How-To Remove Tile From Concrete Floors

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how to remove tile from concrete

Whether you just bought the house, or you just need an update, tile floors can be a problem.

Most tile floor installs are done directly on concrete. While it can help stability and durability, it makes it difficult to remove.

If you want to know how to remove tile from concrete, you are in the right place.

This article will examine the process, explain the tools and give you all of the options there are for proper tile floor removal.

Tile removal from concrete is a tedious and time consuming job. While not overly difficult, it is repetitive and can be difficult on hands, joints, knees and backs.

Proper technique, tools usage and procedures are all covered here.

Removing Tile From Concrete: Basic Idea

While the actual procedure and steps are more detailed and advanced, the basic idea behind tile removal can be explained in a few short steps.

Before we dive into the more advanced aspect, let’s look at the basic process.

  • Start at the beginning. Your first step is to pick a starting spot, using a hammer and chisel, you start by removing the first piece of tile.
  • Continue chiseling. Once the first piece is removed, you continue removing pieces until the floor is removed
  • Remove mastic. Once the tiles are removed, you will need to remove as much of the adhesion (mastic, thin-set, etc.) as possible.
  • Re-level concrete. Using a thin-set, mastic or other concrete leveling compound, level the floor again in preparation for new tile.
  • Add new tile. Once the floor is leveled and dry, you can install the new tile according to type instructions.

Tools Needed to Remove Tile

tools needed to remove tile

Before you begin the process, it is best to have everything ready and on standby.

What that “everything” is, though, will depend on your intended removal process. Let’s take a look at the possibilities.

Personal Protective Gear

You will need things like eye protection, dust masks, gloves, knee pads and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect you from flying debris, dust particles and fatigue.

Most of these can be purchased at any home improvement store. You can also find them anywhere hardware supplies are sold. For total protection you can expect to spend between $25 and $65.

Hammer and Chisel

To start the process (and even finish) you need to chisel away at the starting point. A standard chisel, and a drilling hammer (a miniature sledge hammer) are ideal.

Most chisel sets come in variable sizes but if you do get a set (or individual chisels) make sure you get a ¾ to 1-inch chisel. A drilling hammer will be best used to knock the chisel. You can find these miniature sledge hammers for about $10.

Air Powered Chisel

For powered tool jobs (large spaces) a power chisel will come in handy. If you have an air compressor, air chisels are quick, easy to use and can make shorter work of the process.

Air powered tools are expensive, though, and if you aren’t already equipped with the base tools, you can end up spending more on the air chisel than you do on the entire floor.

Floor Scraping Machine

For extra large areas, those on a larger budget or those that need to save time, floor scrapers are great. A high powered floor scraper can save you hours but will cost you plenty, even in rentals.

A floor scraper is considered heavy machinery. While you don’t need a license to operate, it can be beyond the skills or technical abilities of some users. Rentals tend to run between $150 to $250 per day.

Wet or Dry Vacuum

A shop vacuum will handle the debris and larger pieces that can wreck a standard vacuum. If you opt for a wet dry vacuum with filtration, you can even clean up dust.

Of course a standard vacuum may work too, but the tile pieces may break vacuum bags or damage canisters. It is best to use a shop vacuum for the larger debris, first.

Cleaning Supplies

Brooms, mops, floor cleaners and towels will finish the clean up and make your new flooring look great.

You want to ensure the tools and cleansers are suitable for your floor type. This includes the best vacuums for tile floors, or the right mops for the grout and adhesives you’ll be using.

Professional Tile Removal Options

pro tile removal options

You can hire out the job and there is no shame in that. A professional contractor will have the proper tools, usually comes with a team to make short work of the task and can clean up after they are done.

If you don’t have the skill, desire or want, you can call in a professional. You, of course, will have to pay for it. According to HomeWyse, the average cost for tile floor removal will range between $9 to $19 per square foot (including clean up). For a 120 square foot area, you can expect to pay about $300 for the floor removal.

