Replacing Tile

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One Broken Tile Needn’t Ruin the View

It is one of Murphy’s laws that a tile always cracks or breaks smack dab in the middle of the tiled surface. It is a law of human nature that once you spot the defect, it will drive you crazy.

So you have to replace the tile. Actually, that’s the easy part; the tricky detail is removing the old one.

Hopefully you have a few tiles left over from the original job. If you don’t, locate a replacement before you remove the broken tile. A cracked tile is better than a missing one.

1. First remove the grout all the way around the offending tile

The technique differs a bit if the tile is a 4-1/4”x 4-1/4” or 6”x 6” wall tile than if it is a larger floor tile. Larger tiles have wider grout lines that allow the use of a grout saw to cut through to the mud or drywall. Grout saws are available for about $8.

In addition to a narrow grout channel, wall tiles also have spacer lugs or tabs molded into the bottom of the tile. These touch the adjacent tile which makes removal even more difficult.

2. Use a utility knife if you don’t have a grout saw

A utility knife works as well as anything for removing grout which you need to clear down to the lugs to remove pressure against adjacent tiles as you work. Take small strokes with the knife and whittle away the grout. Proceed slowly avoiding the edges of other tiles so you don’t end up having to replace two or three more.

3. Cut the old tile and chip away

Use a glass cutter and a ruler to make an X across the face of the tile and then a small cold chisel (or nail set) and hammer to make a hole in the center of the X. Working slowly and carefully from the center, chip the tile away with the hammer and chisel. Do not attempt to pry away the tile.

4. Clean away the setting material

With the old tile out, clean the setting material from the wall. This could be mastic or glue but is likely thin set mortar. Course sandpaper will remove any of these.

5. Remove the spacer lugs

You may have to remove some or all of the spacer lugs to fit the new tile into the gap. You can nip them with a tile cutter or sand them down.

6. Put in the new mortar, tile and grout

Apply thin set mortar to the back of the tile to within about ½ inch of the edges and put it in place, tapping it with a hammer and wood block to level it with the existing surfaces. Allow 24 hours for the mortar to dry then using a damp sponge, fill the joints with wall or floor grout and smooth the joint with a wet index finger. Wipe the tile repeatedly with clear water to clean off all grout which will form a rough haze if left to dry.

7. Now step back and enjoy seeing the whole wall, countertop or floor again.


For all plumbing or bathroom questions, contact the Vista plumbing experts at 1-800-anytyme!
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