Tile Repair & Removal Tips

Expert advice on caring for original bathroom tile.

When you need to remove tiles—for spot repairs, to re-cement loose areas, etc.—approach is everything. Dave Morrell, of Dave Morrell Stone and Tile in Littleton, Massachusetts, has a toolkit for both large-scale tile demolition and for removing select tiles, and it is surprisingly delicate. “People see sledgehammers on television, but those are the worst tools you can use,” he says. “Sledgehammers don’t just destroy tile—the shock and reverberation can damage plumbing and walls.”

Subway tile wainscot

He says the best tool for removing damaged tile or even a broken soap holder is a narrow putty knife. First, chip away at the grout. Then use the putty knife to pry the element out, but avoid leveraging it against a tile to be saved.

Morrell warns homeowners that they face an arduous search when trying to match vintage tiles. Even white tiles had hundreds of shades. “The industry was always updating, so tile companies changed colors every single year,” he says. Some comprehensive sources for vintage originals include World of Tile in New Jersey and Los Angeles’ Wells Tile & Antiques. In addition, Clay Squared to Infinity recently launched an expansive new line of vintage colors.

Get more advice on matching original tile.

5 Tile Repair Tips

1. If some tiles chip upon removal, reinstall them in a less prominent area of the bathroom (like behind the toilet or sink) to make the damage less noticeable.

Pink 4x4 bathroom tile

2. Most chips can be hidden with careful coloring-in—nail polish, smeared on with your fingertip, can work wonders.

3. If a fair number of original tiles break upon removal, fill missing spaces with tiles in a complementary color spread out across the wall or floor in a random pattern (it looks intentional!).

4. A work-of-art centerpiece tile pattern is another way to fill in for missing or damaged originals.

5. New grout that doesn’t perfectly match the old/adjoining areas can be stained for a more seamless appearance.

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