How to Fix Vinyl Plank Floor Buckling and Bulging

It’s a terrible feeling. You notice your vinyl plank floor has started to buckle or bulge! While luxury vinyl plank and SPC Vinyl plank is unlikely to buckle — particularly if installed correctly — it is definitely possible with other types.

In this guide, you’ll learn all about vinyl plank flooring buckling and bulging and how to fix it:

fix vinyl plank floor buckling
  • The main causes to look out for
  • Your best options for fixing it
  • Tips for preventing it

How to Fix Vinyl Plank Floor Buckling and Bulging

You have two options for repairing your floor depending on what the issue is and how extensive the damage is:

1. Reinstalling the entire floor

If the damage is just too extensive and requires a complete re-install, that is outside of the scope of this article. But to summarize you’ll need to start over: identify and fix the underlying issue that caused this in the first place, remove all of the planks, level and repair the subfloor, install a moisture barrier, and reinstall the vinyl plank flooring properly.

2. Replace individual planks

This can be a tricky proposal if you are replacing interlocked planks being. Tools needed include a utility knife, pliers, and a rubber mallet. Remove the damaged plank, clean the area, apply new adhesive (if it’s glued down), and reinstall the plank(s).

So let’s get to it:

  • Step 1: Assess the extent and cause of the damage

Before starting, inspect the buckled section to determine the cause of the problem (e.g., moisture, improper installation, temperature fluctuations, sun damage). Determine whether individual planks or the entire floor needs replacing based on the damage’s extent and cause.

  • Step 2: Gather the necessary tools and materials for the repair, which may include:
    • Replacement vinyl planks (that match your existing flooring)
    • Utility knife or vinyl plank cutter
    • Pry bar or flat-head screwdriver
    • Rubber mallet
    • Tapping block
    • High-quality adhesive (for glue-down floors)
    • Protective gloves
  • Step 3: Remove the basebords, trim, and damaged planks

Carefully remove the baseboards or trim around the affected area to access the buckled planks. Using a pry bar or flat-head screwdriver, gently lift the edge of the damaged plank.

Be careful not to damage adjacent planks. If the floor is a click-lock or floating installation, you may need to remove additional planks to reach the damaged section.

  • Step 4: Inspect the subfloor

Check the subfloor for any moisture, unevenness, or adhesive issues that may have caused the buckling. Address any problems before proceeding. For example, if moisture is the cause, use a dehumidifier or fan to dry the area.

If the subfloor is uneven, level the surface using a sanding machine or grinder or apply a self-leveling compound. Then, add underlayment before moving on to the next steps.

  • Step 5: Cut the replacement planks

Measure and cut the replacement vinyl plank to match the dimensions of the removed plank. Ensure the pattern and direction of the new plank align with the existing floor.

If you’re using a utility knife, score the plank multiple times before snapping it along the scored line. Alternatively, use a vinyl plank cutter for a clean cut.

  • Step 6: Apply adhesive (for glue-down floors)

For glue-down floors, apply a high-quality adhesive to the back of the replacement plank following the manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure you cover the entire surface for a secure bond.

  • Step 7: Install the new plank(s)

Place the replacement plank into the empty space, ensuring the tongue-and-groove or click-lock edges align with the surrounding planks.

For click-lock planks, use a tapping block and rubber mallet to gently tap the edges and secure the connection.

For glue-down planks, press the plank firmly into place, ensuring proper adhesion.

  • Step 8: Reinstall surrounding planks (if necessary)

If you removed additional planks to access the damaged area, reinstall them by following the same installation method as in Step 7.

  • Step 9: Replace the baseboards or trim

Reattach the baseboards or trim using a nail gun or hammer and nails, making sure they’re securely in place.

  • Step 10: Allow time for any adhesive to set (for glue-down floors)

For glue-down floors, follow the adhesive manufacturer’s recommended curing time before walking on or placing furniture on the repaired area.

  • Step 11: Clean and maintain the repaired area

Clean up any debris or adhesive residue and maintain the area by regularly cleaning and protecting it from moisture and temperature fluctuations.

