There are several reasons why you may need to remove your tile floor. Maybe it’s too old, perhaps it cracked when you accidentally dropped a heavy object on it, or maybe you want a change, and those are some of the reasons why you should learn how to remove tile floor.
While the project itself can be pretty time-consuming and physically strenuous, it’s pretty easy and simple.
To remove the tile floor, you have to prepare the area, remove the grout, loosen the tiles, remove the floor’s adhesive, inspect the subfloor, and clean up the remains. However, the tricky part comes when you want to keep the tile intact, which requires some extra steps and care.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about removing tile floor!
Tools and Supplies You’re Going to Need
Before you get started on your tile removal project, it’s essential to make sure you have the proper equipment.
- Clear plastic
- Masking tape
- Ball-peen hammer and cold chisel, or oscillating multi-tool and grout saw to remove the grout
- Hammer and chisel, pry bar or floor scraper to remove the tiles
- Trashcan or bucket
Broken tile can be extremely sharp and create a lot of dust, so you’re going to need a few things to protect yourself:
- Safety goggles
- Dust mask
- Shoes, and long-sleeved shirt and pants
How to Remove Ceramic Tile Floor Step-by-Step
Before pulling up tiles, you need to empty the room and remove any fixtures that might be accidentally ruined or get in the way. Remove any appliances or built-in furniture like cabinets, if possible, and any baseboards that might be on your walls. Handle the baseboard with care if you want to reinstall them after laying your new flooring.
If you’re removing your bathroom tile floor, turn off the water supply, and remove the sink and toilet as well, if necessary. We recommend sealing any vents with plastic held in place with masking tape to prevent tile dust and debris from clogging the ventilation system.
Tile removal begins with loosening and removing old grout to get the floor as smooth as possible before installing the new flooring. Depending on the scope of the work, you can choose between removing the grout manually, or using power tools to make it go faster.
However, a larger tile area such as a hallway or kitchen might require other tools to work efficiently. One option is to equip an oscillating multi-tool with a grout removal blade. Holding the tool horizontally, turn the power on and press, and lightly press the blade to the grout. Let the multi-tool do the work for you; don’t force it.
Remove as much grout as possible while holding the tool horizontally, then angle the blade gently to remove the rest. Be patient and work slowly to avoid damaging the edges of your tiles.
Switch to a grout saw to attack any stubborn chunks of grout that the multi-tool might’ve loosened but not entirely removed.
As you work, throw away the chipped pieces, and wipe up excess dirt and debris.
Removing ceramic tiles can be a bit tricky if you want to preserve them, but it’s not impossible. If you don’t care about saving them, however, you can get started by smashing them with a hammer.
Here’s what you have to do to remove tile floor:
- Locate a starting point in the tile around a vanity or other semi-permanent fixture, or somewhere the old tile may already be loose or cracked. You’re looking for a bare edge that’s exposed, which provides the perfect starting point for the removal.
When the tile is wall to wall, you can use the edge of a hammer to create said starting point by breaking up a single tile on a corner of the room or doorway.
- Use a hammer and chisel, pry bar, or floor scraper to remove what’s left of this first tile.
- To begin removing the rest of the tiles, place the chisel against the bottom edge of adjacent tiles, and apply some pressure with your hammer so the tiles pop up easily. If they don’t, you might need to break them.
- Keep a trashcan or large bucket nearby to deposit the tiles as you remove them. Keep in mind that tile can be quite heavy, so an overfilled bucket will be certainly difficult to haul away.
- Access the underlayment, the material that sits between your subfloor and flooring, and remove it as well if it’s not in good condition. Unscrew any fasteners keeping the underlayment attached to the floor, and use a roofing rake or a flat shovel gently to pry up the edges.
- Use a shop vac to vacuum up tile dust as well as any smaller pieces of debris left behind. Clean-up is one of the most important steps before installing your new flooring, as dust will prevent a new floor from properly adhering to the surface.
- Inspect the subfloor for any damage that might need repairing before installing the new floor. The subfloor has to be smooth and undamaged for the new floor to be installed properly, so patch up or replace any rotten wood or divots in concrete floors.
