The Definitive Guide To Removing Floor Tiles From Concrete

There are various reasons you might want to remove floor tiles from concrete. Maybe the adhesive has failed, and the tiles are coming loose, or maybe you want to change the look of your floor with a new tile design. Whatever the reason, this article will take you through how to remove floor tiles from a concrete floor.

While the tile removal process for ceramic floor tiles, porcelain tiles, or even natural or travertine tile is similar, removing any type of floor tiles from concrete can be daunting. This is especially true if the tile is directly fixed with adhesive to the floor rather than on concrete board or wood.

Without an underlayment or subfloor, the tile will be difficult to pry from the concrete, and you'll have to knock out the tiles to detach them from the adhesives. If you don't know what you're doing, you could end up damaging your concrete and making the problem worse.

In this definitive guide, we will walk you through the process step-by-step and show you how to remove floor tiles from concrete without damaging the floor surface beneath!

 

man removing tiles by hand

Getting Started;

Safety Equipment

The first step for any successful project starts with safety.

Responsible tile removal requires adequate safety gear. You will encounter dust as well as sharp pieces of broken tiles that can cut or scratch you easily if not well protected by the proper safety gear

To help make your tile removal experience safe and smooth, You will need:

  • Safety glasses & a dust mask
  • Protective, thick padded gloves
  • Long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and closed-toed shoes
  • Kneepads – you'll regret not having them when you kneel on a rough surface or a sharp piece of broken tile!

"There is no job too small to consider your safety."

We recommend always having safety gear, even for small backyard tile removal jobs. With the appropriate, you'll always be protected and prevent yourself from getting harmed by tiny shards of tile that will go flying during the removal process. If you don't use the proper safety gear, tiny tile shards can easily find their way into the eye and will often leave cuts and abrasions on your hands or knees.

Prepare The Space

Before you start removing ceramic floor tiles, it's essential to prepare the area you will be working on thoroughly. This involves clearing the space of all furniture and other fittings like wall hangings, window decor and anything else that can easily become scratched and damaged.

Items that might be challenging to remove or can't be moved entirely, like toilets, built-in cabinets, countertops, or windows, should be covered with drop cloths or anything protective. This helps protect the items from shards of tile, dust and debris.

Next, remove anything sitting on top of the tiles you are preparing to remove. This includes the trim and baseboard of your floor. This will expose the tile edges and prevent baseboard damage as they can be reused.

Pro tip: Cover and turn off individual AC units, the central HVAC system, overhead fans and other indoor air circulation to avoid spreading dust.

Tile Removal- Different Approaches

Now that you've prepared the space and are ready to start with your tile removal project, it's time to gather the right tools. This will prevent unnecessary trips back and forth for additional supplies or equipment throughout your project.

In a separate area, lay out all of your tools in preparation for quick access when you need them during the removal process.

First, you'll need to determine how your tiles are attached to the concrete floor. This will help inform which tool best suits your project and what kind of tile-removal technique (method) to use. If it's a floating or click-in place tile that has not been fixed with adhesive directly onto the concrete, you can remove it by sliding a thin pry bar beneath one edge and gently lifting it up. 

If this method does not affect your tile, chances are it's been glued down with either thin-set or mastic adhesive (ceramic tile adhesive) or both depending on when it was installed.

To check if your tile is attached to the concrete floor with mastic, you can use a chisel or pry bar to scrape around the edges of each tile. If there is an adhesive layer beneath it, it's probably mastic adhesive holding your tiles down. If scraping does not yield any "gummier" residue and there's still no budge on your tile pieces when using the pry bar, the tiles are likely set in thinset mortar.

There are different ways to remove mortar set ceramic tiles;

How to Remove Ceramic Tile Floors With Masonry Chisel

If you are only removing a small area within a room, you will need a grout saw to grind away the grout surrounding the tile or tiles to be removed. This helps preserve the surrounding tile from being damaged and makes the removal process much more manageable. Skip this step if the entire floor is to be removed.

