How to Remove Wall Tiles

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In this article, we’ll be covering the topic of how to remove wall tiles. But before we get to that section, a word about safety.

Before you start removing wall tiles, you need to think about protection. Firstly, for yourself. Because tiles are hard-wearing, and removing them sometimes requires brute force, you definitely need to be wearing protective safety goggles for this job.

One little piece of broken tile is enough to damage your eye. And plastic safety goggles cost less than a tenner. Honestly, it’s not worth taking the chance with your eyesight. So, always wear safety goggles when removing tiles. 

Secondly, wear a pair of decent DIY gloves. Cut tile can be as sharp as glass so wearing a suitable pair of gloves will protect your hands and fingers.

With the safety warnings out of the way, let’s crack on…

Related: How to Revive Tile Grout

Protect your surroundings when removing tiles

This is a messy job so you want to make sure there’s adequate protection for all your surfaces. You can use old blankets, bed sheets and towels or you could buy specialist protectors such as heavy-duty dust sheets.

Whichever you choose, make sure all surfaces are fully covered before you start work.

If you’re working in a bathroom, kitchen or toilet, make sure you cover plugholes and put the toilet seat down to stop dust and bits of tile from going down the water pipes and toilet.

You might want to pay extra attention to protecting anything that could be easily broken by a stray piece of tile flying across the room or falling a few feet.

Make sure there’s enough ventilation

One last thing to check before you start removing the tiles is the amount of ventilation in the room.

You should definitely open windows, and if you can, open the door.

In some situations, opening the door just isn’t practical, but if you’re working in an empty house before moving in, or you’re later having new carpets fitted and the mess won’t make much difference, go ahead and open the door.

How to remove wall tiles

Okay, with the safety precautions taken care of, it’s time to start removing those old wall tiles.

The first thing you want to do is try to locate a loose tile. If you find one, it should be fairly easy to remove, giving you an ‘in’ to access the rest.

To locate a loose tile, using the handle of a screwdriver, tap the corners of the tile listening for weaknesses.

If you find a loose tile, that’s your starting point. If you don’t find one, choose any tile. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, as they’re all coming off the wall anyway. I prefer to start in the middle and work my way out.

Remove the grout from around the tile

Once you know the starting point, the first thing you want to do is remove the grout from around the edge of the tile. Although there’s tile adhesive on the back of the tile keeping it attached to the wall, they’re easier to pull off when the grout’s removed.

You have a few options here. You can do it manually using a tool called a grout rake (good quality ones cost a little over a tenner), or you can use an oscillating tool or an angle grinder if you have either of these in your DIY toolkit.

What does a grout rake look like?

A grout rake looks a little like a Stanley or utility knife, but they often use a tungsten carbide blade (sometimes shaped like a handsaw) for added strength.

To remove the grout around a tile, run the grout rake up and down its vertical edges, then along the horizontal edges. It’s not hard work and within a couple of minutes, you’ll remove either all or most of the grout. Keep going until you’ve removed as much grout as possible. This will make it easier to remove the tile.

Oscillating tools are an excellent powered alternative to the manual grout rake. You’ll need to attach a grout removal blade that fits between the tiles. You can buy these on their own or in multi-packs.

How to remove the first wall tile

Once you’ve removed the grout from the four edges of the tile, using a screwdriver, bolster chisel or similar tool, place it at the top of the tile where the grout used to be and gently push it behind the tile you want to remove. 

Make sure the angle is narrow so you’re only removing the tile from the wall and not marking the wall in any way.

In an ideal world, a few wiggles of the screwdriver or chisel (or whatever tool you’re using) would give you enough leverage to remove the tile from the wall with your gloved hand. If it doesn’t, tap the screwdriver or chisel with a hammer to give you extra leverage. 

Once the tile is removed from the wall, put it to one side for reuse or disposal of later.

Now that you’ve removed the first tile, using the bolster chisel and hammer, remove the tile adhesive so you have a nice flat surface (doesn’t need to be perfect).

Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a good starting point to attack the rest of the tiles. Place the bolster chisel at the edge of the next tile and use the hammer to prise it from the wall. It should come away without too much effort. Keep doing this until you’ve removed all the tiles.

Sometimes it’s impossible to do this job without damaging the wall underneath, but do the best you can so you don’t have to do any repair work.

How to remove the leftover tile adhesive

Once the tiles are removed from the wall, you’ll want to make a start on removing the old tile adhesive and grout. The aim is to remove as much as possible so the surface is flat, clean and ready for the new tiles (assuming you’re re-tiling). 

You could use a bolster chisel for removing the adhesive and grout, but in many ways, this method is best for really stubborn and hard-to-remove tile adhesive. For anything that’s not quite as strong, use a dedicated tile adhesive removal scraper.

Tools required to remove tiles from a wall

  • Screwdriver, chisel or similar tool for removing the tiles
  • Grout rake for removing grout
  • Hammer (16oz claw hammer should be sufficient for most tile removal job)
  • Protective goggles, gloves, sheets etc
  • Rubble bag for unwanted and broken tiles
  • Safe storage area for the ones to want to keep and reuse on another project
  • Tile adhesive removal scraper

Summary of how to remove wall tiles

  • Preparation and safety are key so wear protective eye goggles and gloves
  • Use old blankets, sheets, towels, cardboard or dust sheets to protect your furniture and belongings
  • Find the first tile to remove – use the handle of a screwdriver to tap the corners of your tiles to find a loose one. If you can’t find one, choose any tile
  • Use a tool called a grout rake to remove the grout around your first tile
  • Use a screwdriver or similar implement to start removing the tile from the wall. If you need extra strength, tap the screwdriver’s handle with a hammer. Be careful not to mark the wall
  • Once the first tile is removed, repeat the process until all the tiles are removed
  • Use a tile adhesive scraper tool to remove the adhesive from the wall