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There are a number of reasons you might want to remove ceramic or vinyl tile from a concrete floor:

  • a) The tiles are damaged and you need to replace them
  • b) You want to cover the floor with a different material such as wood or laminate flooring
  • c) You want to expose the existing concrete and give it a beautiful decorative finish

Of course, we think c is the best answer!

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Regardless of your goal, removing tile from a concrete floor can be a physically demanding and time-consuming task. Once you scrape up the tile, you are often left with a surface covered by stubborn thinset or mastic that can be even more difficult to remove than the tile itself.

Are there any shortcuts you can take to simplify the process? Not really, with the exception of hiring a professional to tackle the project. But if you’re up for the challenge, here are some pointers on the best tools, materials, and techniques to use to get down to bare concrete safely and with the least amount of effort.

Start with the Right Tools

The basic tools and supplies you’ll need to remove tile and tile adhesive from a concrete floor include:

  • A mallet or sledge hammer
  • Masonry chisel
  • Heavy-duty floor scraper
  • Pry bar
  • Putty knife
  • A shop vac, a broom and dustpan, and a flat shovel and wheelbarrow to remove dust and debris

Other equipment and materials that may be required, depending on the condition of the floor after tile removal

Finally, don’t overlook safety gear. Removing tiles from a concrete floor generates a lot of dust and flying debris and may require the use of harsh chemicals. To prevent injury and dust inhalation, be sure to wear a tight-fitting respirator mask, eye protection, a long-sleeve shirt, and work gloves. Also, invest in a pair of kneepads because you’ll be spending a lot of time kneeling on a hard surface.

Know What Type of Tile You’re Removing

If you are removing linoleum or vinyl tiles from a concrete floor that were installed before 1980, make sure the tiles do not contain asbestos. Manufacturers used to mix asbestos into vinyl floor tiles to improve their insulating ability and fire resistance. The adhesive used to apply these tiles may also contain asbestos.

Because asbestos tile can be a serious health hazard when it is disturbed during demolition, it should only be removed by an asbestos abatement professional. Another option is to leave the tile in place and encapsulate it with a concrete overlay.

How to Remove Ceramic Tile from Concrete

Removing ceramic tile from a concrete floor will go faster if you find a good starting point that will allow you to easily work the masonry chisel under the tile. A spot where you can see or feel a cracked or loose tile is ideal. Areas with deteriorating grout are also good places to begin.

Work the masonry chisel under the tile, holding it at a 45-degree angle to avoid gouging the concrete floor. Take a few good whacks at the chisel with a mallet until you are able to loosen and pry off the tiles. If you encounter a stubborn tile that won't budge, grab a sledge hammer and strike the face to break it into pieces that can then be chiseled away.

Tip: Before you begin tearing up floor tile, remove all baseboard trim using a hammer and pry bar or flat-head screwdriver. Also, because tile removal generates a lot of dust, seal off all HVAC vents in the room to prevent the dust from circulating throughout your home or building.

How to Remove Vinyl Tile from Concrete

Removing vinyl tile or linoleum flooring from a concrete floor will require a different approach, since the tiles are pliable and won’t crack like ceramic tiles. Here’s how:

Pry up a corner of one of the vinyl tiles using a putty knife. If you can't find a loose corner, you may need to cut through the tile with a utility knife.

Next, slip the putty knife or a floor scraper underneath the tile and lift it off completely. If you meet with resistance, try heating the tiles with a hair dryer or heat gun. This will soften the glue adhering them to the concrete and make them easier to scrape up.

How to Remove Tile Adhesive

Once you remove all the tile from a concrete floor, your work is far from over. If the tile was installed over an underlayment or backerboard, you’ll need to rip that out as well. But if the tile was applied directly to the concrete instead of an underlayment, which is often the case, you have a tough job ahead.

Tiles are typically adhered to concrete subfloors by one of two methods: an adhesive mastic or a thinset mortar. The method you use for removal will differ depending on the material you’re dealing with.

If you are removing a mastic, start by scraping up the glue with a wide chisel or long-handled floor scraper. If that doesn't do the trick, try softening the mastic using hot water (most tile mastics are water-soluble) or a commercial mastic remover formulated specifically for removing old adhesive from concrete floors. Once the mastic begins to dissolve, go back at it with the scraper. (Learn more about how to remove glue from a concrete floor.)

Unlike mastic, thinset cures to a hard, cement-like consistency and can’t be removed by dissolving it away. Instead, you need to repeatedly chip away at it with a chisel, floor scraper, or a rotary hammer fitted with a thinset removal bit. Regardless of the method you use, removing thinset creates a ton of dust, so be sure to wear a face mask and goggles.

When to Use a Concrete Grinder

If scraping and mastic removers do not achieve the desired results, grinding the residual mastic or thinset off using a concrete grinder is a great option, followed by the use of a handheld angle grinder to work along the walls and in corners. Grinding is often the best way to obtain a smooth surface and prepare the concrete for the application of a decorative finish.

Because concrete grinding equipment can be expensive, consider renting a grinder from a local home improvement center. To facilitate cleanup, be sure to use a grinder equipped with a port for hooking up a dust vac, which will allow you to collect the grinding dust as you work.

If you’ve never operated a concrete grinder, consider seeking the help of a professional contractor who will know the right grinding discs to use for the job and how to operate the machine without marring the concrete surface.

How Much Does Tile Removal Cost?

Removing a tile floor yourself can save you hundreds of dollars, especially if you already own many of the tools and supplies required. If you prefer to hire a professional to do the job, expect the cost to range between $2 and $5 per square foot depending on labor rates in your area and the square footage of the floor. If you plan on hiring a concrete contractor to give your floor a decorative finish after tile removal, he may be willing to remove the tile at a discount and save you the hassle.

Ideas for Transforming Your Concrete Floor

Close your eyes and imagine your ugly tile-covered floor transformed into a beautiful decorative concrete surface free of hard-to-clean grout lines and seams. That vision can be a reality if you follow the steps above.

Once your concrete floor is exposed, you have a wide array of decorative options to choose from, including staining, painting, polishing, and stenciling. Of course, you never know what you’ll find beneath all that floor tile. If the concrete subfloor has large, unsightly cracks that would be difficult to patch or disguise, consider resurfacing it with a decorative concrete overlay.

See these resources for ideas: Stained Concrete Floors
Guide to Painted Concrete Floors
Polishing Concrete Floors
Stenciling Concrete Floors

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