How to Quickly Remove Broken and Loose Tile

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Removing tile from a floor generally requires the destruction of at least the first few tiles. If you’re removing wall tile, be aware that this process can tear up the sheetrock behind the tile. Always wear eye protection, and consider working with gloves to protect your hands from tile shards.

If you’re working on a floor, knee padding of some sort is essential. Long sleeves will also protect you from shards of tile, and a dust mask is essential if you’re taking up concrete mortar.

Prep and Materials

Tools You’ll Need

​Beyond safety gear, you’ll need prying tools and a hammer. It can be tempting to work with an extremely heavy hammer to bust up the tiles, but you’ll have an easier time of it if you work with a smaller hammer that’s easier for you to control. Small rooms, such as bathrooms, can make swinging a large hammer a challenge.

A chisel of some sort is also essential. Be aware that hitting a chisel with a hammer will generate a lot of vibration and may be rough on your hands, wrists, and forearms. Padded gloves can protect you from this vibration.

Consider investing in a Wonder Bar Pry Bar. These tools give you a short edge for close work and a long edge that will make tile removal quick once you’ve cleared away enough old tile.

Lastly, you’ll need a large, heavy duty trash can to put the tile into. If you’re removing an entire tile floor, consider getting a flat-edged shovel to scoop all of the broken tile into the trash can.

A bucket in the middle of the floor

Preparing Your Home for Tile Removal

Tile removal creates a lot of dust. Mastic and thin set mortar can become pulverized into soft fibers such as upholstery, leaving an unmanageable dust with plenty of cling power.

Similar to drywall dust, it is the kind that gets everywhere in your home… and we mean everywhere! Here are a few tips for preparing your home for the tile removal process:

  • shop vac or dust collector is critical any time you are removing old ceramic tile. Use it liberally throughout the process. 
  • It’s also critical that you hang plastic over doorways and provide shoe-cleaning mats. Ceramic shards are extremely sharp and can scratch existing vinyl and wood if tracked into other portions of your home.
  • If you have vinyl flooring in your kitchen, consider laying down cardboard over the floor in front of the counter. One ceramic shard can do a lot of damage to your vinyl if it gets caught in the sole of your shoe, or if you accidentally step on it and press it down into the vinyl.
  • Plan ahead by having a supply of empty cardboard boxes and add extra tape to the bottom seam. These will make it easy to remove old tile remnants and mastic shards from your living space completely.

Depending on your community, the rules about getting rid of demolition trash may allow you to discard tile, box and all.

Think Through The End Goal

​Know the end goal BEFORE you start removing and replacing any tile. Here are a few great questions to ask yourself:

  • ​If it is just a loose tile, are you trying to preserve the tile​? In other words, do you want to remove the tile without breaking it?
  • Are you just trying to replace one broken tile? Or, are you removing all of the tile on the floor?
  • Are you completely demolishing the space, or do you want to save the sheetrock behind the backsplash?
  • Were you planning to get out your tile saw and put other tile back down on the floor, or will you be putting down new subfloor​?

 If the tile you’re taking out is set in concrete, be ready to do some scraping to get to a smooth floor.

It’s important to have a good idea of what you want before you get started tearing out what you don’t want. If you’re tearing out a backsplash but want to save the countertop, cover the counter with a layer of plastic to avoid scarring.

​How to Remove a Tile Floor

1. Carefully Prepar​e the Area

Before you can begin pulling tile off the floor, you need to prepare the area. This preparation is key, because you’re going to be kicking up a lot of dust when you start demo work. Also, tile removal is messy, and you want to minimize any collateral damage.

  • Remove furniture, appliances, and people from the area.
  • Take up baseboard trim, and mark where each piece came from so you can put it back.
  • Cover all of the vents in the area. 
  • If possible, consider turning off the HVAC system to reduce the amount of air movement through the space.
  • Block openings with plastic to reduce the amount of dust that will be tracked through.
  • Put down mats so ​you can clean your shoes before crossing carpet or vinyl.

