Success at removing ceramic tile from floors depends on the material the tile was fastened to at installation. In a very old home, the tile might have been glued directly to a cement subfloor, making removal very difficult. In a newer home less than 40 years old, the ceramic tile was probably fastened to a lightweight cement board, nailed to the wood subfloor. Follow these steps for effective removal of ceramic tile attached to cement board.
Step 1: Start at the Edge of the Floor
Prepare to remove tiles from a floor edge that adjoins carpet, vinyl tile, or other surfaces. Place the putty knife under the edge of a tile, and tap it with the small hammer to lift off a tile. Depending on the strength of the tile adhesive, the cement board may come free along with the tiles.
Step 2: Remove the Tile Grout
Pry between the tiles with the putty knife to pulverize the grout, so you can more easily pop the tile from the backing board. If the grout is very hard, use the power grinder to sand out the grout and release the tile more easily.
Step 3: Continue to Remove Single Tiles
Once you have removed the tile grout and a few tiles, slip the putty knife under each tile with the handle as close to the floor as possible. Tap the knife handle sharply with the hammer. The tile may break up or lift off all in one piece. Continue to remove tiles until a section of cement board about 8 inches by 6 inches is exposed. Avoid striking ceramic or porcelain tiles with the hammer, as they will shear into razor-sharp flaked pieces.
Step 4: Remove the Cement Board with Tiles Attached
Once you have cleared tiles off an area of cement board, break it up with the hammer so you can see the floor joists. Insert the flat garden shovel under the cement board and use it as a lever to remove larger areas of the board with the tiles attached. Stop from time to time and vacuum the area with a wet-dry shop vacuum cleaner to avoid inhaling cement and tile dust. Move the shovel to the left or right side of the floor joist as you encounter the nails used to attach the cement board. The bigger the gap you can create between the cement board and the floor joists, the larger the area of tile you can remove at once.
Step 5: Remove the Nails from the Cement Board
Use a claw hammer or an iron pry bar with a nail slot to pull the nails out of the cement board. You can then remove these fragments from the floor joists and discard them.
Step 6: If the Cement Board was Screwed Down
Use a power drill with a screw chuck to back the screws out of the cement board pieces, then remove and discard them. Vacuum the room thoroughly to remove dust from all surfaces.