How do you remove difficult ceramic tile?


Removing difficult ceramic tiles can be a challenging and time-consuming task, especially if they are firmly attached or installed using strong adhesives. However, with the right techniques and tools, you can accomplish this task successfully and prepare your space for a fresh new look. In this article, we will explore effective methods for removing difficult ceramic tiles, along with essential tips to ensure a smooth and efficient process.

Assess the Difficulty Level

Assessing the difficulty level is an essential step before attempting to remove difficult ceramic tiles. By understanding the factors that contribute to the difficulty, you can plan your approach and choose the most suitable techniques for successful tile removal. Here are some key considerations to help you assess the difficulty level:

  1. Type of Adhesive: Determine the type and strength of the adhesive used to secure the ceramic tiles. Some adhesives, such as epoxy or mortar-based adhesives, can be more challenging to remove compared to mastic or thinset adhesives.
  2. Condition of the Tiles: Examine the condition of the tiles themselves. Are they fragile, cracked, or damaged? Fragile or already damaged tiles require extra care during removal to prevent further breakage.
  3. Substrate Material: Consider the material on which the tiles are installed. Removing tiles from a concrete substrate may be easier compared to removing them from wood or drywall, which are more susceptible to damage.
  4. Previous Installation Techniques: The installation techniques used during the initial tile installation can impact the difficulty of removal. Tiles that were installed with excessive mortar or grout lines can make the removal process more challenging.
  5. Surrounding Features: Take into account any nearby fixtures, appliances, or delicate surfaces that could be at risk of damage during the removal process. Working around these features may require extra caution and additional time.

By evaluating these factors, you can get a better understanding of the level of difficulty involved in removing the ceramic tiles. This assessment will help you plan your strategy, select the appropriate tools and techniques, and ensure a successful tile removal process while minimizing potential damage.

Gather the Right Tools and Equipment

Gathering the right tools and equipment is crucial for effectively removing difficult ceramic tiles. Having the appropriate tools on hand will make the process smoother and more efficient. Here are some essential tools and equipment you'll need:

Safety Gear

  • Safety goggles: Protect your eyes from flying tile shards or debris.
  • Work gloves: Provide hand protection and improve grip when handling tools.
  • Dust mask or respirator: Prevent inhalation of dust particles and potential respiratory issues.

Hand Tools

  • Pry bar: Use a sturdy pry bar to lift and separate tiles from the substrate.
  • Putty knife: Helpful for removing grout or adhesive from tile surfaces.
  • Chisel: Ideal for breaking up stubborn tiles or removing thick mortar.

Power Tools

  • Oscillating tool: With a grout removal or tile cutting attachment, this tool can help with precise tile removal in tight spaces.
  • Rotary hammer drill: Useful for breaking up tough mortar or tile adhesive.
  • Reciprocating saw: Equipped with a tile removal blade, it can quickly cut through tiles and remove them.

Additional Tools

  • Hammer: Assist in breaking up larger pieces of tiles or removing stubborn sections.
  • Bucket and sponge: Essential for water and clean up during the removal process.
  • Floor scraper: Useful for removing leftover adhesive or leveling the substrate.

Protective Coverings

  • Drop cloths or plastic sheeting: Protect floors, furniture, and surrounding areas from debris and potential damage.
  • Masking tape: Secure drop cloths and protect adjacent surfaces from accidental scratches.

Before starting the tile removal process, ensure that you have all the necessary tools and equipment readily available. Having the right tools will not only make the job easier but also minimize the risk of damage to the tiles, substrate, and surrounding areas. Additionally, always prioritize safety by wearing appropriate protective gear throughout the entire removal process.

Prepare the Workspace

Preparing the workspace before removing difficult ceramic tiles is essential to ensure a safe and efficient process. Taking the time to organize and protect the surrounding area will help prevent damage to floors, walls, and fixtures. Here are some key steps to follow when preparing the workspace:

Clear the Area

  • Remove any furniture, appliances, or other objects from the room or section you'll be working in. Clearing the area will provide you with more space to maneuver and prevent any accidental damage.

