Remove Mortar from Tile Back for Reuse: In 3 Effective Ways

Undoubtedly, ceramic tiles increase the beauty of your floors, counters, and walls a hundred times. The tiles surely come with beautiful designs and patterns that people cherish to install in their homes. However, after years of having a similar tiles pattern, many people want to change the sight. Therefore, they want to remodel their kitchen or bathroom by changing the pattern of the tiles. Also, many want to reuse the tiles in new locations after cleaning the old mortar.

So, when you happen to make a decision whether to replace the tiles or salvage them, you need to take care of things accordingly. Generally, tiles are installed over a thin-set mortar. So, when you remove the ceramic tiles, you will find their back is carrying mortar. Therefore, if you want to reuse the tiles, you need to remove mortar from them.

But the question is how to remove mortar from tile back? Well, mortar is mainly a cement-based material. However, to remove mortar from old tiles for reuse, first, you need to determine the amount of mortar that is placed in that area. Also, for cleaning properly, know, what type of tiles you are dealing with.

How to Remove Mortar from Tile Back

Materials and Process to Remove Mortar and Reusing Ceramic Tile:

Your home improvement requires changing the tile pattern as well. However, removing mortar from the tile floor and the wall is an easy task. It requires some materials and proper steps to follow. We will discuss some cleaning solutions but before that look at the following steps.

a) First, Ensure Protective Gear:

Working with tile is not a piece of cake since there are chances of several injuries. To prevent accidental issues, you need to wear protective gear. While removing tiles from the floor, it is a must to wear protective goggles. Otherwise, small particles of tiles or stones can go right into your eyes. Moreover, the process also produces a great deal of dust. It would help if you protect your eyes from dust and other particles.

Additionally, wear clothes with long sleeves. Long pants also can save you from cuts and scrapes. Again, if any chemical products are required for cleaning away mortar, then make sure the place has a well ventilation system. Otherwise, produced fumes will suffocate you.

b) Second, Remove Grout between Tiles:

Chiseling out the grout from the tile floor is the second most important thing to do. Grout is mainly used to fill the gaps between tiles while installing them. So, to remove the tiles from walls or floors, it is important to remove the grout first.

Remove Grout
Scrap with Multi-tool Blade =>

Without removing the grout, you won’t be able to go under the tile edges. Once you get under the edges of the tile, it becomes easier to chisel out them. However, to remove the grout you can use a utility knife with a sharp edge. Moreover, a putty knife also works just fine to chisel away. You can also use a hammer technically. Whatever tool you use make sure the grouts around the tiles are removed properly.

person Remove Grout knife
Grout Scraper knife =>

c) Finally, Dispel the Tiles:

When you chisel out grouts around the tiles, the edges of the tiles become exposed. This is the moment when you can pry away the floor or wall tiles carefully. To make a tile come out, grab a putty knife and insert it under the tile through its edge. Keep inserting as far as the putty knife can go. When the knife gets stuck at a point, lower its handle to give a force. Force in a way that the handle gets a place parallel to the floor or wall.

Make sure you don’t force it too hard. Otherwise, there are chances the tile will get cracked. It is possible to make the tiles come out without cracking. You just need to be a bit careful. When you make a force, the tile will come up a bit again.

Follow the process and eventually, the whole knife will drive under the tile. Consequently, the tile itself will pop up freeing its location. Pull up the tile carefully and get an undamaged tile. Follow the same process on the rest of the tiles. Pry up all the tiles from walls and floors and set them aside.

How to Remove Mortar from Tile Back – 3 Ways to Start:

When you have put on your safety gear and are done with dispelling all the tiles, it is time to remove the mortar from their back. Once you pull out the tiles you will find thin-set, cement, and salvage attached to it as mortar. You need to clean away all of them.

Way 1. Removing Thin-set From Tile Back:

It is easier if you clean away the thin-set mortar before it gets dried. Since the layer is too thin, removing it becomes harder. However, many fail to remove the thin-set when it is still wet. Well, that’s not a problem anymore as we have come with a removal solution. The solution works even when the thin-set is dry.

Required Material:

To remove thin-set from tile back, some certain materials are required. They are given below.

  • Bucket
  • Warm water
  • Rag
  • Dish soap
  • Sponge
  • Grout Scraper [Check on Amazon]
  • Sanding Disc

Step – 1: Clean off the Grout to Remove Thin-set:

To clean off the grout, take a bucket full of warm water and mix some dish soap in it. Stir the water and make a proper mixer. Now, wet a scrubber sponge in the water and start scrubbing the surface of a tile. Scrub off the grout as well. If the thin-set attached to the tile is not fully hardened then it will surely come out. When you are done scrubbing, get a dry rag and wipe away the tiles.

Step – 2: Scrape off Dried Thin-set:

remove mortar hard thinset from Tile Back by chisel
Chisel for Tile Removal =>

Now, to deal with dried and hard thin-set, you need to use a chisel. With a chisel, scrape off the thin set. Chip the chisel to the tile carefully to make the thin set loose. Do the process without hammering or scratching the tile. To clear the grout lines from the thin set, it is better to use a grout scraper. However, it is better to use the grout scraper when the grout line comes with a thickness of up to 40%.

