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How to Remove Tile Floor in 4 Simple Steps

Collage of illustrations for how to remove tile floor.

When you want to replace the tiles on a floor, whether with new tiles or another flooring material, you will usually need to remove the old tiles first. While it is labor-intensive, it is a simple enough job that most people can do themselves. So, how do you remove a tile floor?

Remove a tile floor by following these steps: break out the tile, scrape and sand the tile and adhesive from the subfloor, and remove and replace any damaged subfloor. Tiles can either be broken out or delicately removed without breaking tiles. Always use safety equipment when removing tiles.

While removing tiles is a job most people can do without calling in a contractor, knowing what steps to follow and using the tips below will help get the job done quickly and smoothly. So, keep reading to learn all about how to remove tile flooring.

How to Remove Tile Floor - Step 3: Lift and Remove Each Tile

How to Remove Tile Floor

Materials

  • Broom or brush
  • Trash can
  • Ear protection (for use with a jackhammer)
  • Safety glasses
  • Gloves
  • Dust Mask
  • Knee Pads

Tools

  • Masonry or Ball peen hammer
  • Lath hammer
  • Long-handled floor scraper
  • Pry bar
  • Belt Sander or palm sander (optional)
  • Jackhammer/Air chisel (optional)
  • Masonry / Ball Peen Hammer
  • Cold Chisel

Instructions

Step 1: Remove the Grout

First, choose the best place to start. Often a doorway works well because it gives easy access to the first tile that needs to be removed, but beginning at the edge of the room and working inwards to the center is also recommended.

Place the sharp end of the chisel in a line of grout and gently use the hammer to chip out the tile grout. Be careful not to let the chisel catch the edge of the tile, as it may chip the edge. Chip out two or three edges of the first tile.

Step 2: Wedge EachTile Out With a Lath Hammer

How to Remove Tile Floor - Step 2: Wedge EachTile Out With a Lath Hammer

Working on the first tile and then moving on to the others, place the flat head of the lath hammer between the floor and the bottom edge of the tile. Ensure the blade's edge is below the tile and on the adhesive.

With the lath hammer in your non-dominant hand, gently hit it with the masonry or ball peen hammer. Move the lath hammer over a few inches and repeat along the entire edge of the tile. Chiseling the edges will loosen the tile from the floor, allowing the lath hammer to slide under the tile to lift it out.

Once the first tile is out, choose which tile you will remove next, planning which direction you will go in the room. Repeat this for every tile in the room.

Step 3: Lift and Remove Each Tile

How to Remove Tile Floor - Step 3: Lift and Remove Each Tile

When the lath hammer can slide under the tile, use the pry bar and your hands to lift it enough to get a good grip and lift it. With all the grout removed around the edges, the tile should come out in one piece without cracking.

Top Tip: As each tile is lifted, place it in a pile away from where you are working, so they don't get damaged.

Step 4: Scrape and Sand Tile and Adhesive From the Subfloor

How to Remove Tile Floor - Step 4: Scrape and Sand Tile and Adhesive From the Subfloor

Starting again in the place you chose to remove the first tile, place the floor scraper horizontal to the floor and hit it with the hammer to remove the adhesive. After removing the first few inches, place the edge of the scraper flush with the floor and hit it so that the adhesive comes off in chunks.

Top Tip: Once you have done a few square feet, sweep the removed adhesive out of the way to allow you a workspace that is not cluttered or messy for the next few feet.

Systematically repeat the process until all the old tile adhesive has been lifted and swept out of the way. Place the old adhesive in the trash can and remove it from the room.

Top Tip: Once the bulk of the adhesive is removed from the floor, small amounts of adhesive may still be stuck to the subfloor that the hammer and chisel were unable to remove. Use a belt sander to remove any last adhesive, leaving a smooth floor to start the new tiling.

You will now have a smooth floor to work with to lay new tiles or another flooring material.

Notes

Do I Need to Replace the Subfloor When Removing Tiles?

While removing tiles and adhesive, the chisel may damage some of the subfloors. These damaged areas will need to be replaced.

Do this by marking out the area that needs to be removed. Then set a circular saw with a carbide blade to a plunge depth that is only as deep as the wooden subfloor.

Cut the damaged subfloor along the marked lines and then pry it out with a pry bar. Cut a new piece of subfloor to the same size and place it in the hole. 

Repeat this for all areas of the subfloor that may be damaged.

How Should You Prepare a Room When Removing a Tile Floor?

Removing tiles from the floor can potentially kick up a lot of dust. To protect ventilation systems and to stop dust circulating to other parts of the building, consider taping up doorways, vents, and openings with plastic to stop whatever dust is created.

You may also want to remove any trim, molding, door frames, and doors that are laid on top of the tiles or will interfere with the tile removal.

Top Tip: If you cannot lift the tiles without breaking them, you will create a substantial amount of waste. A roll-off dumpster may be necessary to dispose of all the waste safely.

Should You Break Tiles When Removing a Tile Floor?

Knowing if you need to keep the tiles or if they can be broken up and disposed of will determine how you do the job. If the tiles need to be kept, chiseling out the grout and carefully removing each tile will take a lot longer, but it will be necessary to keep each tile whole. 

If you do not need to keep the tiles whole, using a hammer or jackhammer to break up the tiles before they are chiseled out will reduce the amount of time needed to complete the job, but it will create more mess and may require a roll-off dumpster to remove the waste.

Are Safety Measures Needed When Removing a Tile Floor?

Always consider your safety when undertaking any DIY project. Safety glasses, gloves, dust masks, and knee pads are recommended while removing a tile floor.

Ceramic tiles can be as sharp as glass if broken, and shards can be kicked into your eye or spread across the floor. Always wear long sleeves, gloves, a dust mask, safety glasses, and knee pads to avoid cuts and injury when lifting a tile floor.

Can You Use Power Tools t Remove a Tile Floor?

Power tools often help you to complete a job quickly. Power tools like a hammer chisel will help you complete the job done in half the time. However, it will break all the tiles and make more noise and mess than removing tiles with a hammer and chisel.

Are All Tile Floors on a Subfloor?

Not all tile floors are on a subfloor. In older installations, tiles were often set into a base of solid mortar. Some of these were reinforced with steel. Removing tiles from these installation types requires breaking up the mortar base and cutting away each piece of reinforcement. These jobs will necessarily take longer and require more labor.

In these cases, it is recommended to use power tools to do the job.

Can You Remove and Replace One Tile?

You can remove and replace just one tile. To do this, use a grout saw to cut out the grout surrounding the tile, hit it directly in the center with a hammer to loosen it, use a chisel to pry the edges of the tile up, and then remove the tile.

Once the tile is removed, use a chisel to remove and old adhesive mortar, being careful not to knock any surrounding tiles. Replace the tile and match up the grout as close to the original as possible.

Did you make this project?

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Resources:

YouTube/ The Home Depot: How to Remove Ceramic Tile

The Spruce: How to Remove Ceramic Floor Tile

wikiHow: How to Remove Ceramic Tile

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