Replacing a Damaged Tile - How to Remove Cracked or Damaged Wall Tiles and Floor Tiles and Replace With New

Summary: Step by step instructions on removing a damaged wall or floor tile and how to replace it with a new or decorative tile. Cracked and damaged wall and floor tiles can stand out like a sore thumb so in this DIY guide we show you how to remove wall tiles and also the techniques involved in removing floor tiles so that you can replace them with brand new ones.

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Whether you are a novice or a professional, attempting to remove and replace a wall or floor tile with a new one is always difficult. Even the experienced tradesman will not succeed on every occasion so to these ends this guide will show you how to remove wall tiles and also give you tips on removing floor tiles.

Apart from luck, you may need to use the following tools when removing the rogue tile:-

  • A trimming knife, preferably one with a fixed blade and several spare blades.
  • A grout rake. This a special tool available from tool shops and where tiles are sold.
  • A hammer.A small cold chisel. A power drill and a selection of hard-tipped drill bits.
    If you have an old wood chisel you are prepared to sacrifice, all the better.
  • A sponge and bucket with water for softening the grout and cleaning the area etc.
  • A roll of masking tape. A stiff scraper, such as a wallpaper stripping tool
  • A dustpan and brush for cleaning up the inevitable dust and a cover/dust sheet.
  • If available, you may find an “Exact Cut” with a diamond dust wheel very useful.
  • Replacement tile(s,) tile adhesive and matching grout.
  • Tile spacers of the correct size.
Tile grout removing blade

Tile grout removing blade or Grout Rake

Safety First

As this process will involve chipping out the broken tile, it is very important to wear safety glasses or other protective goggles. A tiny chard of tile in the eye can be extremely painful and  even when washed out, could leave you with a sore eye for some considerable time. A pair of sturdy gloves is also a good idea as broken tiles and tile shards can be very sharp.

Whether tackling wall or floor tiles, the principle is to get through the top glazed surface and remove the underneath material, be it ceramic, porcelain, terracotta or stone. To avoid affecting the neighbouring tiles, it is important to separate the tile you are removing from the other tiles.

How to Remove and Replace Wall Tiles

Clear the surrounding area, remove dirt and soap scum and put down the dustsheet or other protection.

Remove the grout: the wider the grout gap between the tiles is, the better. Grout is essentially a fine cement. Using the masking tape, cover the adjacent tiles around the target tile. This is to avoid scratching the good tiles. A recommendation is to double layer the masking tape on the tiles below, with the principle of better safe than sorry. It is very easy to slip, with the grout rake so it is worth giving the tiles this extra protection.

Decorators masking tape

Decorators masking tape

Try using the trimming knife to start making a groove into the grout, several passes may be required. Then assuming the grout gap is not too small, use the grout rake and remove as much grout as possible. If you have access to the Exact Cut specialist tool, with the diamond dust blade, you can carefully remove the grout with this machine. The corners will have to be finished off with the grout rake.

Sometimes the spaces between the tiles are set by using plastic cross spacers at the tile corners and bedding these into the grout, so that they are covered with grout and thus not visible. Look out for these and if they are present, try to cut them out with the knife.

After putting on your safety eye wear and gloves, with the hammer and cold chisel, attempt to widen the crack in the tile, remember small blows only!

You are attempting to remove the top hardened layer only at this stage. You may be able to propagate this crack to extend the full length of the tile, using this method. Try using the power drill with a small hardened tipped bit to grind away within this crack. Hopefully you can drill several holes. It will help if you use the sponge and some water to cool down the drilling process and the strain on the drill bit.

Using the point of the chisel, within the holes, gently tap away more tile material and hopefully chip away some chunks. Removing pieces of tile in this way, the tile adhesive behind should be soft enough to allow removal of the rest of the tile, by tapping away with the cold chisel and hammer. An old wood chisel may help here. The idea is to get behind the tile and lever it away from the wall.

The remaining grout still stuck to the neighbouring tiles, should be removed using a paring action with the wood chisel and if necessary, the trimming knife. Set in the replacement tile, with adhesive at the back, press into position and using the tile spacers form the grout gap. Leave 24 hours to set, remove the plastic tile spacers and then grout in to finish.

How to Remove and Replace Floor Tiles

These can be made from terracotta clay, stone or porcelain. Proceed as with the wall tiles to remove the grout, but keep in mind, there is less likelihood of any air gaps behind floor tiles and they may have been bedded in with cement, rather than conventional adhesive.

Replacing cracked floor tiles can be a tricky job and depending on the hardness type and thickness of tile, you will need to use a hammer and cold chisel to widen and extend the crack and if possible, drill into the crack in several places using a tile max drill bit or even a diamond dust drill bit. Its important that these items must be used with water or oil coolant to avoid deterioration due to heat.

Sumo cold chisel

Sumo cold chisel

To make a simple retaining ring, use putty around the area to be drilled and filled with water or oil and use a very slow speed when drilling. Porcelain floor tiles are extremely hard and resistant to drilling, so the emphasis should be on widening and chipping away material, trying to get beneath the hardened top surface and levering out chunks of tile.

A tip: when replacing with a new tile, have some strong string or polypropylene twine to hand. Spread your adhesive and use four runs of string, two in each direction on top of the adhesive to form a lattice effect.

Carefully lay your tile and press home. It is important that the tile is fully supported underneath to avoid putting stresses on it as it has to bear a lot of weight.

If there is insufficient or even too much adhesive, resulting in an unlevel tile, use the string ends to pull up the tile, so that corrections can be made. The string can be cut off and pushed beneath the surface when grouting.

Now that we have shown you how to remove wal tiles and also tips for removing floor tiles you may want to find out about taking on a more substantial tiling jobs so why not check out our project on how to lay floor tiles and also our project on ceramic tiling.

Don't fancy doing this project yourself? We work with Checkatrade to ensure that we recommend only reliable and trustworthy tradesmen.

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