How To Remove Bathroom Tile

December 8, 2022

Nothing screams “out of style” like old bathroom tiles. Unless you’re trying to play the retro game—and there’s nothing wrong with that!—your old bathroom that was last updated in the 1980s might be due for some modern TLC. But if you’re on a DIY budget, how do you actually remove bathroom tile to prepare for that new look? 

What Are The Different Types Of Bathroom Tile?

Generally, there are six types of tile used in bathrooms. They are:

  1. Ceramic tile. This is one of the most popular types of bathroom tile due to how versatile it is. The glaze on it helps protect against stains and damage. 
  2. Porcelain tile. Made from a higher ratio of silica and quartz, these tiles tend to be more durable (and more expensive) than regular ceramic tile. They can also be glazed, etched, and texturized so they resemble other types of surfaces, including hardwood. 
  3. Glass tile. Glass tile has the best stain resistance of any tile out there, but it can chip or crack easily. It’s usually used on areas like a backsplash or on a shower wall, where nothing heavy can fall on it. 
  4. Marble tile. This natural stone comes in many colors but may require extra sealant due to its porous surface. While it’s also considered one of the more expensive and elegant bathroom tile options, it may crack during removal. 
  5. Granite tile. Granite is much harder than marble and less prone to chips and cracks. Because of this, it can also withstand the removal process better than marble, which sometimes allows you to repurpose it.  
  6. Other natural stone tile. You can also find slate, limestone, travertine, or sandstone in bathrooms. These are all porous, however, and they will chip into small pieces when you remove them.

What Surfaces Can I Remove Bathroom Tile From?

While you can find tiles on almost any bathroom surface, you’ll usually find them on bathroom walls and floors. They can vary by area and may include:

  • Walls
  • Floors
  • Bathtub walls
  • Shower walls
  • Shower floors

When removing tiling from walls, you’ll need to be careful not to damage the drywall underneath. If you’re removing tiling from a floor, you’ll again want to be careful not to damage the subfloor and/or underlayment beneath it.

How Do I Prepare To Remove BathroomTile?

Removing bathroom tile can create a lot of dust, so you’ll want to cover all areas of the bathroom that you’re not working on. To do this, hang plastic or cloth sheets over all surfaces you want to keep clean. You’ll also need to Detach or remove any items that are in the way, including mirrors, toilets, sinks, vanities, and shelves.

What Tools Do I Need For Bathroom Tile Removal?

When it comes to removing bathroom tile, you’re going to need an assortment of tools, including:

  • Cold chisel
  • Pry bar
  • Hammer
  • Heat gun
  • Shop-vac
  • Utility knife
  • Putty knife
  • Masking tape
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Reciprocating/oscillating saw

What Safety Gear Do I Need For Removing Bathroom Tile?

Removing tile doesn’t just kick up a lot of dust. Pieces of tile can cut you or, worse, hit your eyes. Before starting the removal process, making sure you’re wearing the following:

  • Boots
  • Face mask (like 3M 8511 or 3M 8210)
  • Work gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Long pants
  • Long sleeve shirt

How Do I Remove Bathroom Tile?

Again, before you start prying up tile, you’ll need to plan which surface you’re removing them from. Removal can take approximately 1-2 days, depending on the size of your bathroom. You may want to remove a few hidden tiles at first so you can easily gauge how long the job might take. A heat gun can also help you melt any caulking lining tile edges.

Since you’re most likely going to be working on either the floor or the wall, we’ll tackle these surfaces one at a time. 

How to Remove Tile From Your Bathroom Wall

If you’re wondering how to remove bathroom wall tile, this section is for you. The first thing you need to prioritize when removing bathroom wall tile is not damaging the wall structure underneath. Then follow these steps:

  1. Cover the floor. This is important—particularly for floors—because tiles or tile pieces could fall and damage your floor as you pry them off.
  1. Carefully remove the grout from between the tiles. To do this, you’ll need either a chisel or a rotary or oscillating tool that you can easily control. Don’t cut too deep into the grout, as this can damage the drywall or lath and plaster below.
  1. Loosen and pry off the tiles. Use a hammer, chisel, and wide putty knife to pry up the tiles, either whole or in pieces. Tiles set with thinset (a type of mortar) and mastic (a tile adhesive) can be difficult to remove. With thinset, you may need to break the tiles into pieces.
  1. For tough jobs, score the old tile before prying it up. To do this, run a straightedge across one of the diagonals, then run a scoring tool along it. Repeat this step until the line is at least 1/16-inch deep, and then do the same on the other diagonal. This can help you break the tile into smaller pieces. Just be careful not to cut yourself on any sharp edges!
  1. Scrape off the mortar or adhesive residue. Once your tile is removed, you’ll need to remove all remnants of whatever bonding agent was used to set the tiles. To remove thinset, you may need to use an oscillating tool equipped with a carbide rasp. To remove mastic, you can scrape it off with a wide putty knife.

How to Remove Tile From Your Bathroom Floor

If you’re wondering how to remove bathroom floor tile, know that it’ll be a similar process to removing wall tile. Instead of worrying about the wall, however, you’ll need to be careful not to damage the subfloor or underlayment below it. To remove floor tile, do the following:

  • Carefully remove the grout from between the tiles. Again, you’ll want to use a chisel with a masonry hammer or a rotary or oscillating tool (like a grout saw) to cut through the grout as deeply as possible without damaging the subfloor or underlayment. 
  • Loosen and pry off the tiles. Use a hammer, chisel, and wide putty knife to pry up the tiles, either whole or in pieces.
  • For stubborn tiles, score and break the old tile before prying it up. Run a scoring tool across the diagonals with a straightedge. Repeat this until the scoring line is at least 1/16-inch deep. Unlike with wall tiles, you can strike the center to break the tile before scraping it up—the subfloor should be able to handle the pressure.
  • Scrape off the mortar or adhesive residue. Use a hammer and bricklayer’s chisel to tap away the thinset or mastic, and clean up loose tile as you go. Just like with walls, you can use an oscillating tool equipped with a carbide rasp to remove thinset from floors.
  • Evaluate your subfloor for damage. Replace any panels of the subfloor that were damaged so you can lay your new floor.

Cleaning Up After Bathroom Tile Removal—And Prepping For Your New Look

After you remove your bathroom tile, you’ll want to dispose of them. But not so fast—they’re considered construction waste, so you can’t just throw them in the trash without checking your local disposal guidelines. If you don’t have an immediate use for your old tile, you have a few options:

  • Donate them. Only do this if they’re not broken! Someone somewhere might have a great use for them.
  • Recycle them. Some recycling centers will accept old tiles for a fee and repurpose ones that are still usable.
  • Sell them. There may be buyers who are looking for just the tiles you have. You can list them online on sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace and maybe earn some extra cash!
  • Store them for future use. If your tiles are in good shape, you may want to reuse them someday. If this is the case, store them in a box somewhere dry and out of the way.
  • Repurpose them around your home. Depending on their condition and the material, tiles can make nice coasters, plant stands, or food serving trays. 
  • Rent a dumpster from a waste removal service. This is the easiest way to get rid of tiles and leave proper disposal methods up to the professionals.

Once your tiles are gone, your bathroom will become a fresh slate for any new look you can dream up! Use your imagination, and figure out what decor you’ll be thrilled to wake up to each day.

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