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. Laura says

    Just a tidbit on carpet disposal! We tore up all of our gnarly carpet when we moved in as well. We discovered that if you cut the rolls up into smaller pieces, the trash guys would pick it up as part of their normal route. So we incrementally did that over the course of a couple weeks and saved us the cost of renting a bagster or paying a dump fee. Good luck!

  2. taria says

    love you new house. what a wonderful home you wcan make of it. when we’ve had carpet removed they always cut it into about 4′ strips and remove. short easier to manage rolls to dispose of. If I remember right they just use razor knives.

  3. Monica says

    Hi John and Sherry:

    Great work on pulling up the carpet. My husband had to go through the agony of pulling up ours when we moved into our 1st house last spring (I was 9 mos preggo at the time so he had to go through that one without me!) Anyway, had we known about the scraper, I wonder if it would have saved him some time from all those staples. Though under our carpet we had hardwood floors that we refinished — do you happen to know if the floor scraper is safe to use on hardwood flooring?

    Can’t wait to see what you guys do next!

  4. Jeanna says

    So glad you started cutting up that rug and rolling it up in sections……….it makes it all so much easier!! Like a lot of women I don’t have a ton of upper body strength, and trying to lug an entire room of rolled up rug out of the house was exhausting when we did it. The tip about the floor scraper was right on!

  5. says

    When we moved into our new home last year EVERY ROOM (including bathroom -ew!) was covered in 30 year old dirty carpet. Also, the previous owner was a heavy smoker so not only was everything dirty but the carpets were actually sticky from all the tar. Luckily we have amazing friends who helped remove carpeting, tack strips and 1000’s of staples for the price of pizza and beer :). But staples are the devil! Even weeks after we thought we got them all we were still finding them!

  6. Lena says

    This brought back som bad memories. I’ve done this twice in different houses. I swore after doing it the 2nd time to never have carpet installed again due to all the stuff that collects in them. I think my eyes and head were all itchy and stuffed for more than a week afterwards.

    I should have learned after the first time, but it was a money thing then.

    Good thing with removing the carpet now is you can go through and find any “squeeky” subfloor areas and fix before putting new flooring down too.

  7. says

    Holy cow! That must have been a serious work out. I have delt with removing old tack strips and it is NOT fun. Good for you guys for doing all of this on your own- that is quite an accomplishment!

  8. HeatherM says

    What a smart move to put in new flooring BEFORE you move in! I wish we had the time and money to do that before we moved in to our house. We did however build our own custom closet organizers- especially for the master bedroom. We put in spots for his shirts, his pants, his sweaters, a few drawers for each, my shirts, my pants, shelving for my sweaters, drawers for my nursing scrubs, a tall area for my dresses, laundry baskets, and shelving above for bedding and such. I have to say that is one of the smartest moves we did, because it would have been a MUCH bigger ordeal to pull all of our clothes and stuff out after the closets were already filled. And three years later I still get a thrill looking at the always-organized closet. Do you have any plans to work on closets before you move in? Could you do a mini Listy-McListerson to show what you plan to do before you move in? It would be nice to see how you prioritize things. Happy moving!

    • says

      Oh yes, we’re hoping to get a whole list going and share it soon! We’re not sure how much we’ll do before we move and how much will be after (any project could take longer, so we’re trying to just be flexible and go with the flow)


  9. says

    Oh, that picture of Clara just steals the post. Adorable! Well done on that hard labor! Can’t wait to see the flooring. Are you trying to get it all installed before you move in three weeks? That’s floor power!

  10. Betty says

    Last year we pulled up the faux brick linoleum only to find particle board that had been put down over the previous floor. The particle board was pried up and off but the staples remained behind. I used a combination of needle nose pliers and a strong screwdriver. I hope you won’t face this in your kitchen!

  11. Carla says

    It looks great! I LOVE hardwoods. We are blessed to have them in our kitchen area in our ranch house. But I wonder about them on a second floor because of the noise factor. At my parents’ house, when on the lower level, you can hear every little noise above you where tile is installed upstairs… and none where carpet is installed upstairs. Just a little something to think about if you are sensitive to footstep noises like I am! :)

    Also, someone else might have mentioned it already, but I think you use “mattress pad” where you intended “carpet pad” (where Sherry is prying up tack strip). :)

    Have a great day… and congratulations on your new home.

  12. says

    We are in the process of getting estimates for hardwood floors in our upstairs. We debated the idea of coldness of hardwood in bedrooms, but in the end, I love the way that it looks . . . and I need a material that is impenetrable to puke. (3 kids did a number on our carpeting upstairs over the past 5 years). It definitely is an investment (a costly one at that) but I’m excited for the change:) Can’t wait to see what else you have planned!!

  13. SaraHS says

    Congrats on getting rid of the gross carpet. FYI, you might want to double check before laying hardwood over particle board subfloor. We were encouraged to replace our particle board subfloor or cover it with 1/4″ plywood to provide a more stable base layer for the hardwood — it may not matter depending on how you install the hardwood.

  14. Audrey says

    Hi John and Sherry,
    First off, CONGRATULATIONS on the new house and on selling your current house. :-)!!!
    We recently had to pull up carpeting in the upstairs bedrooms of the house we just moved into. Pulling up those staples SUCKED and there was lots of pokes from the tack strips. But I was lucky enough to have hardwood under the ugly carpet. Yayyy

    I called up my town’s sanitation department and they told me that if I cut the carpet up into 5 feet at the longest when rolled up ,I could just put it out with the regular trash on bulk pickup day. So we made sure each roll wasn’t taller than 5ft when we stood it up after rolling them up and out them out on the curb and sure enough the town took it all away :-)Saved me some money on having to hire someone to haul it away. Your town may do the same thing.

    Again, congrats! I can’t wait to see Clara’s new big girl room.