Battling burlap underlayment on a subfloor

So getting the subfloor ready has been more of a PITA than I originally thought. That said, I can see an end in sight and the battle is turning my way thanks to experimenting with a few methods. Taking the carpet and carpet pad were both easy-peasy. I used a small pry bar, detached the rug from the sides of the wall and rolled them up. Both the rug and the pad are sitting tidy in the living room until a dumpster arrives. Below are a few videos and pictures describing my process.

For this task, I used a painter’s tool, a hammer, a few pry bars, pliers, and utility knives. For protection, I wore gloves, goggles, a respirator and knee pads. The pry bars and pliers are crucial to taking up the wood strips that keep the carpet in place and for pulling nails and staples. I used the utility knives to score the burlap mess (see below).


Below the carpet pad was burlap that glued to the subfloor. Here’s a picture of a stubborn spot. Around the spot is subfloor that was sanded.


I pulled some of it up by placing a pry bar or painter’s multi-tool under it and pulling up, but it didn’t always come up easily. In a few places very little came off. I could have left it, but the former owner had many cats and it smelled bad. I don’t want that smell lingering! So I experimented with a few methods:

  • Scraper — ok, but laborious and risks scraping the subfloor’s plywood.
  • Fein multimaster — s0-so. It could pull off the burlap, but the glue residue was resilient to it.
  • Steam cleaner — ok, but messy. I also didn’t want to soak the subfloor with steam and have a leak affect the ceiling below.
  • Festool Rotext sanders — pretty good!

I used a coarse 40-grit sand paper: Cristal, sadly recently discontinued on the triangular Rotex RO 90 sander; and Granat on the Rotex 150 sander. With putting the 150 in Rotext mode, it took the burlap off quickly. I dialed the speed back so I had better control and using the side arm attachment makes controlling it easier. Mostly I could just let the sanders do their work but applying light to medium pressure made stubborn areas disappear quickly. The RO 90 sander has both round and triangular base pads. I used the triangular pad to get into corners and along edges. Both worked great!

Below are the two sanders. Since the power cords and dust hoses are interchangeable, I could easily switch between the two sanders. The green hose is for the sanders. The gray hose is bigger and I would switch to that hose when I needed to suck up bigger pieces that the dust collection didn’t catch or nails and staples that were pulled up.


The sand paper holds up remarkable well. One disc could do 16 to 25 square feet. The abrasives in the paper are tough and the dust collection helps a disc last longer. One thing that will shorten how long a disc is useful are exposed staples or nails. Pull these up as soon as you find them and try to feel for them before starting an area.


As you can see, a staple does a job on a sanding paper disc, but the actual abrasives hold up remarkably well.


Videos describing and showing how I’m removing the burlap with the sanders:


  1. Daniel Barsky says:

    Hey John–We’ve been there….be glad it’s not the tar adhesive that was used to glue down linoleum. (Sand paper gums up instantly.) Anyway, you’ll be happy when it’s done. Here’s a thought: since you’ve just got plywood underneath, you might just put down another layer (1/4″?) and be done with it.

    Please send your new address when you get a chance.


  2. John says:

    Thanks Jared for finding the typo.

    Daniel, I could just put down another layer, but we’re considering radiant heat for the entire house. I’m looking at panels that go above the subfloor and also gypcrete. Both seem to have pros and cons. I don’t mind doing the work now since the sander does the work and it feels fairly safe since I’m wearing a good respirator and the dust collection is amazing.

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