Sometimes the biggest issue in how to remove tile floor is how not to destroy the rest of your house. Consider picking up a quality dust mask for the demolition part of the project.

Make sure to spend an adequate amount of time preparing. While you’re probably antsy to get started on the project, properly preparing will save you a lot of time and hassle down the road.

​2. Start With Damaged Tile

Depending on how large of a space you’re working with, you might have a little or a lot of tile to pull up. The most important thing to keep in mind when removing tile is that you don’t want to damage the sub-floor, which sits right below the tile.

Tile being removed from a floor with subfloor exposed
  1. Start on a broken tile or in a space where the mortar is damaged. If needed, use ​a basic framing hammer to break up the tile a bit further. The goal with this step is to just work open an area where you can get underneath the rest of the tile.
  2. Once you have an opening, work your chisel or pry bar into the gap. You want the chisel to sit underneath the tile but above the sub-floor. Try to angle the chisel up at a 45 degree angle.
  3. Use your hammer ​and tap on the chisel head to slowly work work it under the tile. In the perfect scenario, you’ll be able to “pop” each piece of tile out.
  4. Sometimes the tile’s glue doesn’t allow for it to pop out. In this case, you’ll have to pull the tile out in fragmented pieces.
  5. Place the shards in a cardboard box as you take them up. This will keep them out of your way, and allow you to see what is remaining.
  6. Keep going until all tiles have been taken up. If possible, find a starting point in the center so you can work in all directions.

Sometimes the hardest part of how to remove tile flooring is making sure you have space to swing your hammer.

3. ​Remove Glue from Subfloor

If the tile was put down over concrete or onto bare wooden subfloor, you’ll need to scrape up the mortar or adhesive. This is typically the case. 

Again, be gentle with the subfloor. It can be very fragile, especially after sitting below tile for a long time.

​If you’re lucky enough to find the tile was put down over an underlayment, you can save yourself some scraping by taking up the underlayment. This is generally a dirty mess.

Have a shop vac standing by so ​you can keep dust to a minimum. If you don’t have a shop vac on hand, you can always make your own DIY dust collector.

4. ​Prepare the Subfloor for New Underlayment

If you or your flooring contractor is planning to put down new underlayment, take the time to get your newly exposed subfloor completely smooth. This is dirty work and will take some attention to detail.

However, your new flooring installation will only be as good as the subfloor prep, particularly if you’re going back over with a vinyl or plank.

5. Clean Up

​Try your best to get as many of the ​big pieces up with your hands and throw them in a trash can. A good shop vac will take care of the rest. Don’t use your regular household vacuum cleaner for this if you can help it – chances are it will clog up your filter.

Look in the surrounding rooms for signs of dust, which is pretty common. Grab a good floor mop and lightly clean the surrounding rooms. You might need to do a thorough deep cleaning, but hopefully you avoided that!

Common Tile Removal Questions

How to Remove Tile from Under Cabinets

If you’re trying to remove tile from under kitchen or bathroom cabinets, but preserve the cabinetry, then you have an extra complication. You can remove tile flooring while still preserving your cabinets.

​The same process for tile remove applies. In addition, though, you will need a very high powered angle grinder with a tile cutting blade. This tool features a cutting edge that allows you to get flush with your cabinet and make the cut.

Place the angle grinder blade flush against the cabinet and slowly cut your tile. This is the best way to remove tile from under cabinets.

Can You Remove Tiles Without Breaking Them?

Yes, you can remove tiles without breaking them. It isn’t guaranteed to work, as the process you go through to pull the tile up might break it. However, with care and patience, you can usually pull the tile up without breaking it.

If you plan to save the tile from your project, please be aware that removing old tile mastic requires some ​work. ​You’ll want to remove ALL of the grout around the tile before you try to pull it up.

Close up of broken tile

Conclusion

​Removing tile is not very difficult, but it does take time. If you’re trying to preserve the tile because it is loose, you’ll need to take extra steps to ensure you don’t break the tile. If you’re removing an entire tile floor or backsplash, you have a lot more freedom to move quicker.