If you are planning on redecorating a kitchen or bathroom, it is likely that you will need to remove some (or all) of the tiles. It is perfectly possible to paint over tiles or even fix new tiles on top of old, but if you want to paint or wallpaper your room, knowing the best way to remove tiles without damaging the wall too much is useful.
Tiles in older houses are often stuck down with cement mortar which is difficult to completely remove. In this case you may have to have apply a skim coat of plaster before you paint or paper the wall. Tiles in newer or more recently redecorated houses will probably be attached with tile adhesive. This is far easier to remove than cement mortar, but you may still end up pulling away chunks of the underlying plaster. In this case you will, at the very least, need to use filler to make the wall good before decorating.
Before you start to remove any tiles, make sure you have the correct safety equipment. A pair of safety goggles and a good pair of gloves are essential as small chips of glaze will fly out in all directions once you start hitting ceramic tiles. A bolster chisel with a hand guard is also a good idea (most bolster chisels come with a hand guard).
If you are working over sinks, bathtubs or kitchen worktops, it is also a good idea to lay down an old sheet to stop large sections of tile falling and causing damage. The same should be said for when removing tiles above a tiled or wooden floor. Even if the floor is not tiled or wooden, it is a good idea to lay down a sheet to catch the debris and make clearing up easier.
Removing Ceramic or Stone Tiles
If the section of tiles you wish to remove has a visible edge, start removing them there, using a Bolster Chisel and a small Club Hammer. Place the chisel blade against the edge of a tile and hold it almost flat to the wall (or as flat as the guard will allow). Hit the chisel cleanly with the hammer and hopefully the tile will come away from the wall. The first few tiles are often the hardest to remove as they are supported by the tiles around them. If the field of tiles stretches from wall to wall with no visible edge, you will need to start the process by breaking out one of the middle tiles to give you access to the edges of the tiles surrounding it.
Remove the grout around the tile or group of tiles (four tiles, for example) using a grout rake or a grout removal attachment for a power tool. This will help to ensure that when you break the tile, the vibrations do not transfer to surrounding tiles and crack them. If you are not worried about damaging the surrounding tiles, this is obviously not as important.
Depending on how well the tiles have been laid and which method was used to fix them (adhesive or cement mortar), you could find that tiles fall off fairly easily, or that they break up and require you to chip away every last little bit. Either way, you just need to keep going until all of the tiles are off the wall.
With all the tiles removed it is likely that you will still be left with either adhesive or cement mortar on the wall. If the tiles were attached with adhesive, switch to using a sharp paint scraper and get down to the tedious job of scraping it away.
Tile adhesive should come off fairly easily but don’t worry too much if you gouge out small bits of the underlying plaster, you will need to sand and fill the wall afterwards anyway. If the tiles were attached using cement mortar, continue to use the bolster chisel and club hammer. On a large area of tiled wall, this can be a soul-destroying task. Just keep thinking about the final finish and get down to it.
Removing a Single Tile
If you just need to remove a single tile in a wall because it is cracked, chipped or otherwise broken, the method remains roughly the same. Gloves and safety goggles are important for this task.
1. Remove the grout around the tile using a grout rake or an attachment for a power tool. You don’t need to remove every last trace of grout, but make sure that the majority has been raked away.
2. Place the blade of a Bolster chisel in the middle of the tile and then tap it with a hammer. You don’t need to swing at it as if you are demolishing a wall. Start gently and gradually increase how hard you hit it until it breaks.
3. Continue to chip away the tile using the hammer and chisel. Once the tile has been removed, you can concentrate on removing the tile adhesive. Assuming that you are replacing the tile, you don’t need to worry too much about slight damage to the wall behind.
Removing Polystyrene or Cork Tiles
Removing polystyrene or cork tiles is usually easier than removing ceramic tiles, but you will almost certainly be left with quite a lot of adhesive on the wall. Use a sharp Paint Scraper (ideally with a wide, stiff blade) and lever each tile away from the wall, starting at an exposed edge if possible. Unless the adhesive has started to fail, it is unlikely that you will get many tiles away from the wall in one piece. Just continue to work at them until all of the tiles are removed from the wall.
To remove the adhesive, continue to use the paint scraper. If the adhesive is being particularly stubborn, you can use a Hot Air Gun to gently heat the adhesive before trying to scrape it off the wall. If possible, have a window open as you do this as the adhesive might give off some nasty fumes.