  1. Find a starting point, possibly an area with loose grout, or create one by holding the chisel (cold chisel) perpendicular to the face of the tile and hitting it with the sledgehammer to fracture it.
  2. You will need a masonry chisel about 2.5 cm wide for better results.
  3. Once you have a good starting point, insert the chisel between the tile and concrete floor. Lay it at an angle of about 45 degrees and force it down using a sledgehammer or mallet to raise the tile edge and break the bond from the floor. Pry the tile section using the chisel to remove the tile altogether and proceed to the next till the job is done.
  4. Alternatively, you can use a flat shovel or a floor scraper. Once you find a starting point, slide the floor scrapper under the attached remnants of the tiles and pry them away from the subfloor surface.
  5. If you encounter a stubborn tile, strike it with a chisel to break it and enable easy removal. Move the broken pieces to create enough space for you to proceed to the next safely. You will keep alternating between hammering and scraping as you make your way through the entire floor space.

NOTE: Be extremely careful when moving the shards of tiles. The sharp edges can even cut through gloves like glass, especially when dealing with porcelain tile.

How to Remove Tile Floors Using A Hammer Drill

If your ceramic tiles are deeply embedded in thinset mortar, removing them manually using a pry bar, chisels, and a sledgehammer can be backbreaking and time-consuming. You will need a hammer drill with a chisel attachment for easy removal and a speedier process.

Just like when using a handheld chisel and scrapper, you have to find or create a starting point. You can do this by using a chisel and mallet as explained earlier above or directly with the hammer drill.

  • Simply attach the chisel tip or a floor scraping attachment to a hammer drill and set it at an angle on your starting point.
  • Switch on the hammer and let it do its magic as you move from one tile to another till they are all removed.
  • The best part about using this method is that it also loosens up the mortar for easy removal, especially for stubborn tiles, saving you the time and energy to scrape it off later.

A hammer drill works pretty much like a jackhammer. It's an effective method of removing the tile efficiently. The drill delivers quick blows through the chisel, breaking through grout and tile alike, reducing the floor to a pile of easily removed debris. It's still a lot of work but less laborious than individualized tile removal using a masonry chisel.

How To Remove Ceramic Tiles Using A Tile Removal Machine

If you plan to remove tile flooring in a large space or an entire floor, you might want to invest in commercial-grade tile removal equipment. This will make the process faster and easier.

Commercial tile removal machines can either be propane-powered or electric. Brands include Bartell Global scrapers, National Flooring Equipment machines, and Taylor Tools floor and tile removing machines.

commercial tile removal machine

View the Bartell Global Infinity Tile Removal Machine

Propane-powered tile removal machines are perfect for large spaces as you move around with a cordless machine. However, they can be pretty expensive and hard to use.

An electric tile stripper is the best option for home DIYers and those who are on a budget. It's easier to find, affordable, and works like magic when removing tiles from concrete floors. Both types can use a wide variety of blades to remove different tiles types.

Pro Tip. When using a tile removal machine, first;

  • Choose the right blade for the job.

Different blades are designed for different purposes. Most default blades are suitable for removing ceramic tiles that aren't well-adhered to the concrete surface. Steel hardened replacement blades are ideal for breaking and scraping cement mortar beds beneath the tile, suitable for complete tile removal, and getting rid of other stubborn adhesives.

  • Experiment With Different Blade Pitches

If the default blade pitch isn't working well for you, try adjusting the slope of the blade. A higher-pitched blade will give more aggressive cuts but might also damage the concrete subfloor. A lower-pitched blade makes cleaner cuts but takes longer to remove tile. You have to find what works best for your situation and adjust as needed.

With the two tips above, you can virtually use any automatic tile stripper to separate floor tile from any concrete slab.

Related: How To Use A Floor Scraper Or Tile Removal Machine

Cleaning After & Restoring Your Floor

Before moving on to the next envisioned flooring project, you must ensure that the floor is clean and free of all debris. This means removing any rough and ugly adhesive and mortar or tile debris.

