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How to Remove Tile Floor

How to remove a tile floor


A DIY Tile Removal Guide

Replacing old or damaged tile floors with new ones can completely change the look of a room. However, old tile removal can be a tough job. Keep reading to learn the quickest and most efficient tile removal methods with this step-by-step guide.

FAQs About Tile Removal

The cost of DIY tile removal is less than $1.00 - $2.00 per square foot, compared to the cost of $2.80 - $5.65 for professional tile removal.

On average, it only takes 1-2 days to remove a tiled bathroom floor. It may be even faster if the bathroom has been prepped and your materials are on-hand. While the work isn't difficult, it definitely takes a lot of elbow grease and motivation to finish this DIY project.

It can be difficult and tedious work to remove a tile floor depending on what type of adhesive was used to secure the tiles, as well as what the subflooring is made of. Using proper tools and following tested removal methods will help make this project less difficult.

You can definitely remove tile flooring yourself with the proper equipment and steps to follow. It is a hard project, and you will need to be in good physical condition, as it requires a lot of effort and energy to remove tiles.

The best way to remove tile depends on what type of adhesive was used to set the tiles in place. Depending on the quality of the adhesive that was used, you may just need a hammer and chisel to remove the tile. If the adhesive is more heavy-duty, you may need to use a jackhammer with a chisel to remove the tile.

Step-by-Step Floor Tile Removal Process

Every tile removal job is a little different depending on how it was put together, and you may need to experiment with tile removal techniques. There is no one way to remove tiles from a floor, and it can take a lot of experimentation to get the hang of it. 

Tools Needed for Tile Removal

Like many challenging DIY jobs, tile removal is much easier when you have the right tools. Start with some protective gear, like safety glasses, gloves, knee pads, and dust masks.

Here are the best tools for tile removal:

  • Grout saw

  • Reciprocating saw

  • Masonry or tile chisels

  • Sledgehammer or hammer (2 pounds)

  • Floor scraper

  • Drill and tile drill bit

  • Pry bars

  • Locking pliers

  • Tarps

You should also gather some cleanup equipment, like a wheelbarrow, broom, dustpan, and Shop Vac. Also make sure you have the proper protective gear like goggles, heavy-duty work gloves, and a mask. Tile removal creates a lot of dust that should not be breathed in.

Before You Begin

Before lifting tiles from the floor, set up the room to avoid sending dust and debris throughout the rest of the home.

  • If your HVAC system has air-circulating ductwork, turn it off and close the vents in the workspace.

  • Seal off doorway gaps with plastic sheeting and tape.

  • Open any windows in the tiled space.

Steps for Removing Old Floor Tile

hammer and chisel for tile removal

Step 1: Gather your materials

Wearing and using the proper gear and equipment is crucial to having a successful tile removal project. Removing tiles creates a lot of dust that should not be breathed in, and broken tiles can easily cut skin. Use goggles, gloves, and a mask when removing your tile flooring, and purchase or borrow the above tools if you do not already own them.

removing toilet for tile removal

Step 2: Prepare the area

Before you start chipping away, prepare the room you are working in to protect your fixtures by covering all irremovable units with a plastic tarp. If you can, remove your toilet and vanity to work freely and avoid damaging them. Cover your windows and glass shower doors as well. Make sure to remove your fabric shower curtains and your mirror if possible.

removing tiles with a chisel

Step 3: Start removing tiles

The best way to start removing tiles from a floor is to start in a place where they are already loose, typically a corner or a doorway.

  1. Starting from the doorway or a corner, use a hammer and chisel to break one of the tiles.

  2. Pry up surrounding tiles with a chisel, putting the chisel beneath the tile and using a hammer to pop the tile up.

  3. If the tiles are hard to remove, you may also need a grout saw to break up the grout lines.

mortar adhesive removal

Step 4: Remove adhesive

Removing tile adhesive can be difficult, and you might have to repeat this process to get it all.

