If you have a concrete floor covered in tiles you hope to remove, you’ve come to the right place! Whether updating a space, going for a new look, or conducting a repair, there are many reasons to remove tiles from a concrete floor.
Whatever your reason, we’ll cover everything you need to know in the below article, from the equipment you’ll need to the different methods you can use to remove tiles.
While the process may be similar for certain tile types, removing your tiles from concrete can certainly be daunting, particularly if your tiles are fixed directly to the floor using adhesive rather than wood, subfloor, or a concrete board.
Without a subfloor or underlayment, it can be difficult to pry the tile from the concrete, requiring you to knock out your tiles to detach them from their adhesives. But don’t worry! We’re going to cover the proper process you should follow to help prevent any damage to your concrete and ensure you remove the tiles as cleanly and safely as possible.
Here’s everything you need to know!
Before You Begin
No matter what, it’s essential to have the proper preparation in place. And that goes for all kinds of projects, from something small like removing scratches from cement tile up to larger projects like a kitchen remodel — not just removing tile from a concrete floor.
Know the Type of Tile You’re Removing
You need to know what type of tile you’re removing, both to identify the proper removal method and for safety reasons.
If you’re looking to remove vinyl or linoleum tiles from a concrete floor that was installed prior to 1980, you need to ensure they don’t contain asbestos. It could be in the vinyl floor tiles or the adhesive. As asbestos can harm health, it should be removed only by an asbestos abatement professional.
Prepare the Space
To prepare your space for the job, clear the area of everything you can, including wall hangings, furniture, window decor, and more. Items that can’t be removed — such as built-in cabinets, countertops, toilets, or windows — should be covered for protection. Also, clear anything on top of the tiles you’ll be removing, such as baseboards and trim; this prevents damage to them.
You should also turn off and cover indoor air circulation to prevent the spreading of dust, such as the central HVAC system, individual AC units, or overhead fans.
Necessary Tools & Safety Equipment: What You’ll Need
Before you begin your project, you’ll need to gather the necessary equipment. Below, we’ve covered some of the essentials you might need.
- Dust mask
- Safety Glasses
- Thick-padded, protective gloves
- Long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and closed-toed shoes
- Knee Pads
Wear the necessary safety gear for each step of the process to protect yourself from tiny shards of tile and more.
The equipment you need may depend on the method you’re using to remove the tiles, which we’ll get into shortly.
It’s best to start by deciding on the tile removal method you’re going to use and understand the process before beginning to pinpoint which materials are necessary for a more precise list. Nonetheless, we’ve compiled a list of some general equipment your project might require:
- Mallet or sledgehammer
- Pry bar
- Masonry chisel
- Cold chisel
- Heavy-duty floor scraper
- Putty knife
- Utility knife
- Rotary hammer with thin-set removal bit
- Broom and dustpan, a shop vac, and a flat shovel and wheelbarrow
- Grout saw (if removing concrete tiles from a small portion of the area)
- Hammer drill with chisel attachment (if using a method that requires it)
- Hair dryer or heat gun (if needed to heat adhesive glue)
- Mop or wet-dry vacuum
- Concrete grinder/handheld angle grinder (consider reaching out to a professional if these tools are necessary)
Identify How the Tiles are Attached to the Concrete Floor
Determining how your tiles are attached to the concrete floor is essential to choosing the proper removal method.
Is it a floating or click-in-place tile? You can simply slide a thin pry bar beneath one edge and lift the tile gently.
If that doesn’t work, your tile has likely been glued down either using thin-set or mastic adhesive – possibly both.
To determine if your tile is attached using mastic, grab a chisel or pry bar and scrape around each tile’s edge. If there’s an adhesive, gummy layer underneath, your tiles are probably being held down by mastic adhesive.
If you don’t yield any gummy residue when you scrape, and the pry bar doesn’t give any budge to your tiles, they’re probably set using thin-set mortar.
How to Remove Mortar Set Ceramic Tiles
Below, we’ll cover two methods for removing mortar set ceramic tiles.
Method 1: Remove Tiles With a Masonry Chisel
If you’re only removing tiles within a small portion of the space, you’ll require a grout saw. A grout saw allows you to grind away at the tiles’ surrounding grout for removal. By doing so, you help to protect the surrounding tiles from damage. If you’re removing the entire floor, you don’t need to worry about this.
Step 1: Locate Starting Point
You may want to start somewhere with loose grout or create a starting point by holding your cold chisel perpendicular to the face of your tile and fracturing it by hitting it with the sledgehammer.