Protect Adjacent Surfaces

  • Cover floors, countertops, and any other surfaces near the tile area with drop cloths, plastic sheets, or cardboard. This protective covering will safeguard them from debris, scratches, or potential damage during the removal process.

Secure Surrounding Fixtures

  • If there are fixtures or appliances that cannot be moved, such as toilets, sinks, or cabinets, protect them by covering them with plastic sheets or using masking tape. This will prevent any accidental damage caused by tools or debris.

Create Ventilation

  • Adequate ventilation is crucial during the tile removal process to minimize the accumulation of dust and fumes. Open windows, use fans or set up an exhaust system to ensure proper airflow and keep the air clean.

Organize Tools and Materials

  • Arrange your tools and materials in an easily accessible and organized manner. This will save you time and effort during the removal process, allowing you to focus on the task at hand without searching for specific tools.

Consider Safety Measures

  • Ensure there is sufficient lighting in the workspace to see clearly and avoid accidents.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of any unexpected situations.
  • Have a first aid kit readily available for any minor injuries that may occur during the process.

By preparing the workspace properly, you create a safer and more efficient environment for removing difficult ceramic tiles. Taking the time to organize and protect the area will not only prevent damage but also streamline the removal process and help you achieve better results.

Soften the Adhesive

Softening the adhesive is an effective technique to make the removal of difficult ceramic tiles easier and less damaging to the underlying surface. Here are a few methods to soften the adhesive:

Heat Application

Heat can soften many types of tile adhesives, making them more pliable for removal. You can use a heat gun or a hairdryer set to high heat to warm the adhesive. Hold the heat source a few inches away from the tile surface and move it in a sweeping motion to evenly distribute the heat. Be cautious not to overheat the tiles, as excessive heat can cause them to crack or become damaged.


Another way to soften the adhesive is by using steam. A steam cleaner or a handheld steamer can be used to generate hot steam that penetrates the tile and adhesive. Direct the steam onto the tiles for a few seconds to allow the heat and moisture to loosen the adhesive. Work in small sections and use a pry bar or putty knife to gently lift the tiles as the adhesive softens.

Adhesive Removers

There are adhesive removers available in the market specifically designed to break down tile adhesives. These products come in liquid or gel form and work by dissolving the adhesive, making it easier to remove the tiles. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and apply the adhesive remover to the tile surface. Allow it to penetrate and soften the adhesive before attempting to remove the tiles.

When using any of these methods to soften the adhesive, always prioritize safety:

  • Wear gloves and safety goggles to protect your hands and eyes.
  • Ensure proper ventilation to prevent the buildup of fumes.
  • Test a small area first to ensure the chosen method does not damage the tiles or substrate.
  • Use caution when working with heat sources to avoid burns or damage to nearby materials.

By softening the adhesive, you can significantly ease the removal process of difficult ceramic tiles, reducing the risk of damage to the tiles and the underlying surface. Choose the method that suits your preference and the type of adhesive used, and always exercise caution and follow safety guidelines.

Begin the Removal Process

Once you have assessed the difficulty level, gathered the necessary tools, prepared the workspace, and softened the adhesive, you are ready to begin the removal process of difficult ceramic tiles. Follow these step-by-step instructions to effectively remove the tiles:

Start at a Corner

  • Choose a corner of the tiled area to begin the removal. This will allow you to work systematically across the space.
  • If possible, start with a tile that is already loose or cracked for easier removal.

Use a Pry Bar

  • Position a pry bar or a wide putty knife at the edge of the tile and gently apply pressure to lift it from the surface.
  • Work slowly and carefully to avoid damaging the underlying substrate.

Tap with a Hammer

  • If the tile is not coming up easily, use a hammer to tap the pry bar gently. This can help break the bond between the tile and the adhesive.
  • Be cautious not to hit the tile directly with the hammer, as it can cause it to crack.

