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Hexagon patterned ceramic tile flooring. Paul Dyer

To remove tile yourself, put on some safety glasses and leather work gloves; broken shards of tile can slice skin like a knife. Then, grab a cold chisel and a three-pound sledge. There’s nothing subtle about breaking through tile. Just pick a few in the middle of the floor and whack away until you can see what’s underneath.

How to Remove Tile Floor

First, you need a clear floor area to work with. If you’re removing tile flooring from your bathroom, take out the toilet and any pedestal sinks and disconnect all the water pipes or drains that go through the floor.

If you don’t know what’s under your ceramic floor tile, you’ll have to do some detective work to find out whether it’s plywood, cement backerboard, or a thick bed of mortar.

Remove Ceramic Tile from a Bed of Mortar

If it’s a mortar bed:

  1. Chisel down through the bed to the tar paper
  2. Then use a big flatbar or similar demolition tool to pry up chunks of mortar and tile. It should come up fairly easily.

Remove Ceramic Tile from Plywood

If the tile is stuck to plywood, the strategy is a little different.

  1. Chip out a single row of tile down the length of the floor and another row across the width, with the intersection of the two rows somewhere in the middle of your floor. This will expose the plywood underlayment.
  2. Now fit a reciprocating saw with a 12-inch-long wood-cutting blade and make a shallow plunge cut into the plywood.
  3. Just as the blade starts to cut through the plywood, pull the saw toward you and make a continuous, low-angle cut just through the plywood underlayment, not the subfloor. (As awkward as a reciprocating saw may seem, a circular saw is actually harder to control and kicks up too much dust.)
  4. Once you’ve finished the cut, work your flatbar under the underlayment and rip it up, tile and all.

Removing Tile Attached to Cement Backerboard

Tile that’s attached to cement backerboard needs the same kind of treatment as tile stuck to plywood.

  • Use a recip saw with a carbide-grit masonry cutting blade and work in one small area at a time.
  • If the backerboard is glued down, the plywood subfloor may be damaged during the removal process.
  • Any panels that are damaged while removing the ceramic floor tiles will have to be ripped out and replaced.