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Removing Self-Stick Tiles

Once again, it's elbow grease that gets the job done

Save the Bay Tom Silva

Is there an easy way to remove self-stick tiles bonded directly to a plywood subfloor?
— Bill, by e-mail


Tom Silva replies: There are several ways, but I wouldn't call any of them easy. Like with a lot of remodeling projects, you just have to get in there and sweat a little.
For a large area of tile, rent a stripper machine (photo, top). It looks a little like a small, two-wheeled snowblower with an oscillating steel blade that shears resilient tiles and sheet flooring from the subfloor. But you'll have a tough time maneuvering one of these machines around tight spaces, such as a bathroom. That's where a long-handled floor scraper comes in. It's a stiff steel blade at the end of a long handle; just jam the blade under the tile to peel it up. You can buy one at a home center. If the tile won't budge using these methods, try a heat gun and a stiff 2- or 4-inch putty knife. A pair of comfortable knee pads will be a worthwhile investment if you go this route.
All this scraping may damage the surface of the plywood a bit, which could be a problem if you're replacing the tiles with sheet flooring or vinyl tile. In that case, trowel a cement-based floor-patching compound over any cracks or divots.


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