Hot Tips: Tile Removal

Now that I am experienced in removing massive quantities of small tiles from a shower, I feel compelled to offer tips to the next unsuspecting fool who believes a project of this nature will be a piece of cake.

1. Wear shoes

Granted, this should be completely obvious when you have tiny shards of tile crumbling to the ground all around you. I should have known better, but I was just getting started and I was excited. Learn from my mistakes.

2. Keep the first aid kit in an easily accessible location

That bloody cut on the bottom of your foot is going to need a bandage. You’ll need something to wipe the blood off the floor from all that running around trying to find something, anything, to take care of that wound. You’ll also need something to clean and cover your wound. Some antibiotic ointment would be nice, too. Make sure to have decent bandages on hand, because those bacon bandages from Archie McPhee’s aren’t meant to soak up that much blood.

3. Wear a face mask

In the event that there is black mold behind the tiles, you’ll want some protection. If there isn’t black mold, consider yourself lucky, but wear the mask anyway because you’ll otherwise be snorting piles of grout dust which looks the same as but is really nothing at all like snorting cocaine.

4. Wear safety goggles

Yes, those safety goggles/glasses are unsightly, but this isn’t a beauty pageant, this is home improvement. Sure, they get steamed up from all that hot, sweaty banging around and heavy breathing, but they serve an important function. You’ll be grateful you have them on when an errant shard of tile comes flying off the wall and in the direction of your face. Judging by all the tiny, sharpened pieces of tile I found in places like my hair, ear, armpit and underwear, it is a high probability that some shards will find their way towards your face and eyes. Even if you wear prescription glasses, cover them with the safety goggles all the same, because it’s hard to see when you have a chip and several scratches on the lenses or, you know, a bloody and useless eyeball.

5. Seal the bathroom door

Unless you want a fine layer of dust through your home, like on the bed, kitchen counter, cats and hall floor, seal the door to the bathroom with plastic and duct tape. It’ll cut clean up time by a couple of hours.

6. Stop for lunch

Even if you’re really making good progress, you’ll need to stop at some point for to eat and drink. Having a Pepsi and Snickers bar does not constitute a meal. All this will serve to do is make it hard to hold the hammer on account of those sugar-loaded jitters. Here’s a suggestion: If you finish that one wall by noon, you can get a sandwich from Arby’s.

7. Wear gloves

I have more cuts on my hands than I can shake a stick at. It would take me a very long time to shake a stick at every cut I’ve got going. I’d spend several minutes shaking at my palm, more on my knuckles, a solid four minutes on my ring finger and, at least a good fifteen minutes shaking a stick at the middle finger of my left hand. It’s a miracle I can even type this. As it turns out, broken tiles are pretty sharp and when you brush them aside with your hand, they cut you. But there’s more danger than just the cuts, there’s also the scrapes. The scrapes from accidentally rubbing your hand on the craggy wall where the tiles used to be, where the grout still remains in some places and is sharp and scratchy. Also, those gloves will soften the blow of the hammer, for those countless times you swing that very large tool and miss the screwdriver you’re trying to wedge under the tiles and instead, smash it into your hand, in the same place, over and over until you have a deep bruise and feel like you just ran it over with the car eight or nine times.

8. Wear pants, but maybe not your pajamas

I know that working at home often makes it seem like a good idea to just hop right out of bed and start working in your pajamas. It’s tempting and there is always a project or two in which this is an acceptable practice. Tile removal, however, is not one of these instances. Tile removal is perilous to the skin, and pajamas do not provide adequate protection for the delicate epidermis. How do I know this? Well, as it turns out, along with being razor sharp, tiles are also incredibly slippery. If you have a three inch thick pile of them and you step into that pile with one foot, you may slip, causing your other leg to smash into the sharpened edge of the shower step and you’ll scrape off all your skin through those thin pajama pants, bruise your leg and lose your dignity all at once.

9. Don’t waste time with useless tools

I’m here to tell you that when thousands of tiny shower tiles are stuck on to a cement wall with little to no give, you don’t need anything other than a large hammer and a screwdriver. You don’t need that little crowbar with the flattened edge. You don’t need that scraper tool. No, you don’t need anything pointy. Clawing at the tiles in desperation, even with gloves, will be useless. It won’t help if you throw all the weight of your body against the tiles, either. Get yourself a flat edged screwdriver that you don’t mind ruining and the biggest hammer you can find. This is the only thing that will work. Don’t even bother with thoughtsof other tools that pass through your head. Not even if it seems like it’ll start working half-way through the project, because nothing else will work. Your only hope it to chip those fuckers off one by one with that hammer and screwdriver. Earplugs are appropriate in this instance, if you want to drown out the sound of the hours upon hours of hammering. This is especially important if you prefer not to hear the ear-piercing banging well after you’ve finished, like when you start hearing it in the background of that episode of Law and Order you’re watching.

10. Hire someone to do this job for you

If you do it yourself, it’ll take you two and a half days to complete something that an experienced person could do in about three hours. Save yourself some time and effort, pain and agony. Let someone else do it while you play Madden ’09 and eat cake.


  1. September 30, 2008

    Ah. I remember my one adventure in home improvement. It wasn’t fun and it didn’t even involve tile. I think my two big takeaways were: everything takes longer than you think it will and everything looks terrible before it dries. Good luck.

  2. E's Mom
    September 30, 2008

    *sigh* THIS is exactly why I tried to get you out of there this weekend. While I can see that you didn’t go completely feral during this ordeal, I am concerned that there may be after effects for days, months even. I did what I could – next time though I will force my way in to make sure that you stay safe and your wife doesn’t become a widdow before her next birthday.

  3. Robin O
    September 30, 2008

    Jesus Fucking Christ on a Stick!

    You are a brave, brave woman.

    I would say that your tips were helpful, but really, all your tips have done for me is serve as a reminder that I will NEVER be a solo home improvement specialist. It just won’t happen. I’d dissolve in tears. Probably even before the black mold was discovered.

    But hey, GO LINSEY!!!!!

  4. September 30, 2008

    I’m going straight to number 10. With cake.

  5. September 30, 2008

    personally, i admire your efforts to help pave the way for the next victim that attempts this type of job.

    i love to fix stuff, and i consider myself a bit of a handy-woman.

    i was worried your hands would end up being sliced up like you just got a new kitten. but, it’s a “good hurt” right? kind of how arizona is a “dry heat”? what the fuck is that about anyways? 110 heat is hot no matter how you slice that bread.

  6. October 1, 2008

    Ya, I’m all over #10, too. That or I just move if things start to look too desperate. I shall keep your tips handy however in case I ever lose my mind and decide to tackle home improvements on my own.

  7. October 19, 2008

    Love this article. Just finished removing hot pink tiles from a 30’s bathroom. Why oh why do people do this to their homes? Anyway, I now have the battle scars to prove how much I wanted that tile gone. Cuts on hands, arms, and legs.

    I think the wall thought it was going to win until I pulled out the big hammer. Let’s just say I have a new vent system.


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