Repairing, Removing and Replacing Ceramic Tile
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I need to replace my bath tub, which will require removing a few rows of
tile near the tub. How do I remove ceramic tile so I can reuse it?
Removing tile is always risky. The removal of the first tile is the riskiest
task in this project, for sure! If this is any consolation, once you have that
first one removed, the rest will most likely yield to your advances with less
fuss. One assumption I am going to make is that your tiles are installed over
some sort of wallboard. If the tiles are set into a mortar (cement) bed on the
wall, or are glued to a rigid cement-based board, you may have no choice but to
break them off or actually gut the wall. Being the optimistic sort, lets assume
the first more favorable scenario… and then move on.
The first and perhaps most important step is to scrape out all the hard grout
from the perimeter of the tiles you want to remove. You want to try to isolate
the tiles from each other as much as possible. This is true even if you do not
care to save the tiles, since you will still find them difficult to remove,
especially the first one! Also, the flexible caulking between the tub and the
tiles and in the vertical corners must be scraped out. Both removal chores can
be accomplished with either a sharp utility knife or a razor blade mounted in a
special holder. Hard caulks will soften with heat, so the use of a heat gun (low
setting) or even a hair dryer will ease the task. The grout should scrape out
easily since wall grout is rather soft.
Once all the tiles are grout and caulk-free, do a little tapping on the tiles
to see if any are slightly loose. Probably the luckiest thing that could happen
would be to find a tile that was already loose due to some water seepage. Loose
tiles are most likely found near the corner of the tub below the spout or
showerhead. If you can locate a loose one, the rest will often come off easily.
This condition is often not apparent until you begin removing the grout and
caulk. In fact, many regrouting/recaulking jobs can unexpectedly turn into small
renovations because of this sneaky deterioration in the walls behind the tiles.
Gently but forcefully push a thin putty knife 2"-3" wide between
the first tile you want to remove and its longtime neighbors, moving around the
edge and breaking any leftover grout sealing them together. Pry them away from
the wall, one at a time. Work around the tile, nudging and prying upwards to
gradually separate it from the wall. Watch out for the corners of the tiles…
the easiest to chip. The paper face of the wallboard will tear (remember our
assumption earlier), but that is OK. Here is your "moment of truth"…
if the wall is mortar, you will probably not be able to remove the tiles without
Even with all the care and patience you can muster, there is still a strong
chance that you will break or crack one or more tiles during this procedure. My
worst nightmare… and I have lived it… is to break a tile by dropping it
while cleaning off all the old glue and grunge… another necessary step to
complete before reusing it! It is important to stress that working too quickly
will virtually assure breakage. But if you do break tiles, don't despair... see
this as an opportunity to be creative. You an replace the tiles around the base
of the wall with another color that compliments the existing tiles, or even
design a unique tile pattern from the wide variety of tile styles available
In the process of remodeling our kitchen, I have pulled off all the old
ceramic tiles and am now facing the old dried cement on the plaster walls. Is
there a relatively simple way to remove the cement without destroying the wall
plaster so that the new tiles can then be installed? Any help is gratefully
There is a product on the market, made by a company called
Jasco, appropriately named
Jasco Adhesive Remover.
This product should do the job. Chemically, it is a cousin to paint remover,
with methylene chloride as the main active ingredient, so expect the paint to
come off the wall along with the old adhesive. If you can't find the Jasco
product, you can try regular paint remover or even a "furniture refinisher"
which shares some of the solvent characteristics of paint remover but with less
Watch out for fume accumulation! These products can be both toxic and
I need to remove my broken ceramic soap dish from the tiled shower wall. Is
it done the same way as removing a broken tile?
SW from Temple Hills, Maryland
No. The removal method depends on the way the soapdish was mounted. There are
two installation methods commonly used depending on the design of the fixture.
By the by, these methods also apply to other ceramic fixtures such as towel
bars, toilet paper holders and toothbrush holders.
The first method is the retrofit method where a specially designed ceramic
fixture is mounted using a metal or plastic plate that is attached to the wall
with screws or wall anchors. The ceramic fixture is shaped to slide tightly over
this plate and then gently tapped with a cloth-protected hammer or wood block to
seat it firmly. You can tell if your fixture is this type by looking underneath
it for a wide opening with tapered edges. You might even be able to see the
mounting plate. To remove the fixture, simply tap it upward with your hand, a
rubber mallet or a hammer covered with a nice soft towel to cushion the ceramic
from cracking (unless, as in your case, the fixture is already broken).
Traditional permanent ceramic fixtures are held in place with a glob of
plaster that "keys" or spreads into a hole in the wall cut behind the fixture.
The plaster sets very hard to hold the fixture in place. To remove the fixture
without damaging the surrounding tile requires you to break the ceramic fixture
apart. Otherwise, you will pull the tiles off the wall and break the wall to
Since possibly sharp pieces of ceramic are going to be flying around, it's
wise to wear eye protection and skin protection. Put a soft tarp underneath the
fixture to collect the broken pieces.
There are two steps to freeing up the fixture. First, you should scrape off
any grout or caulking that seals the perimeter of the fixture. You can do this
using a heavy duty utility knife. Be careful not to cut yourself! Second, you
should drill a number of holes in the fixture with a carbide masonry drill bit
to weaken it. This will lessen the amount of force necessary to break it into
pieces. The holes don't have to be large… 1/4 inch is fine… but they should be
fairly close together to form a "breaking line" which will yield more easily to
Now that you are emotionally prepared, begin to whack the fixture apart with
a hammer and chisel… a piece at a time! Using a chisel (either an old, dull wood
chisel you don't care about or a masonry "cold" chisel) concentrates the force
in a small area of the ceramic so that you have less risk of breaking the wall
or cracking the surrounding tiles with the impact.
This is not a quick job, so don't expect to be done in five minutes. The
quicker you try to finish, the more likely you will damage surrounding tiles.
Take your time and measure your force, using the least amount you can that still
gets the job done!
I have a repair problem that I have not been able to find a solution to
(although I have spent many hours researching on the web and talking to local
tile repair people). The ceramic tile on my floor, installed in 1986, has one
tile that is badly cracked. I was told it is impossible to replace because the
entire floor may crack.
I had bought a product to repair ceramic tile which is like a paint. However,
the color doesn't match and it has a shiny finish while my tile has a matt
finish. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
I can't imagine who you have been talking to... no tile guy I know, for sure!
Ceramic tiles are the easiest type of floor to repair. Not effortless (since it
can require some strength and patience), but rather easy in the
"aesthetic" sense. If you have a matching tile and can get a
close-enough grout color, the repair will over time become absolutely invisible
as the grout ages. The hardest part in my experience is getting a color match
for the tile... unless you are lucky enough to have a box hidden somewhere in
Having worked on many tile repair jobs, the only situation that I can recall
where a "small" tile repair cannot be done is if ALL the tiles were
installed poorly. Occasionally, I will encounter a floor that was installed
using "thinset", a Portland cement-based tile adhesive. It is a powder
and must be mixed on-site with cool water. Sometimes if too dry of a mix is
used, too much moisture will be drawn off into the subfloor (plywood or cement
slab) and a very weak bond will form. Then during repair, the entire floor will
begin to loosen up when one tile is removed! Even trying to loosen the grout
will sometimes cause adjacent tiles to dislodge. This "Rube Goldberg"
scenario can cause a single tile repair to grow to an entire floor replacement!
Other than that, I can't imagine a tile job where a single tile cannot be
Here's a link to our article on tile replacement techniques...
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