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

    What progress! So fun to see you guys start from the beginning! … although ive been a fan since the day you built your 1st office desk.

  2. Amber Michael says

    Oh, definitely cut the carpet into strips before trying to man handle it out of the house! haha. :)

  3. Jessica Yost says

    I have done this before and it is back breaking! Good work, guys! Can’t wait to see what hardwood you pick. :)

    Oh, and I couldn’t help but notice that you called the carpet pad a mattress pad in the paragraph where you explain the tack strip. Thought you’d want to know. ;)

    • says

      Hahah! So funny about that slip because as I was doing it I thought “this is just like one of those cheap and thin mattress pads made of foam” – haha!


  4. Lea says

    Feeling your pain!!! I just pulled the carpet, padding, tack strip and scraped the staples in the bedroom and living room of a rental we own. Breakfast the next morning consisted of three Advil and a cup of coffee. Tack strip will eat you alive if you’re not careful, but the worst part of the entire job was finding all the dirt that had worked its way through the carpet fibers and under the padding. Gross!!! Made me want to go home and tear out every square inch of carpet in my house. I might have done it except I couldn’t feel my arms anymore! Can’t wait to see your new floors!

  5. DemMom says

    These pictures are giving me deja vu! Our last house (in the West End of Richmond) had that colonial williamsburg blue trim when we bought it. We even had bumps in the carpet in the master bedroom! Luckily we had wood floors underneath, but I bet someone is still pulling staples out of those steps.

  6. says

    Oh man, I spent a few hours with a pliers last night ripping upholstery off a chair, so I hear ya with those darn staples! Glad you found an easier solution. I just battled through and my arms are feeling it this morning! :)

    • 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 :)


  7. Jessica says

    When we bought our house, this was our very first DIY project together! We closed on Thursday and were having new carpet installed on Friday and HAD to be out of our rental by Friday night. So, we moved all of our stuff into our garage on Thursday and got up at 8 am Friday to pull carpet in time for Lowe’s to arrive at 10 am. We did three bedrooms and the basement in those 2 hours, but we didn’t need to remove tack strips and staples since we were getting new carpet. Still, removing the carpet is a very happy memory since it was done the first morning in our first house! : )

    • says

      Ditto here! I’m flashing back to about three years ago as I’m reading through this post. =) We were delighted to find old hardwoods under the nasty carpet in our apartment (and now our landlord can hike up the rent on the next tenant!). It was quite a process though, especially since it was a Petersik-style “learn as you go” project.

  8. Gina says

    Oh man, this gave me PTSD flashbacks. I did this in my house 5 years ago, and yes, the staples and tack strips were terrible, but even worse was finding out that underneath my gross berber wall-to-wall carpet, the carpet pad had been glued somehow to the hardwood floor (only in 1 of the bedrooms), leaving black spots of adhesive ALL OVER MY FLOOR. A friend advised that even refinishing wouldn’t work because the adhesive would damage the sanding pads. Imagine a bedroom floor full of dried gum. I bought a decent room-size remnant for $99 and have been living with it until I can afford/dedicate the time to scrap it all off and refinish. Good luck!

    • says

      We had the same thing in the hallway of our old house where I think someone had at one point put old school linoleum tiles over the hardwood floors (?!). It left raised block splotches that looked like tar. I was able to scrape off the residue in a lot of places and used goo gone where I couldn’t. When we had our floors refinished you couldn’t even tell all those spots had been there!

    • Marcy says

      We had the carpet pad glued down in random areas all over the house but the same scraper that’s used to remove the staples was able to get most of the adhesive up. Then you could follow up with some goo-gone and maybe you’d get it off enough to be able to refinish?

    • Susan says

      The custodians where I work use something called goof off to remove sticky residues. They sell it at Home Depot in industrial strength. You might try that.

  9. Lisa says

    Woohoo for new house progress! Looking better already! Question- When we renovated our contractor waited until the walls/ceiling were painted before putting in the new floors to make sure that no paint got on the new floors. Will you paint before you put the floors down?…or maybe you are a little neater/more careful than our contractors! I guess I could just wait to see what tomorrow’s post holds! :)

    • says

      We’re pretty well versed in painting 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 :)


    • Tara says

      I was just thinking that if you were going to spray the trim this would be the perfect time to do it.

  10. Patty says

    I saw that you said you did the nursery while John worked in Clara’s room. Are you guys going to go ahead and have a nursery ready for a potential second baby? Or will Clara have a nursery and a big girl room?

    Sorry…not trying to be nosy! I just saw that and thought I’d ask what the plans were! :)

    • says

      That room (the potential future nursery) will just be a spare room and then if we’re blessed someday with a little baby to put in there, we’ll pull it together during my pregnancy like we did with Clara :)


    • Patty says

      That makes sense! :) Like I said, I wasn’t trying to be nosy and pry. I read your post about everyone always asking about a future pregnancy, and I didn’t want to come off that way at all. :) Congratulations on the new home. I can’t wait to see all of the updates you guys make!

  11. GabbyC says

    Oh my goodness, that brings back memories! Kudos for getting that all done so fast. The place looks way better already. I’m getting excited to move in!!

  12. Courtney Madden says

    We’re tackling that project in a few weeks – removing all the carpet in our four upstairs bedrooms and hallway! We already removed the carpeting in our licing room/family room. I found that using the back of a hammer to pull up the staples works wonders – the hammer acts as a fulcrum and they pop right out. But for our whole upstairs, we may give in and get the tool you guys used!

    • says

      So smart! Ours were too close to the floor to get the back of the hammer under them (picture them almost flush with the floor, so it was hard to get anything under them).


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