How to Remove Tile from a Concrete Floor

Tile is an outstanding flooring material for bathrooms, kitchens, and other areas where water can be an issue. It can add considerable value to your home as well, and while other materials can mimic its look and style, a good looking tile job is unmistakable.

Unfortunately, if those tiles are attached to concrete, they are difficult to replace or remove. If you need to remove old tiles from concrete, we’re going to walk you through the process of getting them loose without destroying the subfloor or yourself.

How much tile do you need to remove?

Before we talk about renting or buying tools or how much time it will take to remove tile from concrete, think about the floor. What’s the size of the room you need to remove tile from? While a smaller bathroom may seem ideal, cramped spaces can actually be more difficult to work in at times.

If you’re just removing a few tiles for a quick patch, it probably won’t be an issue, but you need enough room to be able to swing a hammer in most cases. For larger areas, you will want to call in a few friends to help with the labor or rent a unique tool to speed things up.

Tile isn’t expensive to remove if you do it yourself, and it’s something most homeowners can handle. The main ingredients needed for successful tile removal are time, patience and elbow grease. If you have those and can set aside a few hours to a few days, then it’s time to think about tools.

Tools required for Tile Removal

Tools required for Tile Removal

What you actually need to remove tile from your concrete floor can vary depending on the size of the project and what’s hold those tiles in place. With that in mind, there are some common items that everyone will need to have on hand.

Safety

For safety, you’ll want a good pair of gloves, a dust mask, and eye protection. A cut from a sharp tile won’t send you to the emergency room, but you’ll end up with bloody knuckles and dozens of tiny cuts if you don’t have a solid pair of work gloves. Kneepads and earplugs aren’t a necessity, but you may thank us for them later.

With eye protection, you can use safety glasses or safety goggles, although we prefer the latter considering tile can strike you from any direction when you’re using a hammer and chisel. A good set of goggles and work gloves are around $10 to $15, while a pack of dusk masks will only set you back a few bucks.

Labor

Do you have a good hammer? That may be enough to get you started, but it’s no substitute for a club or drilling hammer. Also known as a mini sledge” these little hammers are built to destroy… and hit chisels. There are dozens of styles of chisels you can use, but you really just need a 2” to 3” cold chisel that’s comfortable to hold while you swing the hammer or miniature sledge.

You will need a hammer and chisel of some type regardless of the size of the room, as there are always spots where manual tools come in handy. You can remove tile from any room using those simple tools if you have enough moxie although tools like this scraper from Warner will make life easier in larger rooms and with adhesives.

If you don’t have time to tackle your project the old fashioned way, power tools are the quickest and easiest way to go if you own them already. A hammer drill with a good bit or larger rotary hammer will speed the job up as will a budget-friendly air hammer if you have access to an air compressor.

When dealing with large or multiple rooms, you can rent a floor scraping machine for between $50 to $150 per day, depending on the size of the machine and where you are located. It will take care of ceramic or porcelain tiles quickly and shave hours off the job.

Cleanup

No matter why you’re choosing to demo your existing tile floor, you’re still going to need to clean up when you’re done. Tile is one of the messier types of flooring to remove, so a broom and dustpan aren’t going to cut it, although they will come in handy.

A short square point shovel will help you clear shards of tile, but you’ll want to purchase or rent a shop vac for the smaller debris and residue. You don’t want to use a normal household vacuum to clean up this type of mess, and we highly recommend picking up tarps or plastic to put down beforehand. By sealing off any areas outside the work zone, you’ll keep the mess from spreading into other rooms.

Removing Porcelain and Ceramic Tile from Concrete

Before you get started, you’ll need to remove any objects from the area you’ll be working in but also need to take up trim or baseboard. Anything tile is “under” will need to come up or be removed. That can be something as minor as floor vent or more difficult tasks like toilets or cabinets. It all depends on the layout of your home, but plan ahead and cover or remove anything that can be damaged in the room.

Once the room is prepped, take a minute to prepare yourself. T-shirts may be comfortable, but long-sleeve shirts can save your arm from scratches and cuts. Remember those safety glasses? It’s time to put those on along with your gloves and kneepads or ear protection if required.  Have all your tools in or near the area where you’ll work, and then it’s time to get started.

1. Pick a Place to Start

If you have a chipped or broken tile, that’s usually the best place to start. There is no perfect spot to start tearing up a tile floor, but loose and broken tiles will make getting started easier. The same goes for any seams where the grout is missing or loose.

2. Remove a Tile

Simply place your chisel into the seam at an angle and hit the end with your hammer to loosen the tile. If you’re lucky, it may pop right up or loosen an adjoining tile. If you’re going to use an air chisel or chipping hammer, the general process remains the same.

3. Rinse and Repeat

Once you have the first tile up, you’ll be able to choose which direction to proceed in with removing the floor tile. If you see an edge or gap that looks like a perfect fit for your chisel, that’s usually the easiest tile to tackle next. While it can be tempting to give up on a stubborn tile and move to another spot, once you get an edge started, you’ll be surprised at how quickly a sledge and chisel will remove tile.

4. Removing Thinset and Adhesive

It may be exciting once you’ve removed a few tiles from the floor of your home, but you still have to take care of the material that’s holding that tile in place. Removing old mortar or adhesives can be worse than actually removing the tile itself, but you’ll want to follow the same steps. It’s also an area where you may want to consider an air hammer or automatic tool if it’s too difficult to handle manually. 

Conclusion

As you can see, removing tiles from concrete won’t cost you a fortune, and it’s not something you typically don’t need to hire out unless every floor in your house is tiled. Just remember to keep safety in mind when you’re swinging a hammer and set aside at least a full day for your project if you are working in a medium to large-sized room.