Upon renovating a space or when needing to fix a shower wall, you have some tiling that you’d like to salvage. It could have a vintage aesthetic that you just can’t find anymore, or you simply don’t feel like smashing up perfectly good tile. Removal can be tricky because of the fragile state of the material. However, there are a few ways to save your tiling for another project.
Before you begin a project that requires you to cut into or destabilize any materials, safety is vital. With tile, whether you’re using a chemical agent to dissolve the grout or chipping it away, make sure you take the proper safety precautions. This includes eye protection, breathing masks, gloves, and all other necessary safety equipment.
To dislodge the tiles without breaking them, you will want to remove what is keeping you from accessing the corners—the grout. This can be done either with a grout saw or even a flathead screw drive with a mallet. The grout will likely be much more brittle than the tile material, but you will still want to be cautious and delicate when slowly chipping it away along the sides.
Once the borders of the tile have been sawed or chipped away, this will give you access to the tile from the side. This sandwich-like view will reveal how the tile is attached to the floor or wall—the adhesive. Select a pry bar with a size per the thickness of the tile and the adhesive. Too thick a pry bar will damage the tile. Too thin won’t adequately dislodge the tile from its bonded surface. Use the pry bar to gently pry up all of the corners of the tile—much like opening a can of paint. Do not use the surrounding tiles as a leverage fulcrum for fear of damaging them. Take your time to loosen each side until the gradually until the tile finally gives way.
You may end up breaking a few tiles in this process. If you do, gauge how much pressure broke those tiles and use that information not to repeat that mistake with other tiles. One broken tile will give you a good understanding of how much pressure you can afford to apply to the tiles without breaking them.
If you’re removing a tile from a wall, remember to keep even pressure on the center of the tile to catch it when it breaks free. There’s nothing worse than working on dislodging a single tile for what feels like forever online to have it break into 30 pieces on the floor!
Once you remove the tile from wherever it was installed, it will likely have adhesive stuck to the backside and remaining grout along the edges. To save yourself some headache, soak the tiles in warm water for a few hours. As they soak, you will likely notice small bubbles begin to form on the backside of the tile—which is the air that was trapped between the adhesive and tile. Remove the tiles from the water and use a putty knife or other blade to clean off adhesive residue gently. Remember to scrape away excess grout from the edges of the tile for a clean look.
And there you have it—fresh tiles ready to be installed wherever you want them. Make sure to store these tiles in a way that will keep them safe. Because of their age, they will likely be even more brittle than their newer counterparts. Still, when properly installed and cared for, even the oldest tiles have been found in some of the most historic sites in the world.