A Guide on How to Remove Tile Floor & Backsplash

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Removing floor or bathroom tiles can be a demanding and time-consuming job. It’s a simple process but requires backbreaking work. Many times the most significant challenges are hidden until you’ve already started. 

Depending on the original placement, your current tile flooring may be affixed to bare cement, a mason board, plywood underlayment, or the previously installed floor.

Regardless of what lies below, tile removal takes time and effort. You have to carefully prepare the floor to accept the new tile or other flooring material you’ll put down next. Whether you’re removing ceramic tile or porcelain tile, you should know a few things about how to remove tile floor before beginning.  

Adhesives Used in Tile Placement 

Initially, ceramic tile was set into a base of solid mortar, often reinforced with a steel lathe. This was usually placed over a tar paper layer covering the subfloor. Removing this type of floor can be extremely laborious, requiring hours of breaking up the mortar base and cutting away the metal lathe to loosen the slabs of mortar and tile.    

This process requires a lot of hammering, prying, and cutting to create more manageable pieces. You’ll face similar challenges if the tile is installed on a concrete slab.   

If you discover your tile was installed over a plywood underlayment or cement board, the removal will be much simpler. This means these tiles were placed using a thin-set adhesive. 

This system quickly replaced traditional methods because the bond between the tiles and underlayment became easier to break. It’s still significant work, but it’s easier than dealing with a solid mortar base.  

Equipment Needed for Tile Removal 

Before starting any tile removal project, you must ensure you’re prepared with all the necessary equipment. This list includes safety equipment to protect yourself and others and the tools to complete the job.   

Safety Equipment 

Because of the challenging nature of tile removal, you must take all safety precautions to ensure you remain safe while completing the project. 

  • Safety glasses (to protect your eyes)
  • Dust mask (to protect you from inhaling dust or other particles)
  • Leather work gloves (to add a layer of protection for your hands)

It’s important to note that visitors to any active construction site should wear safety gear, too, even if they aren’t working on the project. There could be dust particles in the air and chemicals on surfaces that visitors may touch.     


You don’t need an abundance of tools to remove tile. Your tool kit should include: 

  • Paint scraper 
  • Floor scraper 
  • Chisels
  • Hammer
  • Screw gun
  • Roofing rake
  • Flat shovel
  • Drop sheet
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Contractor trash bags 
  • Shop vac 

These tools help you scrape the tile while the sheet collects loose particles and dust. Use the hammer to break up the tile, then use the screw gun, roofing rake, and shovel to remove the underlayment. Once the materials are removed, you’ll have a blank canvas for your new floor. 

How to Remove Tile Floor [Step-by-Step]

What seems like a tricky job can be tackled like many others: one step at a time.

1. Prepare the Room

There’s no doubt that this project is going to create a mess. You can minimize the spread of dust particles by turning off your HVAC system if it has air-circulating ductwork. Close the vents in the room you’re working in and open the windows. 

2. Remove Door Trim 

Before you remove the tile, you must first remove the trim and baseboards around the room. Carefully handle all the materials that will be reinstalled after the tile removal is completed and your new floor is installed.   

3. Begin Tile Removal 

After the trimming is removed, you must begin removing the tile. If you’re reusing the tile, this process is more challenging. You’ll have to break at least one tile to gain access to the others. But if you aren’t saving the tiles, you can use a hammer to smash them. 

Begin by breaking a single tile and using a chisel to remove the remainder of the tile and surrounding tiles.  

4. Remove the Underlayment 

After removing all the tiles, inspect the underlayment. You can use the hammer to help remove mortar from the underlayment. But depending on its condition, it may need to be replaced. Removing the adhesive may also be challenging, so removing and replacing the underlayment may be the most suitable option.  

Old underlayment materials may be deteriorating. You can remove this material by taking out any screws that are holding it in place. Use the roofing rake or flat shovel to lift the edges.  

5. Clean the Subfloor 

After removing the underlayment, you’ll need to clean the subfloor. Scrape lingering adhesive or epoxy floor paint and clean up the screws, tile pieces, or anything else covering the subfloor. Inspect for any signs of mold or damage that require repairs before placing the new flooring. 

Before you proceed with installing the new floor, the subfloor must be clear of debris, clean, and in good condition. Covering up mold or other damage will only make the situation worsen over time, forcing you to replace it sooner.  

