Tiles are the most popular flooring material for a reason. They’re durable, attractive, versatile, and affordable. The only downside is that they can be difficult to remove if you change your mind about where you want them in your home.
In this article, we'll teach you how to remove tiles as needed, so that you can install them elsewhere or replace the front of your tiles with new material. Let's get started.
Remove excess grout with a putty knife
One of the most common issues with tile flooring is excess grout. If you don’t level and spread it out well, it can collect in the gaps between your tiles and become a tripping hazard.
One tool that will help remove excess grout without damaging the tile is a rubber putty knife. The blade is flexible enough that you can scrape it along the gap between tiles without cracking them, and the material is soft enough that it won’t scratch or gouge the surface of your tiles.
Remove stickers from new tiles
Grout is a common occurrence in different places around the house. It can show up when you have a leaky bathtub faucet as well as when you have stickers on your tiles.
If you’ve just installed a new floor, give it a quick inspection before you leave the store. Check all sides of each tile for stickers—especially underneath them if they were in boxes when you bought them. You may need to gently lift and remove any stickers on which your newly installed floor will sit.
If you want to remove a tile, but the sticker is attached to the adhesive on the back (not just sitting on top of it), you’ll need to use something other than water. A heat gun can be handy for pulling off labels without damaging the adhesive.
Remove tiles using common household products
Don’t be afraid to try out different home remedies for removing your tiles. Some options include:
Vegetable oils—Olive, grape seed, and canola are all cheap and easy choices. You can coat the surface of your tile with these oils, let them sit for about 15 minutes, and then wipe them away with a rag. Vinegar is another option that will have a similar effect.
Coldwater and ice—The cold temperature of the ice will weaken the glue underneath your tiles, allowing you to remove them with less risk of damage.
Hot water—Consuming large quantities of hot water from a kettle or boiling pot should be able to heat up and loosen tile adhesive without damaging your newly installed floor. If it has cooled down significantly before you get around to removing the tile, this can also be a good option. A hairdryer set on low and aimed at the front surface of the tile can work as well.
If you decide that chemical removal is necessary for any reason, make sure that you ventilate well before using toxic products like paint thinner and muriatic acid. Also, make sure that you buy products meant specifically for tile removal, such as this one.
Remove excess water
If it hasn’t been too long since your floor was installed, there should be a reasonable amount of space between the tiles and the floorboards underneath. If they’re being held up by grout alone, however, try removing any excess water from beneath them so that they can behave more like furniture or cork flooring rather than soggy cardboard.
Put down towels to catch and soak up excess moisture before you set about removing your tiles. Once your tiles are removed, dry out the area under them thoroughly before reinstalling new ones or installing something else on top of the floorboards.
Scrape away the old adhesive from the tile and the surface it is to be applied to
A chisel is great for removing tile adhesive that has adhered to a floor or wall. If you’re only planning to move the tiles around, though, you can get more mileage out of an old putty knife or another plastic scraper capable of scraping dry grout without damaging the face of your tiles.
The trickiest part of this entire process is getting all four corners to come loose. By using a stiff scraper and working carefully, however, it should come loose from its spot on top of the other tiles without any major issues. Just work slowly and consistently until you’ve gotten far enough along with one end that gravity begins to force the rest free.
When you’re working on a wall, however, it will be more challenging to get the entire tile free. Scrape as much of the adhesive off from the front and side surfaces as possible before trying to remove the tile itself.
Then slide a putty knife under one end with a scraper in place underneath that end to keep it stable. Once you have enough room underneath the tile for it to come loose from above without falling entirely out, scrape away all of the remaining grout from its backside and bottom edges.
Score tiles with a straight edge or a utility knife
If you’re removing your tiles because of an unfortunate spill, this step should be easy. Scoring the ceramic tile with a straight edge like a ruler or a credit card will allow it to break free from one end.
After scoring significantly across its width more than once, tugging on the area where you scored should be enough to pull the rest of the tile out. Be careful not to break any of the surrounding tiles when attempting this step. If you’re working with porcelain marble or another material that can be damaged by being chipped even slightly, proceed carefully. These materials are more brittle and have surfaces that are harder to cut through compared with traditional ceramic tiles, so use your straightedge or utility knife with caution.
If you’re working in a body of water, it can be a good idea to use some kind of adhesive remover or solvent on the end of your scraper to get off as much adhesive as possible without following up immediately with scoring and chiseling.
Hit tiles sharply at an angle
This step is optional, especially if you’re removing tiles that have already been scored. It helps loosen grout that has dried onto floorboards by wedging tile spacers into gaps between the backside of the tiles and their base material (cement board or plywood). The trick here is to hit each row from any direction except directly perpendicular.
To do this, stand far enough away from the tile that you can swing your hammer from a standing position. If possible, try to remove one or two tiles and then create some space between them and work on removing another one. This is because hitting one side of a tile with enough force to break through its grout without accidentally cracking the tile beneath it can be tricky at first.
Hook tiled surfaces up using hooks
This trick works in almost any situation where you want to move your tiles up off of their original location before reinstalling them elsewhere. The most important part of the process is choosing which set of hardware to use for this step.
Depending on whether you’re planning to reuse these old tiles, or if you need to make sure they aren’t damaged while you work on them, you can choose from a wide variety of different hooks and fasteners.
To remove the adhesive holding the tiles in place, use a pry bar that’s angled at one side to make it easier to get beneath the tile edges. Once you’ve gotten enough room between the floorboards and the base material for your hook or fastener, drive its point through both the base material (plywood or cement board) and whatever is underneath (a cracked concrete slab). The only way this step won’t work is if your subfloor has already been damaged to such an extent that there’s no solid surface behind it for these hooks to hold onto.
Apply new adhesive liberally and evenly across the back of each tile
Whether you’re reinstalling the tiles in the same place or moving them to a new location, this step is important. If there was an original adhesive on your floorboards that wasn’t removed as part of your tile removal process, it can be challenging to get these new tiles to stick.
The best way to do this is with a sharp utility knife (like a box cutter), but other types of knives work well too. You just want something that gives you good control over the depth and thickness of the layer you apply.
Let adhesive set for at least 24 hours before installing your tiles
You should always let a fresh adhesive set before installing any permanent fixtures onto it, especially if you are working in a high-traffic area (think retiling a shower). This gives its bond time to secure itself and adapt to fit any microscopic damage that may have occurred during installation. Tiles are especially susceptible to this kind of wear and tear since they’re usually held onto floors by a thin layer of grout (around ¼ inch). In dry environments, you might even need to wait longer for the adhesive to fully cure.
Final thoughts on how to remove tile
In conclusion, tile removal is a great option if you’re looking to save money or create a unique look in your home. It might seem difficult at first, but with the tips from this article, you should be able to get the job done quickly and efficiently.