9 Steps to Restore Hardwood Floors From Under Old Carpet

Before unpacking a single box in our house, most of the carpet had to go. My husband, Eric, is allergic to things like dust, trees and 50-year-old mustard colored carpet.

While most of the house was a mid-century modern time capsule that we fell in love with at first sight, there were just a few ‘70s and ‘80s add-ons whose days were numbered.

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Goodbye, Carpet

The carpet was nearly wall-to-wall on both levels of the house, including some that had found its way into the main bathroom. (Why was bathroom carpet ever a thing?) Eric and I gleefully pulled it up and piled it in the breezeway, the first step in restoring the house to its former 1960s glory.

We knew there were hardwoods buried under carpet in the main three bedrooms and hall, but we didn’t know what condition they would be in. It turns out they were beautiful rich oak in near perfect condition.

When the previous owner’s son and daughter stopped by a few weeks later to bring us some old photos and blueprints of the house, they told us their dad had put the carpets in immediately. After painstakingly cutting, sanding and polishing this wood floor, he then covered it up with carpet.

What?! Sounds crazy to me, but I gave him a pass because when he did this it was the late ‘60s, and with the ‘70s around the corner I guess he knew carpet was the next big thing (even bathroom carpet). It worked out for Eric and me because the floor was pristine when we uncovered it nearly 50 years later.

And by pristine, of course I mean partially caked in dried out carpet padding and brimming with staples. But other than that, pristine. Just waiting for some love.

Hardwood floor after removing carpet

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Restoring Our Hardwoods

We got to work cleaning up the floor. This involved ripping out staples, prying up carpet tack strips and scraping off the carpet padding where it was stuck to the floor. This was work of the neck and back breaking variety. Thankfully we had help from Eric’s brother, Andy.

Removing carpet padding from stairs

Eric and Andy worked inch-by-inch, hunched over to remove what seemed like an unreasonably excessive number of staples. This was our first indication that the previous owner and builder of the home was very meticulous—a great feature in the quality of his workmanship, but not so fun when you’re tasked with removing hundreds of carpet staples. He sure didn’t want the carpet going anywhere.

Once we got the staples out we swept and mopped, and then we restored the floor with Rejuvenate. If you have big nail holes in your hardwoods, you might need to fill them in with some wood putty, but in our case the Rejuvenate filled in the tiny staple holes just fine. These hardwoods were hiding under carpet for nearly 50 years. We found a few sneaky staples after the fact, but you get the idea.

Removing staples from hardwood floors
Eric removes sneaky staples.

And Good Riddance, Stained Glass Light

Along with the carpet, this stained glass light was quickly escorted from the premises. Eric disconnected and removed it before anyone had a chance for a vertical faceplant. Nothing against brown and nothing against glass, but I don’t want to see them together in this particular house. Maybe over a round of pancakes and bacon at a diner? Just not here, not today. Sorry, light.

Brown stained glass light
Offending stained glass light

We also took down the valance and drapes you can see behind the light. Technically they were era appropriate, but they were dominating the whole south wall of windows and blocking the view. With a handy electric drill, they were gone. Here’s the result of tearing old carpet, drapes and stained glass out of the house. Day one of home ownership complete.

Pile of carpet, padding and drapes

How to Remove Carpet and Restore Hardwoods:

  1. Remove baseboards with a small pry bar (carefully if you want to keep them, or recklessly if you’re getting rid of them and want to have a little fun).
  2. Pull up the carpet and carpet padding with gusto and toss it all out the door, cutting it into pieces as needed to remove it without scratching the floor.
  3. Pry up the carpet tack strips (the wood strips along the edges that the carpet was nailed to).
  4. Use a staple remover and/or pry bar to remove the staples…so many staples.
  5. Use a plastic putty knife to gently remove any old padding stuck to the floor.
  6. Sweep up the excess mess.
  7. Give the floor a thorough Pine-Sol mopping.
  8. Shine up the floor with Rejuvenate and a microfiber cloth or mop.
  9. Use a nail gun to reattach the baseboards.

Restoring Hardwood Floors

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2 thoughts on “9 Steps to Restore Hardwood Floors From Under Old Carpet”

  1. And your floors all look beautiful/awesome!! It is just unbelievable all the things you guys have done to make this a wonderful “back to mid-century” looking home! Reading this really brought back lots of memories of jobs completed since you moved in..Great job guys!!

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