While removing ceramic tile floor is not really hard, it does take time and a bit of elbow grease. Depending on the size of the tile area, the project can take anywhere from 8 hours to a day or two.
How to Remove Floor Tile Adhesive
Tile removal is usually a two-part process; the tiles are gone, but you still have to deal with the adhesive that was holding them. You can use different methods to clear the adhesive away, depending on the adhesive type and the tile type.
Bear in mind that if your tile floor was installed before 1984, and the adhesive underneath looks tar-like or black, you might be dealing with asbestos fibers. Asbestos was frequently used to help bond vinyl and linoleum floor tiles. If you have even the smallest suspicion that your floor adhesive might contain asbestos, don’t attempt to remove it yourself. When asbestos fibers become airborne, they become incredibly dangerous. Instead, leave the job to a professional.
Mastic is an organic compound that is often employed to adhere to wall tiles in dry areas, but you might also find it under older floors and counters. Since this adhesive isn’t water-resistant, it disintegrates and dissolves when it comes in contact with water.
While water can act as an effective remover, it won’t work by simply spraying the adhesive with it. You’re going to need some towels and cloths to soak in water and lay over the mastic. Let the adhesive absorb the water for a few minutes until it softens. Then, simply remove the remaining with a putty knife.
Thin-set mortar is not water-soluble once it dries like mastic adhesive but becomes hard and brittle instead. Hold a chisel at a 45-degree angle and hit it with the and of a hammer to chip away at the mortar. Bear in mind that the mortar will be firmly attached to the concrete subfloor, so there’s a risk of chipping it. Since you need a smooth surface to install the new flooring on, so you should patch these chips after removing the mortar.
Vinyl tile adhesive becomes stronger over time, which makes it one of the hardest materials to remove from a floor. So, depending on how old your tiles are, the glue might come off more or less easily. Use a putty knife to scrape up as much adhesive as possible. If you find it unyielding, use a heat gun to soften it. Simply aim the gun at the general area, but never place it directly on the glue.
Very old mastic and vinyl tile adhesive sometimes require something stronger than water and heat. There are certain solvents specially formulated to break down different types of glue, so it can then be scraped up.
Make sure to ventilate the area as much you can, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to apply the solvent to the adhesive. Typically, you’ll have to wait for at least one hour for it to start working and then scrape up the remains with a putty knife.
Most of the time, you’ll be removing ceramic tile from a cement floor because the tiles require a stable substrate. While rather uncommon, you may come across a plywood subfloor underneath the tiles.
Removing tile from plywood requires a slightly different process:
- Use a hammer and a brick chisel that’s at least 2-inches wide to chip out a tile that’s already broken or missing, or that’s near an exposed edge on the floor.
- With the same tools, remove the rest of the tiles.
- Remove all the nails and screws that are attaching the plywood to the floor.
- Fit a reciprocating saw with a 12-inch wood-cutting blade, and make a shallow plunge cut into the plywood surface.
- Insert the flat end of a pry bar into the saw cut, and pry up the plywood.
While some people recommend using a circular saw to make the first cut into the plywood subfloor, we consider that a reciprocating saw is a more convenient choice, as the circular saw is actually harder to control and kicks up too much dust.
Frequently Asked Questions
One of the biggest issues when removing tile is what to do with the old pieces afterward, especially since they can’t usually go with regular recycling. Some alternatives include calling your local recycling center and asking if you can take your old tiles to them. If your tiles are still in good shape, you might want to consider donating them to a community construction project that might need them.
However, if you’re dealing with asbestos-containing flooring, you should dispose of it in a landfill that accepts asbestos waste.
Asbestos used to be added to flooring to strengthen it and increase its durability. Some older tile floors were installed using asbestos, but the only foolproof method to determine whether your floor has it is to have a professional test for fibers.
Removing old tiles and preparing your floor for new ones isn’t exactly rocket science. It does require some effort, though, even more so if you want to preserve the tiles. Being careful and patient is the key here, especially since broken tile is quite sharp. Don’t start rushing if your project is taking longer than you expected, and always wear your protective equipment.
Hopefully, our detailed instructions and useful tips will guide you to successfully tackle this project!