6 Main Causes of Vinyl Plank Buckling and Bulging

6 main causes of vinyl plank buckling and bulging
  1. Moisture: Water damage, humidity, and inadequate moisture barriers can contribute to buckling. Vinyl plank flooring absorbs moisture, causing swelling and lifting from the floor. To fix this, find the water source, replace damaged flooring, and add a moisture-resistant underlayment.
  2. Bad installation: Lack of expansion gap, unlevel subfloors, and inadequate acclimation periods can lead to buckling. (Read more: Does Vinyl Flooring Need to Acclimate? For How Long?) Ensure proper installation by allowing the flooring to acclimate, providing an expansion gap, and leveling the subfloor.
  3. Temperature changes: Direct sunlight exposure and improper use of heating appliances cause vinyl plank flooring to contract and expand, leading to buckling. Manage temperature fluctuations using window treatments and maintaining appropriate indoor temperatures.
  4. Low-quality adhesive: Using low-quality adhesive when installing glue-down vinyl plank flooring can result in buckling. Ensure long-lasting results by selecting a high-quality adhesive.
  5. Uneven subfloor: Installing vinyl on uneven floors such as tiling can shorten the floor’s lifespan. Opt for laminate sheets or tile as better alternatives for uneven surfaces.
  6. Bright sun (and UV): Sunlight can cause vinyl flooring to expand with heat and shrink when not exposed to heat, leading to quick buckling. Install blackout curtains or apply a glass tint or UV film to your window to decrease the effects of sunlight on your flooring.

Will Buckled Vinyl Floors Go Back Down?

Unfortunately, buckled vinyl floors typically don’t revert to their original state. Replacing either a portion of the affected area or the entire floor is often necessary.

Preventing Vinyl Plank Floor Buckling

So how can you avoid this issue in the first place? You’ll notice a common theme to all of this – wetness, temperature, level subfloor, and spacing!

1. Proper installation

Prevent buckling by allowing an acclimation period, providing an expansion gap, and preparing the subfloor so that it is completely dry and level.

2. Moisture management

Use moisture barriers and perform regular maintenance to minimize moisture-related issues. The subfloor should be dry when installing the floor.

3. Temperature control

Maintain an appropriate indoor temperature and use window treatments to block direct sunlight.

6 Tips for Preventing Vinyl Plank Floor Buckling

Rolling the floor after installation

If you’re installing glue-down vinyl flooring, roll a 100-pound roller uniformly across the entire floor to prevent buckling. This ensures proper adhesion and decreases the risk of buckling.

Use furniture movers and felt pads

When moving heavy items over vinyl flooring, lift it to avoid damage. While you’re att it, place felt pads under heavy objects to protect your floor from scratches and dents. Check out How to Protect Vinyl Plank Flooring from Heavy Furniture

Moisture control in high-humidity areas

In humid environments, vinyl flooring may puff up and break the glue bond at the base. Install waterproof vinyl plank flooring in damp or humid areas like bathrooms and kitchens to reduce moisture absorption.

Clean up spills quickly

Clean up spills right away to prevent water from weakening the adhesive in vinyl plank flooring, which can cause buckling. Make sure the floor is totally dry.

Regular vacuuming or sweeping

Remove dirt from the vinyl floor by vacuuming or sweeping regularly to prevent the buildup of debris that could contribute to buckling.

Vapor barrier installation

Install a vapor barrier under the floor during installation. This is especially important in areas prone to dampness or high humidity.

Picture of Tom Powell

Tom Powell

Over the last 7 years, I’ve done a bit of everything when it comes to maintaining and repairing my 110-year-old house. Installed vinyl plank and vinyl peel and stick flooring, resurfaced and stained wooden porch, leveled and installed tiling on a concrete floor, resurfaced our kitchen cabinets… It never ends, but it feels great when you finish a project yourself and end up with a beautiful new (or repaired) floor.

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Picture of Tom Powell

Tom Powell

Over the last 7 years, I’ve done a bit of everything when it comes to maintaining and repairing my 110-year-old house. Installed vinyl plank and vinyl peel and stick flooring, resurfaced and stained wooden porch, leveled and installed tiling on a concrete floor, resurfaced our kitchen cabinets… It never ends, but it feels great when you finish a project yourself and end up with a beautiful new (or repaired) floor.

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