Note that this does not include laying the new tile. When shopping for a contractor you need to find a reliable company.

One that is licensed, well reviewed and offers free quotes or estimates. You also need to find at least 3 of them.

DIY: Remove Tile From Concrete Floors

If you have decided to take on the project yourself and have all of your tools and PPE ready, then the process is pretty straight forward. The one thing to keep in mind is that this is going to take a while.

Even with power tools and floor scrapers it can take several hours to complete the task. Small areas like bathrooms can easily take up 6 to 8 hours of your day. Larger projects may span multiple days. Ensure you are prepared for that and have the room blocked off from traffic and disruption.

Choose Starting Spot

The first step of any tile removal job is to find a weak spot. This can be an already loose tile, an area missing grout or a tile that has a crack in it. If the floor is otherwise perfect, you may need to start at the edge of the room, removing any molding so you can get to the edge or bottom of a tile.

Using your chisel and hammer, you want to start chipping away until the chisel can easily get underneath a portion of tiles. You want to hit hard, but controlled. A chisel can crack and remove bits of the concrete, which you want to avoid.

Once you have your starting point chipped away, the chisel point shouldn’t ever go straight down into the concrete again. From this point, you move to the next step, making the starting area larger.

Make Area Larger

As you can imagine, chipping away at the mortar beneath the tiles is tedious work. You want to go outward from your starting point, chiseling and removing tiles and mastic as you go.

It may help to stop every few feet and use a shop vacuum to clear away the debris. This will help you see where you are, what is left and if you missed any areas.

Because this part of the job is bad for lower backs, knees and elbows (plus your hands it you do it all manually), take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.

Once you have a few feet of tile removed, you can move to power tools, floor scrapers or air chisels. You want to start underneath a tile and go slow until you are comfortable with the tool and how fast it operates.

After all the tiles are removed and vacuumed up, it is time to grab the hammer and chisel again for a bit of tidying up work.

Remove Tile Mortar From Concrete Floor

Using your vacuum, clean the area well so that it is easier to see what is left behind. Odds are there are a lot of areas that aren’t quite down to the concrete.

Removing the mortar is an important part of the process and also the most grueling. Going back over the area, by hand, to flatten, remove and lower the adhesive level to the concrete will take time.

There are two things to note with this step. First, if you are going to re-tile the floor, you don’t need to be perfect. Your new mortar will help level the floor and prepare the surface for new tile. However, you don’t want to leave so much behind that you have to add inches to the base mastic.

Second, if you are going to install a different flooring type, such as luxury vinyl planks (LVP) or engineered hardwood, you need to be more critical about the floor. It may be worth the time and investment to rent a floor scraper and ensure you are left with nothing but flat, level concrete.

Level With Thin-Set Latex

Once the tiles, adhesive and mastic has all been removed, you need to clean the flooring fairly well. Vacuuming the floor to remove all dust and debris will go a long way towards making the new adhesive stick better.

After the floor is clean, you need to lay new mastic. Thin-set latex mortar is the most popular. It is easy to apply, dries and sets in a good time for both laying tile and second coats. It also works to help level the concrete.

If there are some areas of previous mortar you missed, cracks in the concrete or other uneven areas, the thin-set can be applied using two or three layers to give a nice even and level surface. Use a 12-inch trowel to lay a thin layer (about 1/8-inch) of thin-set.

You will also use the thin-set, mastic or adhesives to lay the new tile.

Install New Tile

Once the base layer of mastic or thin-set is applied and cured, you can then install the new tile. It is best to use thin-set for this process, too, as it holds better than mastic and is much easier to work with.

Whatever adhesive base you use, make sure to space your tiles, let the mortar cure and then grout properly.

After the grouting is complete, you can then vacuum, sweep and mop before using your brand new floor. Congratulations!

