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. Blythe says

    Oh, yea, I remember that! We did that in our first house and our current house. We were lucky enough to have wood floors underneath, though. We pulled all the staples by hand, who would have guessed that there was a “floor scraper” available???? ahhhhh!!!

    • says

      I think a floor scraper might have hurt hardwoods, so pulling them by hand might have been the only way in your case. Hope that takes the pain away! Haha!


    • Lauren says

      We used curved vice grips (not the needle nosed kind) to pull staples out of our oak floors that had been covered in louan and vinyl, before refinishing them. Grip the staple with the vice grip, then put a putty knife under it so when you roll it back on the floor to pull the staple out, it doesn’t damage the hardwood. Took forever because there were literally thousands of them, but I think the only way to go if you are going to use the existing hardwoods.

  2. Karen Little says

    Wow, I am sure impressed with your stamina and strength over there! Looks so much fresher already! Good job “strong back people”!

  3. says

    Not sure if this will help you, but consider letting gravity do some of the work for you. You have stairs working in your favor in your (new) home.

    Tie a rope around things, let them slide down gently with one person at the bottom or mid-point to guide them if needed.

    I did this in my old place in New York at my Mom’s suggestion, and it worked wonders!

    Of course you have to be careful with dinging spots up that you would rather not be messed up.

    Good Luck!

  4. says

    Whew! So much better!! Maybe consider still posting the old carpet on Craigslist for free, even. We are currently working on raised garden beds and through our research, a lot of people have used old carpet in between the beds under mulch to ward off weeds. (News to me!)

  5. Sara V says

    I love how you guys just get right down to business! I’m excited to see what the new floors look like.

    • says

      We’re pretty well versed in painting walls with wood flooring on the ground already (that was pretty much the story of our first and current house) but we’d love to spray all that blue and mauve trim while the flooring is up, then lay the floors, and eventually paint the walls when we’re sure what colors we want to go with :)


    • dianne says

      be careful with painting too close to doing any dusty work like new flooring. the paint may seem dry, but it really takes 1-2 weeks to dry fully and that dust knows it and will glue itself to your new paint. then you either have to sand it off or live with nicely “textured” trim.

  6. Angel says

    Woo Hoo! You guys are going to be so ripped with all this pulling and carrying and up & down stairs-ing. Its like P90X.

    P.s. Did you mean “carpet pad” instead of “mattress pad”? Or am I just confused?

  7. says

    I can’t wait to see the new floors ! Seems to me that the new house has great bones already, and I guess you’ll have a lot of fun(work) decorating it !

  8. Lisa E says

    And so it begins! Excited for you! Staple removing is the worst! I never heard of that tool, that’s awesome. We did the plyer on hands and knees about four years ago. Agony. Good to know for future if needed. Can’t wait to see the new flooring. It will be beautious! ;)

    • says

      We’re working up a floor plan for you guys asap! This house is almost exactly the same square footage as our current house, but the living room and dinning room are a bit smaller/cozier and the bedrooms seem to be a little bigger.


  9. Maggie says

    The obvious question: Are you planning to tackle any of the paint prior to installing the new floors? Even just some trim or primer?? You two are such neat and precise painters, I know you typically don’t worry too much about drips and splatters, but you’d have even less worry painting a room with a bare subfloor!

    • says

      We’re pretty well versed in painting walls with wood flooring on the ground already (that was pretty much the story of our first and current house) but we’d love to spray all that blue and mauve trim while the flooring is up, then lay the floors, and eventually paint the walls when we’re sure what colors we want to go with :)


  10. Steph says

    LOL. That looks like some hardddd work. I can’t wait to see what you put down for wood. It’s gonna look sooo purdy.

    At my place they used wood on the entire first floor, the stairs up to the second floor & the hallway on the second floor, but the stairs up to the 3rd floor and all bedrooms have carpeting.

    It’s NEW carpeting (which btw was replaced by the bank because apparently the people who got foreclosed on were THAT gross that a bank actually did work) so I’m not maknig it high priority but I would love to one day make it all be pretty pretty hardwood.

    • says

      I think it might be a regional thing, but in our area tile is typically used in kitchens and bathrooms (and sometimes sunrooms) but in bedrooms hardwood or wall to wall carpet seems to be preferred. We love the warmth that wood grain brings to a room, and that it’s not as cold or hard underfoot as tile :)


    • says

      Do people actually put tile in bedrooms? I live in the Midwest, and I have NEVER seen tile anywhere but bathrooms and kitchens. Hardwoods and carpet are the only bedroom flooring I have seen. Tile sounds awful for a bedroom!

    • says

      I miss having hardwoods. We currently live in Florida and hardwoods are a no no with the heat and humidity. We will be moving back up north (Providence, RI) in the fall and hardwood floors are on our must have list.

    • says

      I’ve seen tile floors used throughout homes in beach-y areas before–I assume because the tile handles the beating it gets from sand, salt water, etc., better than hardwoods or carpets would. It’s not my favorite look, but I can definitely see the merit!

    • Hannah says

      Yep I can vouch for tile throughout the house (even bedrooms) in a beach area – it’s definitely nice to have a cooler material under your bare feet when it’s so hot outside year round! Regional differences like that are interesting :)

    • says

      We live in Singapore (think hot and humid all the time) and most of the floors are marble on concrete and it kills my Achilles. Thankfully the floors in the. Bedrooms are wood (on concrete) and I can feel how much softer they are. I hate the feel of tile underfoot.

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