Step 2: Remove Tiles
You’ll get the best results with a masonry chisel around 2.5cm wide. Insert your chisel between the concrete floor and the tile. Lay it at an angle of around 45 degrees and use the sledgehammer or mallet to force it down, raise the tile edge, and break the bond with the floor.
Use the chisel to pry the tile section and remove it altogether. Continue until your job is done.
You could also use a flat shovel or floor scraper by beginning at your starting point, sliding the floor scraper under the attached tile remnants, and prying it away from the subfloor surface.
If any tiles are particularly stubborn, you can strike them with the chisel to break them and make removal easier. Remove the broken pieces to clear enough room for you to continue working on more tiles safely. You’ll alternate between scraping and hammering as you continue to uncover the entire space.
Ensure you’re careful while moving away tile shards, as their edges can be sharp and can cut through gloves, particularly porcelain tile.
Method 2: Remove Tiles Using a Hammer Drill
If your ceramic tiles have been embedded deep into the thin-set mortar, you may have some difficulty removing them using the above method. A hammer drill with a chisel attachment can make removal easier and faster.
Step 1: Find Your Starting Point
You’ll find your starting point in much the same way as you did for the previous method, or create one using a chisel and mallet. You could also use your hammer drill.
Step 2: Remove Tiles
Attach your chisel tip or floor scraping attachment to your hammer drill and set it at an angle on the starting point you’ve identified or created. Turn it on and move from one tile to the next until you’ve removed them all. Doing so will help to loosen up the mortar, saving you the effort of scraping it away later.
Your hammer drill will work similarly to a jackhammer, delivering quick hits using the chisel, breaking through tile and grout, and transforming the floor into debris that’s easy to remove. While this is still challenging work, it’s much easier than removing tiles individually with a masonry chisel.
How to Remove Vinyl Tile
Linoleum flooring or vinyl tile will require a different removal method, as these tiles are pliable and aren’t going to crack like ceramic tiles will. Here’s how you can remove them:
Step 1: Pry Up a Corner of the Tile
Pry up a single tile’s corner with the help of a putty knife. If there isn’t a loose corner, you might need to use a utility knife to cut through the tile.
Step 2: Lift the Tile
You’ll want to slip your floor scraper or putty knife beneath the tile and lift it away. If you’re met with resistance, use a heat gun or hair dryer to soften the adhesive glue. Doing so will make it easier to scrape up the tiles.
Removing Tile Adhesive
So, now you’ve got the tile removed from your floor – congratulations!
Unfortunately, your task still isn’t complete, and you can’t quite start installing the latest flooring trends quite yet. You still have to remove the tile adhesive that was left behind.
If your tile was installed to a backer board or underlayment, you’ll need to rip that out.
However, if your tile was applied directly to concrete, which is common, your work is cut out for you.
How you’ll remove the adhesive depends on the type of adhesive used. Below, we’ll cover how to remove both adhesive mastic and thin-set mortar from your concrete floor.
Removing Adhesive Mastic
Begin by scraping up the glue using a long-handled floor scraper or a wide chisel. You can also use hot water to soften the mastic or opt for a commercial mastic remover.
Removing Thin-Set Mortar
Cured thin-set mortar will have a hard consistency, much like cement, requiring you to repeatedly chip away with a chisel, rotary hammer with a thin-set removal bit, or a floor scraper. Be prepared for this to create a lot of dust – so protect yourself with goggles and a face mask.
Using a Concrete Grinder
If you’re still not having much luck removing the adhesive, you can grind off the residual mastic or thin-set with a concrete grinder and follow that up by using a handheld angle grinder in corners and along the walls. Doing so could help you to achieve a smooth surface. Ensure your grinder is equipped with a port to hook up a dust vac, so you can collect the dust from grinding as you work.
Especially if you’ve never operated a concrete grinder before, it’s wise to consider contacting a professional for help here. They’ll understand the proper grinding discs that should be used and how to operate the machine safely and without marring your concrete.
Cleaning Up and Leveling the Floor
After you’ve removed the tile, it’s likely that your space could use some cleaning. You can use a broom and shop vac to remove any debris and dust particles. Then, with a mop or wet-dry vacuum, you can clean the entire floor afterward.
If you want to level the floor after the tiles are removed, the surface will need to be ground down. For best results, you should contact a professional for this step.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Hard Is It To Remove Tile From A Concrete Slab?
Removing tile from a concrete slab is a difficult job, but still possible. You need to start by determining what type of tile you’re working with and how it is adhered to the concrete to determine which removal method is best for you.
How Hard Is It To Remove Ceramic Tile From Concrete?
Removing ceramic tile from concrete is definitely a challenge, but it is doable. The process is made easier if you have a hammer drill with a chisel attachment rather than using a masonry chisel.
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