mostly tan) wall to wall carpets were stained, threadbare, and even holey in some areas.

Thankfully a few areas were so loose we could peek under them during our very first walk-through to see what we were working with. Sadly, there was no hardwood to be found under there, and we were greeted with subfloor. But we’re so glad we made that discovery before buying (we definitely factored that expense into our decision). And after we got over the sadness of not having old hardwoods under there to revive, we got excited about picking out new flooring.

We considered a whole range of things for a while (hardwoods, new wall to wall carpeting, bamboo, tile) and after a lot of thought ended right back at oak hardwoods, since it’s what we had in our first house as well as our current one (even in the bedrooms). We like that we can always toss down an area rug to cozy things up (and since those can change over time it feels a little more flexible than committing to a certain type/color of wall to wall carpet for a decade or two). Plus with a kid and a dog we have just found wood flooring to be easy to keep clean/wipe down/etc.

We also already have oak flooring on the stairs that lead to the second level as well as in the future office, dining room, and living room – so we thought finding some in the same finish and grain would be a nice seamless this-has-always-been-here choice. But before we could bring in some delicious new hardwoods to install ourselves (at least that’s the plan!) we were faced with stripping away all of the aforementioned nasty carpeting in all four bedrooms up there and the hallway… which turned out to be quite the job. Here’s how we got ‘er done.

First we used a mini crowbar to pry back the corner…

With some gentle force it popped right up and we could start to pull it out from that corner.

It definitely wasn’t delicate pulling, more like forceful yanking, but with John working on one corner and me in another we were able to free up enough of it to start rolling it towards the other side of the room (we paused to take this photo, but picture me standing next to John rolling along with him). It’s definitely one of those four-hands-are-better-than-two tasks if possible.

Oh and wear gloves! And long sleeves if you’re smart. We wised up after our forearms got raw from carrying rolls of carpeting down to the garage, where we’re storing it all until we can figure out what to do with it (it’s too gross to donate, so we might need to rent a Bagster or something to get rid of it). Update: thanks for all the info on recycling carpets, cutting them down for curbside pickup, and all the other cheaper/greener alternatives than just trashing them. You guys are geniuses!

Room by room we repeated that process (and down the hallway as well). Pry up the corner, yank yank yank, roll roll roll, and drag that baby down to the garage. In some areas there was so much carpeting that we cut it in half with a box cutter before carrying it down to lighten our load. Then we were left with this lovely blue carpet padding underneath. Which was stapled and nailed down in about a thousand places per room (sadly that’s not an exaggeration).

Just like the carpeting, it could be yanked up, but it left a ton of little staples and nails and tack strips all around the room once it was stripped from the space. These are tack strips. They run around the perimeter of a room and are thin little shim-like pieces of wood with nails poking up through them (they grab the carpet pad and carpet to hold it in place).

Sometimes you can shove a crowbar under them (this takes borderline brute strength, so your palm is red even with gloves on afterwards) and pop them up all as one piece. The hard thing is that if they’re old and brittle (check) sometimes they splinter as they go, which means instead of slamming a prybar against them to try to get each 2′ long strip up in about 30 seconds, if it splinters a ton it can take five minutes to dig out all of the nails and splintered wood that break apart but are still stuck in the floor. You can see me gracefully (and breathlessly) doing this in the video we made for you about five photos down.

I worked on all of the tack strips in the master bedroom while John did the hallway and the nursery and then I tackled the guest room while John worked on Clara’s room. It probably took us about an hour and a half to get that part done, so one person trying to do that all by themselves might be in it for 3+ hours (probably with some blisters even with gloves on).

Once the tack strips were all up we were faced with the harder part…

… these guys.

They were everywhere and the prybar was of no help since it couldn’t really get under them. At first the only way we could get them up was by hand with a needle nosed pliers. One by one. But after John did Clara’s closet that way and it took over an hour (for one closet!!!) we decided we needed to find an alternative. Thankfully a little googling turned up the idea of a nice heavy duty long-handled floor scraper (we got ours for $25 at Lowe’s) and that was a lot faster! It still took some serious strength, and we both had sore backs, but we were able to get all of the staples up in all four bedrooms and the hallway in about two hours (at the by-hand-with-a-pliers-rate we thought it might take us about two days). Warning: if you have hardwoods, you might not want to use a scraper since it could ding them up, but it’s great for subflooring.

The next day we returned to clean up, using a broom to make piles followed by the shop-vac to suck up all the staples and nails.

You can see in this video how each step of the process went (it shows how to get up those tack strips and staples a little better than still photos can):

Now we have smooth, bare subfloors that are ready for hardwood.

We never thought we’d be so glad to see pure unadulterated pressed wood in our lives!

And now our garage looks like this:

That, my friends, is what progress looks like. Turns out progress looks a lot like stinky rolled up carpeting.

But oh happy day, we’re moving in the right direction!

Any other carpet stripping going on? Are the staples your arch nemeses? Those little buggers were infuriating until we discovered The Amazing Wonder-Scraper! Seriously, my “what superhero power would you have?” answer would now be to have a paint roller on one arm and a floor scraper on another. Never know when you’ll need one…


  1. says

    Hi Sherry and John!

    I’m a volunteer committee member for the Charlottesville Design House, and I wanted to say thanks to the two of you for donating your book as a door prize. It’s really great that you guys have shown your support for such a good cause.

    I’m also previewing a few of the Design House spaces over on my blog today (, and I’m hoping that a few of your readers in the central Virginia area might see this comment and stop by Charlottesville this week to see the house! It’s closed on Tuesdays, but will be open the rest of the week until Sunday, May 19!

    -Katie at AdventuringAtHome

    • says

      Wahoo! Hope the book helps, and I can’t wait to pop over to your site to see some of the spaces! Hopefully lots of folks will turn up to check things out! Best of luck Katie!


