Removing tile really, really, really, really sucks

Go ahead…look it up. “Removing tile is easy,” youtube says. “All you need is xxxx,” says wonderwoman’s blog. “It took me 13 seconds,” says some lying sack of broken ceramic.

Oh no.

Ooooooooh noooooooooo.


Removing tile is as easy as stealing statues from the bottom of the ocean without scuba gear.

First, a little background. My kitchen remodel is coming nicely.

2015-03-20 20.14.53

Except for that ugly tile.

2015-06-02 16.14.08So alls I gotta do is remove it.

I call the rental place and they said they’ve got an air chisel. Air chisel, eh. What’s that?

I do a bit of searching and find this video…

As effortless as sleeping in a cloud while listening to angels strumming their harps, or so it seems.

I rent the Tool of Torture and start hammering away.

Nothing. Tile wouldn’t budge.

Ok….so maybe I just need to get it started.

I smack the tile with a sledge hammer. Just a light tap, is all.


Ok, so maybe a less light tap.

The tile yawns and goes back to sleep.

Fine. If it’s gonna be that way…

I lift the hammer and with the force of Thor, I slam 8,000 cubic tons of pure newtonian force on that dude.

The tile wasn’t happy. He decided to get even by sending shards of shrapnel at my legs, hands, toes, and armpits at Mach 19. I even heard the crack of the broken sound barrier.

2015-06-02 22.09.22Oh, but there’s more.

2015-06-03 00.01.56

After several hours, things looked like this

2015-06-02 23.24.36 2015-06-02 23.24.31

After hammering the atoms out of these tiles, I used the air chisel for the only thing it was actually useful for–removing the thinset mortar. Painless, simple, and clean, right?

Ooooooooh nooooooo.

The cloud of mortar was as thick as the mountains of Mordor (and just as evil). For the first time in ten years I had an asthma attack, a very uncomfortable asthma attack. The sort that makes you feel like you’re breathing through a bottle with a single hole the size of an ant’s antenna.

The attack was bad enough that I stopped mid-project, at midnight, to go to a drugstore.

And of course, all inhalers were out of stock.

Face blue, legs red, and clothes smokey white, I returned home, donned a respirator, and kept going.

I thought it’d take an hour, tops.

I rented the Devil’s Device at 5pm.

I finished at 2am.

2015-06-02 23.24.23

And I woke up the following morning to an 18inch thick layer of mortar dust all over my house.

And I still can’t breathe.

But at least the tile is gone.


5 thoughts on “Removing tile really, really, really, really sucks

  1. Oh I feel for you. I completely agree. This is the worst diy project ever. I had a respirator, safety glasses, ear protection, long sleeves, jeans , boots, air hammer, 10″ concrete grinder, sealed off AC inlet and adjoining rooms in walls of plastic. It suuuucked!

    I should mention that I am pretty handy and have tackled many a project as major as this, but nothing compares to removing tiles and then, and then… the thinset beneath. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I weren’t removing tile from a diy job the previous home owner did. He put on an extremely thick layer of thinset. I could wring his neck! After suffering day one with aching arms and hands from handling a monster air hammer the costs began to add up. 100 bucks for air hammer. Day 2 another 100 bucks for concrete grinder. Plus who knows how much for other tools like a decent sledge hammer, angle grinder cutter and grinder discs.

    After two days the wife had enough and so had I. Even though the plastics wall and barriers I put up worked 100%. The cleanup of broken tiles and heavy thinset is a job in itself. Even with a respirator I know I was still breathing in some of that deadly silica dust.

    Called a dustless remover contractor for 3 bucks a sq ft. Best money ever spent. I had them do the remaining 300 square feet. And paid 2 bucks a square foot for the remaining thinset in the area I had demoed.

    The job would have been very doable if the proper amount of thinset had been applied on the previous installation. Still I will never do a large area again!!! If I do anything again in the future it will be tile by tile in an extremely small footprint (like under a kitchen appliance or in a small bathroom).

    I hate paying a lot bit will tell you when it comes to tile removal I will be calling on someone else that uses dustless equipment.

    I have built cabinets, sheds, engines, laid vct tile in my garage (yes garage), fixed appliances, in short I and many others think of me as pretty handy. Now ask me to do tile removal and I surrender.

    I must have invested 350 bucks on gear and rentals (I already had many useful tools) but that could have been money well spent to hire someone else. I also invested my eyes and lungs to silica exposure ( even with protection). Thank goodness for the safety glasses. They must have deflected over a hundred pieces of sharp ceramic from my eyes. Even with all the protection I suffered on cut from a direct hit to the forehead. A ballistic piece of tile made it through the gap in my reverse fitted baseball cap. I had blood everywhere from the cut and soon filled the gap with a few sheets of folded paper towels before continuing.

    Nothing can prepare you for this job. If you want a glimpse of hell or the inside of a smoking volcano then go ahead. Even with breathing protection it’s like inhaling 20 packs of cigarettes and the ashes too! Silica dust is no joke it can kill you!! Lesson learned the hard way.

    And to top it off nearly broke my hand when loading the extremely heavy 10″ grinder to return to the rental place.

    Please excuse the rant and random order of it. I am writing this with plenty of emotion as I just did this removal.

    No matter how handy you are or how many precautions you take to safeguard yourself (and your family) don’t do it!!! Call a dustless tile removal company. Your and your family’s time, health, home is not worth it!!!

    Don’t behave as bullheaded and idiotically as I have… this coming from someone who doesn’t like to admit their mistakes or defeat… don’t do it.

    I am off to buy a ton of replacement air filters as I believe nearly all the dust I created is now gone. Just hoping that those filters will do a good enough job protecting my family from the dust. I intend to run them half a day each before replacing.

    Did I mention don’t do it?!!

    Thank you if have been patient enough to read my rant this far. I only hope I have convinced you that your health and that of your family isn’t worth compromising in a diy job such as this.

    • I wish I’d read this *before* I did my job. Oh well. I think my lungs are still suffering from that painful day.

      Glad to hear of another who will just pay someone else to do it. Good luck to you!

      • Thanks Dustin. I wish I had found your article before starting. Though I admit I would have probably tried to tackle it anyway as I am that stubborn.

        Hindsight is 20/20 on this one.

  2. Oh.. and Dustin. Great job on those counter tops. Kitchen is looking good. I will be searching your blog to see if I can find out the information on how you installed them.

Leave a Reply