Ceramic tile is typically one of the most durable and maintenance-free materials that you’re likely to have in your home. Occasionally, however, a tile cracks through impact or needs to be removed to repair some plumbing, and knowing the correct procedures will help allow you to make a clean, invisible repair.
REMOVING THE OLD TILE
The first step is to carefully remove the old tile, making certain that you don’t disturb the surrounding tiles in the process. You’ll want to wear gloves and eye protection during this process, and, if you’re working in a bathtub or shower area, you’ll also want to use an old blanket or a piece of carpet padding to protect the tub from scratches.
First, you need to remove the old grout around the tile, exposing the edges. Most tile stores sell grout saws, an inexpensive tool with a wooden or plastic handle and a tip covered with carbide grit. Simply rub the saw back and forth along the grout lines to scrape out the old grout. You can also use an old screwdriver, scraping carefully along the grout lines until you reach the surface underneath – avoid the temptation to chip the grout out by hammering on the screwdriver, which is both dangerous and can easily chip the edges of adjacent tiles.
Next, drill one or more holes in the face of the tile using a carbide-tipped masonry bit – again, wear eye protection. Using a hammer and a small cold chisel, crack the tile between the holes and pry it away from the wall. Use the chisel to scrape the edges of the surrounding tiles as well as the surface underneath to remove all of the old grout and adhesive.
INSTALLING THE NEW TILE
Ideally, you’ll have a couple of tiles left over from the original installation that you can use for the repair, ensuring a good color match. If not, you can try and locate a replacement tile through a tile dealer, but finding one of the exact size and color as the original may not be an easy task. Using a tile that’s a shade or two different in color tends to really stand out and show the repair, so a better alternative is to use a contrasting accent tile – one with a small decorative picture or embossed surface on it – and turn the repair into a decorative feature. You may even consider replacing a couple of otherwise undamaged tiles with accent tiles as well so that you have more than one on the wall.
When you’ve selected the tiles, test fit them to make sure they fit in cleanly with an adequate amount of grout space left on all sides. Use a putty knife or a small notched trowel to apply adhesive to the back of the tile – your tile dealer can help you with the right adhesive for your situation – and press the tile into place. Hold it in position with masking tape for 24 hours as it dries, using small shims or spacers if necessary to maintain the correct grout line spacing.
The final step is to grout the new tile. You can use a premixed grout that’s designed for repair work if you can find the right color – color choices are limited – or you can use a powdered grout that you mix with water. If the old grout on the surrounding tiles has discolored with age, try feathering the new grout out onto some of the old grout lines for a short distance, gradually blending the new grout into the old for a more natural appearance.
All of the supplies and tools you’ll need for a repair of this type can be found at retails specializing in ceramic tile, or at most larger home centers. Remember that many tiles, including most of the accent tiles, will have to be ordered, and there may be a minimum order as well.
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