Work in Sections

  • Once you have successfully removed the first tile, continue working in sections, gradually moving across the floor or wall.
  • Use the pry bar or putty knife to lift the adjacent tiles, taking care not to damage the surrounding tiles.

Remove Adhesive Residue

  • After removing the tiles, you may have leftover adhesive or mortar on the substrate.
  • Use a scraper, putty knife, or adhesive remover to remove the residue. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for adhesive removers.
  • Take care not to damage the substrate while removing the adhesive.

Repeat the Process

  • Continue the removal process, working in small sections until all the difficult ceramic tiles have been removed.
  • Adjust your technique based on the type of adhesive and the condition of the tiles to minimize any potential damage.

Clean and Inspect

  • Once all the tiles are removed, thoroughly clean the surface to remove any debris, adhesive, or dust.
  • Inspect the substrate for any damage or irregularities that may need to be addressed before installing new tiles. 

Remember these additional tips to ensure a successful removal process:

  • Work slowly and patiently to avoid damaging the tiles or substrate.
  • If you encounter tiles that are particularly stubborn, use additional techniques such as heat or adhesive removers to help soften the adhesive.
  • Take breaks as needed to prevent fatigue, especially for larger removal projects.
  • Dispose of the removed tiles and debris responsibly.

By following these steps, you can efficiently remove difficult ceramic tiles while minimizing the risk of damage to the tiles and the underlying surface. Adapt your approach as needed based on the specific challenges you encounter during the removal process.

Clean and Prepare for the Next Steps

Once you have completed the removal of difficult ceramic tiles, it's essential to clean and prepare the surface for the next steps, whether it's installing new tiles or preparing the substrate for another type of flooring. Follow these guidelines to ensure a clean and properly prepared surface:

Remove Debris

  • Thoroughly sweep or vacuum the area to remove any loose debris, tile fragments, or dust. This will create a clean working environment and prevent any interference during the next steps.

Clean the Substrate

  • Use a mild detergent or specialized cleaner to clean the substrate and remove any remaining adhesive residue, grout, or dirt.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions and guidelines for the specific cleaning product you are using.
  • Rinse the surface with clean water and allow it to dry completely before proceeding.

Inspect the Substrate

  • Carefully examine the substrate for any cracks, unevenness, or damage that may require repair or leveling before installing new tiles.
  • Fill any cracks or gaps with an appropriate filler or leveling compound, following the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Allow the repaired areas to cure fully before continuing.

Smooth and Level the Surface

  • Use a floor scraper or sandpaper to smooth out any uneven areas on the substrate. This will ensure a level surface for the new tile installation.
  • Pay close attention to the edges and corners of the room, as these areas may require additional smoothing and leveling.

Prime the Surface (if necessary)

  • Depending on the type of substrate and the specific requirements of the new tile installation, you may need to apply a primer.
  • Priming the surface helps improve adhesion and ensures proper bonding between the substrate and the new tile adhesive.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the primer application and drying times.

Allow Sufficient Drying Time

  • It is crucial to allow the substrate to dry completely before proceeding with the next steps. The drying time will depend on various factors such as temperature and humidity.
  • Refer to the manufacturer's guidelines for the specific drying time required for the cleaning products, fillers, levelers, and primers used.

By thoroughly cleaning and preparing the surface, you create an optimal foundation for the next steps in your tiling project. Properly cleaning the substrate ensures good adhesion and reduces the risk of issues during the tile installation process. Taking the time to prepare the surface will contribute to a successful and long-lasting tile installation.


Removing difficult ceramic tiles may require time, effort, and the right techniques, but with proper planning and the appropriate tools, you can achieve a successful outcome. Remember to assess the difficulty level, gather the necessary tools, and prepare the workspace adequately. Softening the adhesive, using the correct removal techniques, and taking necessary safety precautions will contribute to a smoother removal process. By following these steps, you'll be well-equipped to tackle the challenge of removing difficult ceramic tiles and transform your space with confidence. If you have any further questions or need assistance with your ceramic tile removal project, please don't hesitate to reach out to us.