First,

  • Brush off all the loose debris and dust using a broom. Use a shop vac to suck up all the small debris and dust particles left behind.
  • Use a floor scraper to remove any adhesive residue and hardened mortar.
  • A wire brush can help remove stubborn adhesive or mortar but may not be suitable for use on delicate surfaces like marble.
  • Finally, use a mop or wet-dry vacuum to clean the entire floor and remove any leftover dust or debris. For more thorough cleaning, you can use a pressure washer.

How do you level a concrete floor after removing tile?

To level a concrete floor after removing the tiles, you will need to grind the surface down. This may require heavy-duty machinery and should be done by professionals for best results. You can also use a self-leveling compound (SLC) if there are small areas of unevenness in your subfloor that need addressing before laying new tiles or another flooring.

If you are reapplying ceramic tiles to the same area, adhesive removal doesn't necessarily have to be perfect. Simply smoothen it out and make sure the remaining adhesive is not more than 1/8" thick. When you are working on a budget, you can use the traditional tile removal methods, like chiseling them off or using a flat-faced shovel. However, there is more likelihood of damage to your floor, making it harder to install new tiles than when using power tools for the job.

Installing your new flooring.

When remodeling a concrete floor, always ensure that the subfloor is clean and free of any debris. This will make it easier to lay down new tiles or even install other types of flooring materials like carpeting or vinyl planks.

The most important thing is to have a clear picture in your mind of what you want your floor to look like when you are finished. Once the tiles are removed, it is easier to see what condition the concrete subfloor is in and decide whether you need to do some repairs before installing new tiles.

In most cases, if the subfloor is in good condition and there isn't too much damage, you can prepare the area for new tiles by grinding and smoothening. Suppose there is significant damage, extreme moisture penetration or severe cracking. In that case, you may need to hire a professional contractor to repair or replace the entire floor before laying down new tiles.

The Verdict

Removing tiles from a concrete floor can be tricky if you don't know the right way of doing it. However, following the instructions above and using the right tools for tile removal will make quick work of removing even stubborn tiles from concrete floors seamlessly. Always make sure to wear protective clothing and safety goggles when removing tiles.

Removing tiles from a concrete floor; FAQ's

What is the easiest way to remove tile from a floor?

The easiest way to remove tile from a floor is by using an automatic tile removal machine. It can be a rental or a machine that you purchase. With the right blade and the correct pitch, this will make quick and easy work of removing even the most stubborn tiles.

How hard is it to remove tile flooring?

It depends on the method that you use to remove the tiles. If you are using a power tool with the right blade, it will quickly remove even the most stubborn tiles. Chiseling or prying them off by hand can be a difficult, time-consuming task and may cause damage to the floor.

Can I remove tile flooring myself?

Yes, you can DIY your home removal tile flooring project if it's not too big of an area. You might have to purchase power equipment for more significant projects to make the job easier. It can save you thousands of dollars that you would have otherwise spent on hiring a professional.

How noisy is tile removal?

Tile removal is a noisy and dusty process. You should wear hearing protection, especially if using power tools to remove tiles from concrete floors. Safety goggles are also a must, as there is always the chance of flying debris. Be sure to cover all surfaces in the area you're working in to prevent dust and chips from getting everywhere.

How much does it cost to remove tile flooring?

The cost of removing tile flooring will depend on the size of the area, the tools that you need to rent or purchase, and whether you do it yourself or hire a professional. Generally speaking, expect to spend an average of $500 for smaller projects. For larger projects, expect to spend upwards of $2000. This translates to about $4.5 per square foot.

Can you put tile over cracked concrete?

No, you cannot put tile over cracked concrete. Cracked concrete indicates either movement or stress-related problems with the foundation--meaning you could have serious structural issues if not addressed immediately!

Installing a tile floor is an investment in your home. The tiles themselves may be durable, but they're only as solid and stable as the subfloor on which they rest. You need to repair or replace the entire floor before laying down new tiles.

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