(Reader photo/Washington Post illustration)
4 min

Q: Our vinyl flooring has developed two widening cracks. Is there a way to fix this to correct the appearance and to prevent further widening, which could become a tripping hazard?

A: Yes, you should be able to nudge the planks together to close the gaps. Vinyl planks, like a lot of other flooring these days, are usually installed as a floating floor. The plank edges interlock, so the flooring acts as a single unit that “floats” over the subfloor but is not attached to it.

All building materials, vinyl flooring included, expand and contract as temperatures change. To allow for that movement without causing the planks to buckle as they expand or slip apart as they shrink, installers are supposed to leave an expansion gap around the perimeter of the room. (The size of the gap should be what’s recommended by the manufacturer.) Baseboards, quarter-round molding or cabinets cover the gaps — but it’s critical to fasten these to the wall, not the floor, so the gap remains unencumbered.

One downside to the floating-floor concept is that gaps do sometimes open between planks, as you’ve experienced. Sometimes a gap is easy to close, sometimes it’s trickier and sometimes it’s impossible, because something, such as a cabinet, was screwed through the flooring and into the subfloor. In most cases, though, you can close the gap by pushing the piece that is closest to a wall toward the center of the room, which will put the expansion gap back at the perimeter of the room, where it belongs.

Begin by cleaning the crack, so no debris keeps it from closing. Vacuum it, then go over it with something sharp, such as a toothpick or knife blade, to loosen any stuck gunk. Vacuum again.

If you’re lucky, you might be able to kick the errant plank into place. Put on shoes with grip. With your back toward the wall that is closest to the gap, stand with one foot on an adjoining plank and kick forward on the plank that needs to move. Sometimes that’s all it takes to tighten the gap. If the plank isn’t the one next to the wall, the next gap might open up. Repeat until you’re at the wall.

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If that doesn’t work, or if your shoes skid over the vinyl when you kick, get a piece of rubberlike rug pad, such as the nonslip hard-surface rug pad ($6.34 for a 2-by-3-foot piece at Home Depot). Also get a short, thick piece of wood, such as a 12-inch length of two-by-four, and a rubber mallet. Place the pad on the plank you want to move, top that with the wood, then brace the wood with your feet and hit the end of it with the mallet until the gap closes.

And if that doesn’t work? Instead of using the carpet pad, try a Floor Gap Fixer ($51.99 on Amazon), a bar roughly two inches wide and 10 inches long with a sticky side. The manufacturer says it grips even to textured vinyl and is reusable and cleanable. Or you can use double-stick carpet tape with a wooden block. (Trazon carpet tape, which claims to leave no residue, is $9.97 for a 12-yard roll that’s two inches wide on Amazon.) You probably won’t be able to pull up the Floor Gap Fixer or the block of wood you tapped against with your fingers alone. Use a slim pry bar. Once you get the bar a little bit underneath, slip a wide putty knife under the pry bar, so when you lever it, the bar presses against the putty knife blade, reducing the risk of gouging the flooring.

And a final option, if your vinyl flooring is smooth: Fast-forward to a solution that a flooring installer would probably use. Grip the plank while you tap it into place, and use a suction tool, such as the FCHO floor-gap-fixer tool ($21.99 on Amazon with a mallet included).

Whatever solution you use, if the plank closest to the wall is too short to leave swing room for kicking the plank or tapping against a block or suction tool, you’ll need a Z-shape metal bar that hooks over the outside edge of the flooring and that has a tip on the other end that extends upward for you to pound against, such as the Roberts 16.25-inch pro pull bar ($14.57 at Home Depot).

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.