How to Remove Tile from the Wall

Posted on by Sam J.

How to Remove Tile from the Wall

Certain home improvement skills are good to have, and knowing how to remove tile from a wall falls into that category. Whether you’re trying to strip the tile from your kitchen, bathroom, or elsewhere in your house, it is not very difficult to learn how to do. You might have gotten tired of looking at the same dull tile scheme and you’re ready for something different, or perhaps you have a more dramatic change in mind for whatever space the tile is currently occupying. Whatever the case might be, let’s look at how you can get rid of those tiles and start with a fresh new concept for the wall underneath.

Getting Started

For the sake of this article, let’s say that you’re trying to remove some ceramic tiles from a wall that have become cracked or tarnished. You’ll need to assemble the necessary tools before you begin. Getting the grout off the wall in addition to the tiles is what’s going to consume the most time as you undertake this project, and you’ll find that most of the grout and tile removal tools are somewhat reminiscent of ice picks. They have sharp points with which you can cut into the old grout after you’ve pried the tile off the walls.

There are also oscillating tools and handheld rotary tools that accomplish the same purpose, and they don’t require quite as much elbow grease for you to use them. They file or grind away the grout once the tiles have been removed. We recommend that you have both of these tools on hand, a manual grout tool as well as an oscillating one. You can pry off the tiles with the pick and then smooth out the remaining grout with the oscillator.

Safety Considerations

Before you start the actual tile removal process, you should think about ventilation. If you’re in a bathroom and you aim to strip off some subway tile backsplash, for instance, then you should open any windows and also get an electric fan going, or an overhead fan if there is one in your bathroom. You’re going to be generating quite a bit of dust, and the more airflow you have going on, the easier it’s going to be for you.

You should wear a painter’s mask if at all possible. Protect your mouth and nose, and also wear goggles to protect your eyes. Whether you’re prying the tiles off the wall or working on the grout underneath it, you should expect sharp chunks to go flying, and the more protection you’re wearing, the better off you’re likely to be.

You'll want to wear protective gloves as well to avoid cutting your hands. Gardening gloves work nicely if you can find a pair where you can wear them and still get some degree of manual dexterity as you use the different tools.

Removing the Tiles

Once you’ve taken your safety precautions, you can get to work on prying the tile off the walls. The way that it was installed is going to make a difference in how difficult it is to remove. Regardless of the method, it is going to take some strength and resolve to get the tile off of there, but you will likely find it a little more difficult if the tile was stuck on using thinset. Thinset is a super-strong adhesive that is designed specifically for tiles, and it clings to surfaces remarkably well.

You’ll need to get some leverage by jamming the edge of your manual tile removal tool under the upper part of the tile and then using a small mallet to wedge the pick in position. You might also use a wide-blade putty knife to get under there. It can be a painstaking process knocking off the tiles one by one. You might get lucky and cause a chain reaction that’s going to get a few tiles off at the same time, but it’s more than likely that you’ll have to do most of them one at a time.

If the tiles are set in mortar, then it’s going to be even more of a challenge getting them off of there. You’ll probably have to break them and then scrape the pieces off the mortar bed. Reusing the tiles is usually an impossibility, so if that’s something you had in mind, then you can probably forget about it.

It’s going to be a messy process. Some people enjoy it, though, as there’s a destructive element to the proceedings that can be quite cathartic.

Removing the Grout

The removal of the grout once the tiles are out of the way is not often as challenging since all that you’re doing is grinding away the residue. The oscillating tool or a handheld rotary tool can get the job done with a little patience, though the dust is going to fly everywhere and cover your clothing, hair, etc. If you’re going to undertake a project of this nature, then it makes sense to wear an old tee-shirt and a pair of jeans or sweatpants that you don’t care about anymore.

If you got your nails or your hair done the day before you’re removing the backsplash from a bathroom or a kitchen wall, it was probably poor planning on your part. This is a dirty job, and while you can save yourself some money by doing it and not having to pay a general contractor, a long, hot shower is doubtless going to be in order afterward.

A Multiple-Person Job

You can undertake this sort of job yourself, but if you have multiple people then it will certainly go faster, especially if you’re making over a fairly large kitchen or bathroom. Maybe you can lure some friends over with the promise of a pizza or a six-pack. Perhaps you have one of those relatives who loves doing this sort of thing who you can entice to help you for a minimal incentive.