Tile Removal by Hand or by Machine

tile removal

The age old question of which is better, removing tile by hand or machine? While we no longer live in an age of Paul Bunyan, man versus machine still wages on.

The better option is a mixture of both. Hand chiseling is hard and takes a long time, but you are much more accurate. Because of this, it is best to hand chisel the old tile and mortar away when you first start and around fixtures, appliances and cabinets.

Once you have established a large removal area, you can slide the machine chisel in, either air chisels or a floor scraper. You will remove the tiles quickly, but it creates a bigger mess, puts more dust and particles in the air and can quickly cause damage to the concrete below.

When using machines to remove tile and mortar, go slow and be deliberate. If you feel uncomfortable with the power tools, stop and revert back to hand chiseling. While the process may take longer, the end result will be better and you will minimize damage to nearby items.

Installing Different Floor Types After Tile Removal

If you plan to remove the tile to install a different floor type, the process will be a little different. It will also vary based on the type of flooring you plan to install.

Carpet, for example, will require a subfloor. While you can install the carpet pad directly on the concrete, it isn’t always a good idea. Plywood subfloors are fairly cheap and easy to install, but you need to ensure the concrete is clean, undamaged and level prior to install.

Other floor types may not need the tile removed at all. LVP and laminate planks, for example, are floating floors. You can install directly over the existing tiles without much prepwork or issue.

Depending on the existing tiles, you can also place new tiles directly on the old ones. If you go this route, though, the floor level will rise. You may need to adjust doors, appliances or even cabinet basses to accommodate. Measure and check before you go down this road.

Frequently Asked Questions

faq tile removal

In this section, we will answer some of the most common questions about removing tile from concrete (and tile in general). If you have other questions, please use the comment section below.

Q. Is removing tile from concrete hard?

  1. The actual process of tile removal isn’t a difficult task. It is time consuming and can be hard on the body, but chiseling ceramic or porcelain tiles is pretty simple. Removing the mastic or mortar after the tiles are gone is also time consuming and can be more difficult.

Q. How much does it cost to remove and install a tile floor over concrete?

  1. Costs will vary greatly based on several factors. The biggest factors are location, size of the project and type of tiles being installed. Contractors average cost for tile removal on concrete is between $9 and $19 per square foot. If clean up is included, this cost can rise.

Installation of tile generally falls between $3 and $5 per square foot, plus the cost of the tiles and cleaning. However, with national labor averages, a standard 120 square foot project with removal, install, clean up and no concrete repair needed will average about $900 to $1200.

Q. What is the fastest way to remove tile from concrete?

  1. An electric floor scraper is going to be the fastest method of tile removal. These high-powered machines make short work of tile flooring. Usually they can reduce the amount of work by at least 50% and cut an 8 hour project down to less than 3 hours.

However, they are expensive to buy, and rental charges by the day can get costly on larger projects. You will also not be able to use them under counters, neat toilets, sinks or other fixtures and they aren’t the best method for starting the removal process.

Q. How do I remove tile floor adhesives?

  1. Tile mastic, mortar or adhesive is removed the same way as the tiles. With a hammer and chisel. It is a time consuming process that requires a lot of work. Power tools and air chisels can help minimize the time you are on the floor, but the work is still tedious.

Conclusion

Removing tile from concrete takes a great deal of time. Sometimes, it is worth it to leave the tile in place and install the new flooring over the top.

When it is not the right thing to do, tile removal is a simple process. Chisel away a few tiles, and then use power tools and air chisels to remove the rest. If performing the project by hand you can expect to spend about 2 hours for every 25 square feet or so. Double that for also removing the adhesive.

Once you are done, though, the floor will be level, sturdy and ready for a new flooring to be installed.

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AUTHOR

Nora has more than 5 years experience in the floor covering industry, acquiring vast knowledge about installation and material selection. She now enjoys working as a writer and an interior decorator. Her work has been featured in The Spruce, Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Real Homes. See full biography here.

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