Relatively safe if used carefully, dry ice can shatter those old glue bonds and make impossible vinyl, asphalt and linoleum tile removal into a DIY possibility.
The previous owner of our house, unfortunately, tried to "renovate" and "improve" the recently refinished and refurbished original clear-vertical-grain fir floors by sticking self-adhesive vinyl tiles to them to create "area rugs" of faux parquet and faux marble. After scraping, heating, and using a variety of solvents, I hit upon this far easier and relatively non-toxic method: dry ice.
Step 1: Gather Materials
30 lbs. dry ice (see safety instructions below)
waxed or parchment paper
hand towel or rags
small flexible putty knife
Step 2: Arrange Ice on Floor
Open a few doors and windows. Consider turning the fan on. While the CO2 gas from the evaporating dry ice isn't poisonous, it is heavier than air and not usefully breathable. Small children and cats, being closer to the ground, can suffocate if the CO2 is allowed to accumulate.
Tear off a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper large enough to cover a tile and overhang an inch or two on each side.
While wearing insulated gloves, arrange the chunks of dry ice on top of the paper to cover the offending tile. Cover the ice with a towel or two to insulate it.
Wait 2-3 minutes. Read a book, like I did. Often, you can hear an audible "pop" when the tile comes loose.
Step 3. Start Stripping
Use the piece of paper, pulling on the edge, to reposition the dry ice to the next, more offensive, tile. Use the scraper or putty knife to lift the previous tile. Often, you can just lift the tile up with your fingertips. Put the tile in a bag or box. If left on the floor, it will soon re-adhere itself.
Step 4: Repeat Until the Floor is Clean
If you aren't bored enough, attack what little adhesive remains after a tile removal with the putty knife, while it is still cold. You should be able to accomplish the job without too much extra muscle.
(Reprinted with permission from the author, who is a carpenter by trade.)
**Important: Notes on Dry Ice Safety
Dry ice, while not "toxic," can do you harm if you mishandle it. Here's everything you need to know from dryiceinfo.com:
Dry Ice temperature is extremely cold at -109.3°F or -78.5°C. Always handle Dry Ice with care and wear protective cloth or leather gloves whenever touching it. An oven mitt or towel will work. If touched briefly it is harmless, but prolonged contact with the skin will freeze cells and cause injury similar to a burn.
Store Dry Ice in an insulated container. The thicker the insulation, the slower it will sublimate. Do not store Dry Ice in a completely airtight container. The sublimation of Dry Ice to Carbon Dioxide gas will cause any airtight container to expand or possibly explode. Keep proper air ventilation wherever Dry Ice is stored. Do not store Dry Ice in unventilated rooms, cellars, autos or boat holds. The sublimated Carbon Dioxide gas will sink to low areas and replace oxygenated air. This could cause suffocation if breathed exclusively. Do not store Dry Ice in a refrigerator freezer. The extremely cold temperature will cause your thermostat to turn off the freezer. It will keep everything frozen in the freezer but it will be used up at a faster rate. It is the perfect thing if your refrigerator breaks down in an emergency. There are also Commercial Storage Containers available.
Normal air is 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen and only 0.035% Carbon Dioxide. If the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air rises above 0.5%, carbon dioxide can become dangerous. Smaller concentrations can cause quicker breathing and headaches but is otherwise not harmful. If Dry Ice has been in a closed auto, van, room, or walk-in, for more than 10 minutes, open doors and allow adequate ventilation before entering. Leave area containing Dry Ice if you start to pant and breathe quickly, develop a headache or your fingernails or lips start to turn blue. This is the sign that you have breathed in too much CO2 and not enough oxygen. Dry Ice CO2 is heavier than air and will accumulate in low spaces. Do not enter closed storage areas that have or have had stored Dry Ice before airing out completely.
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Learn more at CreativeSafetySupply.com, a website on efficiency and safety in the industrial workspace.
PICK-UP TIME AND TRANSPORTING
Plan to pick up the Dry Ice as close to the time it is needed as possible. It sublimates at 10%, or 5 to 10 pounds every 24 hours, whichever is greater. Carry it in a well-insulated container such as an ice chest. If it is transported inside a car or van for more than 15 minutes make sure there is fresh air. After 15 minutes with Dry Ice only in its paper bag in the passenger seat next to me, I started to breathe faster and faster as though I were running a race. I couldn't figure out why I was so out of breath until I saw the car air system was set in the re-circulated position, not fresh outside air.
Treat Dry Ice burns the same as a regular heat burns. See a doctor if the skin blisters or comes off. Otherwise if only red it will heal in time as any other burn. Apply antibiotic ointment to prevent infection and bandage only if the burned skin area needs to be protected.
MSDS Here is a Material Safety Data Sheet available on line:
Do not leave Dry Ice on a tiled or solid surface countertop as the extreme cold could crack it.
Unwrap and leave it at room temperature in a well-ventilated area. It will sublimate from a solid to a gas.