Although bathroom tiles are meant to be installed permanently, sometimes tiles break or come loose, so they need to be removed. Here's how you can get broken or loose ceramic tiles from your bathroom wall. Remember that getting the tile off the wall is just your first step. Once the tile is off, you will likely need to repair the underlying wallboard and remove any remaining before you can install your replacement tile.
Removing a Broken Tile
If you have a broken tile, you obviously don't need to worry about saving it. You may be able to pry it off the wall by sliding the putty knife under the tile at a very low angle (almost parallel to the surrounding tiles), then moving the knife around to break the tile away from the glue or mastic holding it on.
If that doesn't work, your next step is to remove the grout surrounding the tile and holding it to the adjoining tiles. Use your grout removal tool (a strong metal tool with a triangular-shaped cutting blade on the end available at home or tile stores) or the old flat head screwdriver and a hammer to chip out the grout. See my related article Restoring Tile Grout for more information on how to remove tile grout.
Once the grout is out you can break the tile into smaller pieces by putting an "X" of masking tape across the tile from side to side. This will stop the drill bit from dancing on the tile's hard surface. Using a carbide tip drill bit, drill a series of holes along the X, then remove the tape. You should be able to pry off the smaller pieces of the tile using your putty knife or flat head screwdriver.
Removing a Single Loose Tile
Depending on how loose the tile is, you may be able to remove it by simply sliding your putty knife under the tile and prying up gently. If the tile won't come off, you'll need to get rid of the surrounding grout as above. Once you've got the grout out around the tile, slide the blade of the putty knife under the tile and gently tap the handle while moving the knife all around underneath the tile, prying up a little at the same time. Work slowly so as not to damage the adjoining tiles, since they could easily chip.
Depending on where your loose tile is located, you may also need to remove any flexible caulking that is holding the tile at the bottom close to the bathtub. Eventually, the tile will pop off the wall, undoubtedly bringing some of the paper backings from the underlying drywall with it. Once you have the tile off, you'll need to repair the underlying drywall, let that repair set up, and install your new tile.
Removing ceramic tiles requires some muscle and persistence. Even though tiles are installed permanently, accidents and life happen so it's nice to know you don't have to live with an ugly loose or broken tile or even worse, tear down a whole wall just to repair a single bad one.
Visit our kitchen and bathroom community forum to see how other people are handling ceramic tile removal. Laying a new ceramic tile floor? Here's how to grout it.