Mastic-set vs. Mortar-set Tiles

Tile is installed with mastic adhesive or mortar. Mastic-set tiles are much easier to remove than mortar-set tiles because it is flexible and water-soluble. You may be able to remove them unbroken and salvage them, then use a floor scraper to scrape up any pieces that do not pry up easily. With mortar, you will need to do a lot more chiseling and will break more tiles. 

  • For mastic-set tiles, remove the adhesive by first soaking it with warm water to loosen it, then use a floor scraper to get it off the floor.

  • With mortar-set tiles, you’ll have to power through and keep chipping away at the mortar until it’s gone.

inspecting the subflooring after tile removal

Step 5: Inspect the underlayment or subfloor

Examine the subfloor and remove all nails and screws. Use a long board or level to check for dips and divots in the floor and make necessary repairs to your subfloor before laying your new tile.

For safety reasons and to see what you’re doing, you’ll need to clean as you go, so have your wheelbarrow or trash bags handy.

Protecting the Subfloor: Precautions and Techniques

To protect your subflooring, take your time when removing tiles. If the old tile was laid on concrete using adhesive, tile removal could be as simple as breaking up the tile with sledgehammers. On a wood subfloor, where tile is laid on top of a cement backer board underlayment, it can be much tougher to remove.

In some cases, you might be able to leave the backer board underlayment, but if not, getting it off the subfloor without causing damage can be tricky. Pop the underlayment off with a pry bar, then go back with a pair of locking pliers to remove the underlayment screws or nails. 

In older homes, floor tile was often laid on top of a mortar base applied over tar paper. In that case, be prepared for a lot of hammering, chiseling, sawing, and grinding to break up the mortar bed base.

Alternative Methods for Tile Removal

Masonry chisels and small sledgehammers do most of the work in tile removal, but there are a few other tools that can make this job easier. 

  • Electric chisel- works by vibrating and rotating to create a chipping motion that can easily break up tiles, also known as hammer drills and slotted drive system (SDS) drills

  • Heat gun- helps soften and loosen adhesive so it can be scraped away 

  • Mechanical scrapers or strippers- retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot offer several tools for rent to make jobs like this one easier

  • Surface grinders- another mechanical tool that you can rent to assist with removing adhesive and mortar

After Floor Tile Removal

Once you've removed your tiles, you'll have to figure out what to do with them. You have a couple of options, including reusing or tossing old tiles.

  1. Reusing removed tiles

    If you saved tiles for reuse, you’ll need to remove the adhesive before installing them again. Soaking tiles in water and applying heat softens the adhesive and makes it easier to scrape off.

  2. Donating salvaged tiles

    If your tiles were able to be removed without much damage, you can donate them to Goodwill or other thrift stores if you don't plan on reusing them.

  3. Disposing of tiles

    Tiles are made of materials that are typically not accepted for curbside recycling. In order to properly dispose of your tiles, you'll need to either contact your local municipality and arrange recycling services, or you can book a heavy debris dumpster if you have a large number of tiles to dispose of.

DIY Tile Removal Safety Tips

DIY home improvement projects can save you a lot of money versus hiring a professional, but it’s important to use the proper protective gear. Over 200,000 people each year end up in the hospital from DIY-related injuries. 

If you live in an old house, you should understand the risks of asbestos and learn how to identify it. Asbestos tiles were commonly used in old homes from 1930 to 1970, and the materials require special handling and disposal.

Note: Asbestos tiles should never be removed by a non-professional. They require special handling to be removed safely.

When to Seek Professional Help for Tile Removal

Professional tile removal services are available if you need help. For most DIYers, it can be hard to know when to hire someone, but when it comes to tiling projects, remember that you can hire a professional to help you remove the tile and save the fun parts for yourself.

Whether you have a large project or you’re short on time and expertise, it can pay to hire a pro, especially when you are facing a complex tile removal scenario. For asbestos tile removal, you will always need to hire a professional to avoid spreading harmful asbestos dust.

Looking to Dispose of a Lot of Tiles?

If you are planning a large tile removal project, our heavy debris dumpsters are perfect for handling your project waste. We make sure to recycle all tile debris that we can.

Book a Dumpster Rental

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