How to Remove Ceramic Tile Properly without Drama

Dylan Johnson

How to Remove Ceramic Tile Properly

Knowing how to remove ceramic tile can help you save up money for the work. The knowledge helps you to do the work on your own instead of hiring a professional service.

Whether you have to remove a single tile or two, or even the whole floor, knowing how to do it properly and carefully can make a difference to your financial state.

Different Installation Method (and How to Remove Them)

Before you implement your knowledge on how to remove ceramic tile, it is crucial to understand that different installation will lead to different removal methods.

In older (ceramic tile) installation, the tile would be attached to solid mortar base which was reinforced quite often with steel lathe. This mortar bed is generally applied over a tar paper covering layer that covers the subfloor.

If you want to remove the tiles, the efforts can be difficult and labor-consuming.

You need to break the mortar base up (first) and then cut the metal lathe away so you can free the slabs from the mortar and free the tile from the (tar paper) underlayment.

Such a work usually takes hours, so you need to be ready to deal with the work your entire weekend.

Be advised that you will also deal with tons of cutting, hammering, and prying. You want to cut the metal lathe to smaller and manageable pieces.

What if the tiles are placed on a concrete slab?

Expect the same labor-consuming job.

If the tile is installed on the underlayment (of either cement board or plywood), you are in luck. The job on how to remove ceramic tile isn’t as hard as described above.

You see, back then in 1970s, thin-set adhesive was introduced and became popular. It’s because the adhesive enabled the tile to be installed or attached to the underlayment directly.

As soon as this system was introduced, people started to forget the mortar bed traditional system. They preferred the new one.

Until now, the underlayment method is still liked and favorable because the easy and straightforward installation.

The thin adhesive is handy to hold the tiles on their place, and yet the bond (between the underlayment and tiles) is easily broken.

The removal process is still difficult, but not as complicated as the mortar bed process.

Dealing with the removal on the underlayment won’t consume as much time or power as the mortar bed.

Read Also: Tesoro LuxWood Vinyl Plank Flooring Reviews

Getting Ready for the Job

Besides the knowledge of how to remove ceramic tile, you also need the proper knowledge about being prepared for the job.

Tile removal can actually generate tons of dust which is bad if you have have lung or breathing issues.

You don’t want the dust to escape the room under construction, so use plastic sheet to cover the ventilation system and entrance.

Cover the door area or windows so dust won’t travel to other areas.

Don’t forget to wear eye protection, a dust mask (the proper one), heavy-duty (work) gloves, and hearing protection when doing the work.

When you chisel or hammer the floor, shards of mortar or tile can go up in the air causing serious issue to unprotected areas.

Pieces of tiles can be sharp as glass that’s why you want to wear thick gloves and long sleeves during the work.

Before doing the project, you may want to lease a dumpster roll-off to manage the debris. Ceramic (tile) demolition is likely to generate a lot of waste.

Even a smaller room can produce quite a significant amount of it; let alone bigger rooms.

How to Do the Work

  • Working Are Preparation

Before you begin the process of how to remove ceramic tile, preparing the area is crucial.

Not only it will prevent you from having any damage or accidents, but it helps you with better work flow.

You want to remove everything that will get in the way of the removal, which includes doors, door frames, trim, and molding. Use hammer and a flat pry bar to do it.

This action will prevent them from being dirty (covered in dust) or damaged during the work.

You may also want to cover the open doorways and heating ducts with plastic sheets for the sake of controlling the dust.

You may want to keep in mind that fine dust is mostly generated from tile demolition and they can be plentiful.

And they can actually travel to other areas of the house, unless you do preventive measurement to control it.

  • The Starting Point

In every demolition project, you need a starting point where usually starts from the edge part of the floor. Find an area with easy and simple access (like the doorway).

Gear up your safety goggles and dust mask, and then use your sledgehammer to break the tile up try to do it along the grout lines.

Be extra careful because porcelain tile has sharp edges they are as sharp as glass.

A word of advice: You also may want to be extra careful about using the sledgehammer.

If you use heavy blows repeatedly, they may damage the (floor) framing. That’s why it is wise to only use the necessary force to break the tiles up.

In this way, you allow the floor scraper to do its work.

  • Use Floor Scraper

When the sledgehammer has done its work, use a floor scraper. Get it underneath the tile so you can pry it up. You are going to need enough space to do so.

If you can pry more tiles, you won’t need a lot of hammering which is actually good because it makes the job go smoother.

Slide the scraper under the tile’s attached remnants. Pry them off from the surface of the subfloor. If you put just a tad muscle into it, they can pop off just effortlessly.

If you don’t have a scraper, a flat shovel will do. The scrapers are generally made with either face down or face up manner.

You need to try them both to see which one can deliver the best result. Proper and right manner will make the job go easier.

The best way on how to remove ceramic tile is to use the hammer and the floor scraper alternately. Do it across the entire floor and you are good to go.

You should be able to remove the tiles without making significant damage.

  • Remove Grout and Adhesive

For this work, you will need a masonry chisel and hammer to remove the grout and thin adhesive.

They are generally still stuck on the underlayment even after you have removed all the tiles. You want the floor to be as smooth as possible.

So make sure to check the condition after removing the tiles.

When you install the tiles, the underlayment should be smooth because you want a perfect finish where you can enjoy a flat and level finish. 

  • Remove Underlayment

In most cases, you don’t need to do this step. However, it depends on the condition of the plywood underlayment or the cement board.

If the underlayment is in bad condition, you will have to remove it.

Or if your floor requires a different underlayment type, then the old underlayment needs to go.

So, it depends on the condition or the new floor’s requirements.

And how to remove the underlayment?

Just cut it into smaller manageable sections. Use a circular blade and the right thickness of blade. You should set the thickness so it would be similar to the thickness of the underlayment.

Once you have cut the underlayment, it is easier. You can remove it by prying it up or unscrewing it.

Here’s another tip to on how to remove ceramic tile: When you install a new ceramic floor, the already existing underlayment from cement board can be re-used well, in most situations.

As long as it is bonded firmly to your subfloor or it is still intact, you can definitely re-use it.

However, if you are thinking about having a new one, you can use thin sheets (of the new cement board), apply them over the old one, and you have created a fresh base for the new tile as well as the new adhesive.

Read Also: DuraCeramic Tile Flooring Pros and Cons – General Value of the Floor

  • Clean up

You are about to reach the end. To remove all the debris, use a broom and a scoop shovel.

To dispose everything, use a trash bag. Contractors usually use sturdy bags that are designed especially for the industrial setting to get the job done.

But before you throw away the waste, make sure to check the legal disposal requirements.

Consult the local authorities to do it. It is even possible that you will have to arrange a special transport so you only dump it to a specified disposal site for construction waste.

To complete the process, use a vacuum (preferably the shop vacuum grade) so you can remove the remaining dust.

That’s it! You have a fresh floor to install the new one.

It may take extra patience, time, and also efforts to do the whole thing. This is the right project for those who aren’t rushing things.

If you are in a hurry, it’s better that you consult a professional service.

In the end, having the knowledge to remove the floor as well as installing it won’t hurt anyone. You just need to be patient and get on with it.

Dedicate time and patience don’t easily get frustrated with it. It’s better to have fun while practicing your knowledge on how to remove ceramic tile.

Dylan Johnson
As a flooring enthusiast, I love everything about it - from the way it looks to the way it feels underfoot. Nothing beats a well-crafted floor that adds character to any space.