Step – 3: Sand the Tiles:

sand the tile back use a rotary sander
Rotary Sander =>

To sand the tiles, use a rotary sander. Set a sanding disc of 50-grit to the rotary sander. You have to run the sander keeping it at the lowest setting. Now, place the sand disc on a tile carefully and run it gently. Sand the tile back in a circular motion and keep sanding until it removes the thin-set.

Step – 4: Vacuum the Area and Polish the Tiles:

Use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of morter

Once you are done removing the thin set, finish it by removing the dust. Use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of the dust. also, to polish and clean the tiles, use a dry rag. Swipe away the dust using the dry rag.

Way 2. Removing Cement from Tile Back:

It is obvious that a tile back contains cement when it comes out. To clean off the cement there is an idea. You can use vinegar cleaner to remove the cement. Vinegar is a very useful material in the case of cleaning stubborn objects.

Generally, vinegar creates an acidic reaction when you use it on elements like cement. However, this material is not that strong as well that it will damage the tiles. It will only loosen the cement elements that are attached to the tiles.

Required Materials:

  • Spray Bottle
  • Scrubbing Sponge
  • Vinegar

Step – 1: Make a Solution:

Take a spray bottle and pour it with water. Now add some vinegar to it and shake the spray bottle. The cleaning solution is ready.

Step – 2: Apply the Vinegar Solution:

Spray the vinegar solution on the mortar of the tile back. When it gets wet, get a sponge and scrub off the mortar from the back. Look for places where the mortar is excess and give special treatment. Grout joints and grout lines contain an excess amount of mortar. So, apply a bit more force on those areas while cleaning.

You can also use a razor blade or scraper to deal with thick mortar. But you have to use these tools gently on the tile back. Otherwise, there are chances the tiles would damage or break. If necessary, repeat the process.

Way 3. Cleaning of Salvaged Tile:

Many choose to salvage old tiles once they are removed from their old installation place. As we mentioned, when a tile comes out from its old place, it contains dried grout and a distinct layer of thin-set. You must clear the layer of mortar before salvaging the tiles. Otherwise, the tiles won’t be set on the new layer of mortar thin-set. So, to remove heavy-duty mortar, look at the following process.

Required Materials:

  • One bucket
  • Water
  • Muriatic acid
  • Scrub brush
  • Gloves
  • Respirator

Step – 1: Make Solution with Acid and Water:

Making the solution is the first and foremost thing since it will work as the cleaning material. Also, in this step, you are working with muriatic acid so maintaining protective gear is a must. To make the solution, fill the bucket with five gallons of water. Make sure the bucket is large enough to contain this amount of water. Now, pour one cup of muriatic acid into it. Mix the water properly and your solution is ready.

Step – 2: Submerge the Tiles:

Submerge the Tiles in acid and water

After making the solution, submerge the tiles into it. Let the tiles stay there for about five minutes. Meanwhile, the acidic water will react with tile mortar. Loosening the mortar elements, the solution will help to clean the tile back.

Step – 3: Scrub the Tile Back:

scrubbing the tile back
Grout Scraper =>

Get a scrub brush and start scrubbing the tile back one by one. Since the residues are already loosened, they will come off soon after a little scrubbing. If you detect some places where the mortar element is still hard, let it submerge in the water for another few minutes. But make sure you do not let the tiles sit in the water for hours. It will damage the tiles since the solution contains acid.

Step – 4: Rinse and Let Them Dry:

When you scrub off all the mortar elements from each tile back, it is time to rinse them with water. Rinse the tiles carefully and set them aside for drying. Dry the tiles for about 24 hours. When the tiles are dry, you get proper mortar-free tiles for reuse.


Question: How to remove dried mortar from porcelain tile?

Answer: Removing mortar from porcelain tile also requires a process of cleaning with a solution. To make the solution, take a bucket of warm water and one cup of granulated sugar. Or you can add dish soap as well. A squirt of soap is enough to make the solution. Now stir the solution and apply it on the dried mortar of the tile back. When it gets wet, scrub off the thin-set using a scrubbing sponge. Gradually, the thin-set will come out of the tile.

Question: Is porcelain tile damaged if vinegar is used?

Answer: Fortunately, proper use of vinegar won’t damage your beautiful tiles. However, if the tiles are exposed to strong vinegar, the result might flip. So, you better not expose them too much while using strong vinegar.

Question: Does muriatic acid damage tile?

Answer: To speak the truth, muriatic acid reacts harshly on tiles. In fact, it can permanently damage the tiles. Hence, it is suggested to use this material only when you want to remove heavy-duty mortar from the tile back. Also, if you are using this acid make sure you add an immense amount of water to the mixture.

Last Updated on June 29, 2024 by Rogers Weber

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