6. Clean Up 

Once the tiles are removed, place the broken pieces, mortar, and adhesive into contractor trash bags and put them into a wheelbarrow. You may need a shop vac to clean any residual dust and tile particles.  

7. Dispose of Old Tile 

A professional installer will charge you a fee for removing the tiles, but then it’s done. Removing the tile yourself means you’ll have to get rid of the tile yourself. Typically you can’t place old tiles with standard recycling. Instead, you can call your local recycling center to ensure they’ll take the material. 

If your tiles are in good condition, you can donate them to an organization or a person who may need them.    

Removing Backsplash or Wall Tile 

Removing tile backsplash or wall tile is less taxing than removing tile floor. Wall tile is softer than floor tile, but it still has challenges. You’ll need some of the same supplies as before: 

  • Packaging and painter’s tape
  • Plastic wrap
  • Utility knife
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Contractor trash bags
  • Hammer
  • Small sledgehammer
  • Chisel
  • Broom
  • Shop vac

After gathering your supplies, follow these steps to remain on task and minimize the mess. Don’t forget to wear your safety gear to avoid accidental injuries.  

1. Prepare the Room 

Removing wall tile is messy, and you’ll want to minimize the dust swirling in the air. Prepare the room by opening windows, taping door gaps, and covering duct vents. You’ll also want to remove anything that might get damaged. 

If the tiles are made from glass, attach packing tape before removing them to prevent pieces of glass from flying. In some cases, plastic wrap may work for larger spaces. Cover any countertops or floors below with plastic sheeting to help mitigate the mess.   

2. Begin at a Weak Point 

Wall tile easily sticks to the surface below. Because it’s not disturbed by shoes or sliding chairs, it rarely pops loose. Use the hammer or chisel to dig in and pop the tile off. Using light force will prevent unnecessary damage to the wall. Repeat the process to remove all wall tiles or backsplash. 

3. Remove the Adhesive 

The best way to remove the remaining adhesive is to use the chisel. Hold it at a shallow angle and strike it lightly. This will remove small amounts of material at a time. Inspect the drywall for any damage. You may need to cut it out and replace it with a new drywall instead of taking the time to remove the adhesive. 

4. Clean Up 

Once the wall tiles are removed and the adhesive scraped away, it’s time to clean up the mess. Sweep up the debris with a broom. The plastic sheet you laid at the beginning will hold most loose bits, but these pieces need to be dumped into a contractor bag. 

Use the shop vac to pick up the remaining loose dirt and pieces of tile from the nooks and crannies before repairing the drywall.   

Why You Might Need a Professional 

Removing your tile flooring may reveal mold or asbestos. Cleaning and removing these harmful substances is dangerous and requires the help of a professional. 

If the subfloor is damaged, consider hiring a professional to fix it. That way you know you’ll be starting with a stable, clean subfloor before placing the new tile on top of it.  

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can I Remove the Tile Floor Myself? 

Removing ceramic and porcelain tile is a labor-intensive project. However, DIY tile removal can save lots of money you would have spent hiring a professional. 

If you feel confident in your DIY abilities, removing the tiles on your own is an excellent way to save money. (Make sure you have adequate tools and follow the correct order or you could damage your subfloor.) 

But keep in mind that hiring a professional will assure you that the project is done correctly and according to all safety protocols.  

Are Tile Floors Hard to Remove?

Removing floor tile can be incredibly difficult for someone who hasn’t been doing it for years. Part of this is because of the challenges you don’t know you’re facing until you start. Depending on the floor arrangement, your tiles could be attached with anything from cement to mason board underlayment. 

Whatever is beneath the surface determines how challenging your project will be. It’s more complex than smashing old tiles and finding a pristine surface underneath. Floor tile removal involves a lot of physical labor like chiseling, hauling, and dusting, not to mention the physical aching your body may experience.    

What Is the Best Tool for Removing Floor Tiles? 

The combination of a hammer and chisel is the best tool for removing floor tiles. These tools allow you to break up the material and scrape it away.   

Are You Ready to Take on the Challenge of Tile Removal? 

Removing tiles and corresponding caulk is one of the most stressful parts of placing new tiles. The process can take hours to ensure all tiles and adhesive get removed. The most critical step of all is remembering to wear your safety gear.

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Joe McGuinty
I’ve been working with floors for over 12 years. I started as a flooring contractor, primarily in materials selection. Then, I switched careers into accounting, so my wife and I began buying, renovating, and re-selling homes on the side. You’d be surprised how much value you can add to a home simply by adding new floors.

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