How To – Replacing Broken Ceramic Tile

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    Whether its on your wall or floor there are times when you will need to replace a broken tile that has been chipped or cracked.

    Chips in the glaze come from direct impacts but cracks in tile can happen from both impacts and a flexing subfloor. This is why you often see the tiles in front of refrigerators cracked from rolling out the fully loaded appliance to clean behind it. The weight of the refrigerator loaded on the small wheels  can load the tile and cause it to crack.

    The most difficult part of replacing tiles is matching a new tile to the old. If you are lucky the person that installed the tile may have left you the extra tile to be used for repairs. If not then you will need to visit a few tile companies and see if you can find something that matches.

    Matching new tile to old tile is easier if your home is new or recently remodeled. When you have the work performed you should get a list of manufacturers numbers so you can order replacements. Manufacturers will often produce the same tile for 10 years or more depending on the shape, color and style. Unfortunately unlike car manufacturers that are required to provide replacement parts for a minimum of 10 years after the car is sold building supply manufacturers are not required to stock replacement parts.

    Unless the tile is custom made you will be able to find replacement tiles in the same size and shape at most stores. Once you remove a section of the tile you can bring it with you for color and style matching.

    Removing the Grout

    Before you begin working on the actual tile you need to remove the grout around the tile. Tile grout interlocks your tile along with waterproofing. The next step will be using a chisel to remove the tile but if the grout is in place you are more then likely to send shocks through to neighboring tile which will break them.

    You can purchase a grout saw to remove the grout between the tiles or you can use a broken piece of a hack saw blade or jigsaw blade that is clamped in a vicelock pliers.  If you don’t have any of these tools you can try using a very thin metal putty knife but be careful.

    Remove the grout and any mortar between the tiles all the way down to the substrate. If your tile is laid on a concrete floor or backer board this won’t be a problem just keep working until you can’t or about an 1/8th inch below the tile. If you are working on a tile attached to drywall be careful to not cut through the drywall when removing the grout.

    Removing the Tile

    Mastic which is a glue and Mortar which is a cement type material can be used to hold the tile to the substrate surface.  These materials provide a pretty good grip after they have cured and getting the broken tile out won’t be easy unless the accident that caused the damage has broken it free.

    Remove any large lose pieces first then using a small chisel tap with a hammer in the center of the tile and work your way out to the edges.

    To protect the adjacent tiles you can apply some duct tape around the tile you are removing.

    Do not try to pry the broken tile out by placing a putty knife or any other metal object in between the tiles where the grout is placed or you risk chipping an edge off of your good tile.

    If you are working on a large tile over 4 inches you can use a small grinder with a diamond tile cutting wheel to cut part of the tile.

    Removing the Mastic or Mortar

    Once you have removed the tile you need to remove the mastic or mortar that was holding it in place. For mastic you can use a metal putty knife and for mortar use a chisel.

    Work your way in to the center from the outside and not the other way around.  This will reduce the possibility of slipping and damaging a good tile.

    The substrate surface should be pretty clean of all material and it must be dry and dust free. If you have a few very small ridges of mortar remaining it is not a big problem as long as the new tile will set flush with the surface of the other tiles.

    Attaching the new tile

    Since you are only replacing one tile you may be able to get away with using a waterproof construction adhesive but if the tile is over 6 inches in size it is best that you use mastic or mortar used originally. You can buy a pint or quart of either premixed at most hardware stores.

    You should use a notched trowel to spread the mastic or mortar. The size of the notch is proportional to the size of the tile. a half inch notch would be good for tiles 1 foot or larger and a 1/8th inch notch for very small tiles.

    A margin trowel shown to the right is a good idea because it is used for small areas and will allow you to work in the opening without problems.

    If you do not have a notched trowel then you can apply the adhesive the back of the tile then use a putty knife to scrape some rows.

    If you are using construction adhesive make an S shape when applying the glue.

    The idea of notches or open areas allows the tile to be pressed down and positioned easily (the mortar will spread under the tile) without the need for the extra material to be pressed up through the grout areas to get the tile flush with the surrounding tiles.

    Clean the Tile

    After the tile is in place you want to clean the surface of any mortar or mastic. You also want to clean between the tiles with a small tool to make sure you have a good opening for your new grout.

    A moist but not dripping wet towel will work well.

    Finishing the job with Grout

    In this project the first thing that came out has to be the last to go in. If your grout is in bad shape throughout the tiled area you may want to take time and regrout the whole area. This often happens in showers after water has worn the grout away over years.

    If not then you can purchase grout in a small container at your local hardware store. Most grout will need to be mixed with water but for small repairs you may be able to find some premixed.

    If you are only working on one tile you can probably get away with applying the grout with your finger.

    Once the grout has had a few hours to dry you want to go over it with a damp towel and clean any excess. You will have to repeat this process a couple times as it tends to leave a haze on the tile similar to waxing your car.

    The YouRepair Store sells a full line of tools and materials including Grout and Tile to get your job done cheap.

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