  2. Amy says

    I did this in my old house about 10 years ago, and I broke out into hives from all of the yucky stuff that was under it. Lesson learned: wear a mask! It was so gross!!

  3. says

    Wooo! Progress! When I helped my mum do this in a small room at her house we used a screwdriver and a hammer to get the tack strips and staples up. (Big screwdriver for the strips, smaller for the staples).

  4. Jessica says

    You can cut the carpet into strips with an exacto knife before rolling it up. Makes it much easier to lug around!

    Looks so much better in there already!

    • KatieLou says

      But Please No Landfill — I am sure there is a carpet recycling place near you.

    • Carrie says

      Can you do the heated mat under wood flooring? Eventually I need to replace the very sad distressed but not supposed to be distressed wood floor in my kitchen and that would make me happy. My concrete house = wood floors is COLD in the winter!
      Also-that would be amazing in a bedroom!

    • says

      Well, since the kitchen is faux brick linoleum we’re definitely planning to do something, but I think we’re thinking about tile. Maybe even heated tile! Woo woo! Of course that’ll be down the line so we’ll have to see where we end up :)


    • says

      Oh yes…you MUST do heated floors if you choose tile! We installed a heated mat under our kitchen tile last year. It is amazzzzzzing. I was surprised at how affordable it was – and fairly easy to install. Also, we had it on almost 24-7 this past winter and didn’t notice much difference in our electric bill. (We used NuHeat brand if you were interested.)

    • says

      Oh heated tile?! We have some in our bathroom and its Ah-mazing during those cold winter days after stepping out of a steamy shower.

    • Lauren says

      Our house had faux brick linoleum in the kitchen too!!! Hardwood floors under, used vice grips on the staples (see my previous reply to an earlier post about this!)

    • Becky B says

      The kitchen in our rancher had 2 layers of linoleum… both fake brick! We replaced it last fall with tile and electric radiant heat (we went with ThermoSoft, a USA-based co. with GREAT customer service and knowledgeable staff, Our heating bill barely changed this winter but the warm tile floor makes a huge difference!

      They also make radiant heat specifically to go under hardwood floors.

  5. says

    Maybe I’m just in a weird mood right now – but I nearly peed myself when I read ”progress smells a lot better than old carpeting’

    Hahahah. Thank you. I needed that pick me up.

  6. Jess says

    wow, guys! that was a huge job! it’s amazing how much better it looks already, with just the sub-floor. i can just imagine the beauty of new hardwoods. but… won’t you miss all those lovely stains of questionable origin?? so much mystery, gone! :)

  7. Erica Rose says

    I am in awe of how positive you guys stay when facing… a million and two nails stuck in your floor! Super excited to watch your progress, and congrats on the new house!

  8. says

    Ah yes, the good old days of ripping up carpet. I hate staples with a passion. The worst part was the stairs…oh the stairs… When we ripped out our carpets we took the opportunity to paint all trim while there was no flooring down and even painted some walls. Love reading about these new adventures!

  9. Adrienne says

    Ugh. That’s quite a job. My husband and I did that in our first house, but because the house was so old, the padding was made of horse hair (no kidding!).

    Are you going to put in raw wood flooring and stain after installation, or the pre-stained and sealed, ready-to-go stuff?

    • says

      We went shopping around for different options and are going to share a post about it soon! So funny about the horse hair. Never heard of that!


    • Nat says

      My partner and I were living in my in-laws rental unit, when we brought our own house and moved out they took the opertunity to reno the unit. Horse Hair underlay was found under all of the carpets, my asthma and hayfever had been crazy bad while living there, now I know why.
      Floor boards were a requirement when we brought our own house because of my allergies.

  10. CJ says

    Congratulations on the new house! My husband and I went through this when we bought our place, we had to rip out carpeting in every room, there was mold in the padding so we were happy we found that, blah! One thing we find that really helps is to take a box-cutter and slice the carpet down in long strips and roll each one up – we use duct tape or string and tie them each up in small bundles – so much lighter to chuck down the stairs! Wish you guys the best & can’t wait to see all the new projects! CJ

  11. Katie says

    Looking good! It’s amazing to me that someone would take the time to paint all of their trim BLUE! It’s a good thing you and John renovate your home for a living. This one is going to keep you busy :) Good luck and I can’t wait to watch the progress!

  12. Jen. says

    That kind of work is in my future, once we save up for the replacement flooring.

    I can’t get over how much bigger the rooms look in the pictures after the carpet is gone. Does it feel the same in real life?

    • says

      It definitely feels more open and weirdly enough it seems sunnier (I think the smoother subfloors reflect light instead of sucking it up like carpets?). Feels like we can breathe better for sure!


    • Jen. says

      I bet the reflectiveness is it … hmm. Carpets: suck up light, spit out smells. Sounds like a winning proposition to get rid of them! :)

    • Thais Bessa says

      I was going to say that, how the rooms look way bigger and brighter. It gives me a lot of excitement, since the carpets (red or blue, which are worse to make a room look small) on our new fixer-up will be removed in about 2 weeks. Woop!

  13. Sandy says

    Good job guys! BUT … masks … you should both be wearing masks to prevent inhaling all that nasty stuff in the carpets.

    • Olivia says

      In our last house, we pulled up carpet that was even older and nastier – and we also didn’t wear masks. Gah! Seems so obvious looking back at it. Yes, I would also definitely recommend masks for anyone looking to take on this type of project.

    • Yulia says

      I agree masks are so important. I never understand why on all of those HGTV reno shows, they show people putting on protective glasses but not masks. Most times they’re shown taking sledge hammers to old drywall and breathing in all that guck.

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