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Tile Adhesive Remover: How To Clean Old Tile Glue

by | May 10, 2021 | Cleaning Tips

Did you just move into a new home and didn’t like the decorating choices? Or maybe you feel like redecorating your current home to spruce things up. Maybe some of your tiles are broken, or maybe you’ve got some old tile you’d like to reuse. Whatever the reason, you now find yourself needing to remove tile adhesive.

It’s a difficult job, no two ways about it. Tile adhesive is stubborn stuff, since it is meant to fix your tiles to a surface. Removing it takes plenty of elbow grease and makes a mess (which is a perfect excuse as any to get your home professionally cleaned!), but it’s doable — so here’s a guide for how to remove tile adhesive from different surfaces.



Removing Tile Adhesive From The Floor

For ceramic tiles (or other, similar materials) on the floor, use one of the following methods:

  • Hair dryer
  • Hot or boiling water (with caution!)
  • Adhesive removing product (with citric acid or soy base)

The first two methods are preferred if your tiles are fixed with a mastic adhesive, which is an organic adherent and therefore is not water resistant. For tougher adhesives, you can use a commercial adhesive remover with an organic base, which needs less ventilation.


1. Hairdryer

Tools to use:

  • A hairdryer
  • A handheld scraper or chisel
  • A pry bar (optional)

This option is most effective for organic-type tile adhesives. It’s also best for smaller areas since it requires plenty of effort.

Start up your hair dryer and aim it at one of your floor tiles. Hold it over one corner, then slowly move across the entire surface. The idea is to use the heat from the hair dryer to soften the underneath.

Go back to your starting point and keep the hair dryer pointing down a few minutes longer. Then turn it off and grab your scraper. Wiggle the tip through the joint between the tiles and pry up the corner. Slide the scraper underneath and gently loosen, then remove the tile. You can reheat using the hair dryer to further soften the adhesive underneath as necessary.

If you’re having trouble using the chisel to lift up the tile, you can use a pry bar.

After all the tiles are removed, go over the remaining glue residue on the floor with the hair dryer to soften it, then scrape it off. Make sure to smooth out the concrete subfloor after — new tiles require clean, smooth subfloor to adhere!



2. Hot water

Boiling water in pan on electric stove in the kitchen


You’ll need:

  • A large pot of just-boiled water
  • A handheld scraper or chisel
  • Adhesive remover

Use this for removing smaller sections of tile fixed with mastic adhesive — for example, if you’re only replacing a handful of tiles on your floor. This way is difficult for larger patches since it involves pouring hot water over a surface, which could be impractical or even dangerous. Do not use this method if there are electrical outlets or wires along your floor area.

Pour just-boiled water onto the section of tile that needs removing. The heat plus the liquid will soften the mastic adhesive underneath enough for you to lift the tiles off with a chisel. You can pour more water afterwards to soften any leftover tiling glue on the subfloor and scrape it off.



3. Adhesive removing product

man's hand with gloves using chisel and hammer to remove old tile adhesive from floor

This way is the most straightforward, and works best on adhesives that are not water-soluble. After you’ve pried your tiles from the floor, spread your adhesive remover onto the remaining tile adhesive on your subfloor. You’ll need about 1 litre of solvent for every 3sqm (or check the instructions!).

Test the solvent on a small area of floor first to make sure the chemicals have no adverse effects on the concrete. If it works, spread it over the required area. Let it set for at least 15 minutes, and check to see how much the tile glue has softened. Remove with a scraper or chisel once able.

If using adhesive removers, make sure the room is well-ventilated and that you are using the appropriate protective gear — including a face mask and gloves. Opt for solvents with an organic base, since they have lower volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are not as dangerous to your respiratory system.

In cases where the adhesive is stubborn, you can apply another coat of remover, or gently break off the hardened glue with a hammer and chisel. Never leave the paste on too long or it may re-harden and make removal more difficult.



Removing Tile Adhesive From The Wall

There are four ways to remove tile adhesive from your walls. You can use a hair dryer with the same process as above — run it over the wall to heat up and remove the adhesive. You can also use an adhesive removing paste. Two other methods to get adhesive off your walls include hot water and a steamer.

If removing adhesive from walls, make sure to lay down plastic sheets on the floor to collect the debris.



1. Hot Water

You’ll need:

  • A pail of hot water
  • Clean soft cloth
  • A scraper or chisel

As mentioned previously, this method works best for mastic adhesive and other types of organic-based glue, and on small areas. Instead of just-boiled, though, just use water that’s as hot as you can stand.

Dip the cloth into the hot liquid and use it to soak the adhesive. You may need to go over the glue a few times to loosen it enough. Scrape off the adhesive gently — you can use a hammer and chisel, or similar tool, if it’s particularly stubborn.

Repeat the process until all glue is removed, then clean up afterwards.



2. Steamer

You’ll need:

  • A wallpaper steamer
  • A scraper or chisel

This process is similar to that of a hairdryer. Work in small areas so that the adhesive doesn’t harden again. Turn on the steamer then move the tool slowly over a section of the tile glue on the wall. Don’t hover too long — once softened, scrape off the mastic. Repeat until all the adhesive is removed.




Removing Tile Adhesive From Old Tiles

Prepare a bucket or other sizable container where your tiles will fit comfortably. Fill it with hot water, enough to soak all the tiles. Leave the tiles in for 1-2 hours and let the water dissolve the adhesive. When the glue is soft to touch, remove the tiles from the bucket.

Use a metal scraper to remove the softened glue from the tile, being careful not to damage the ceramic (or other material). And get all of it off — you can’t reuse a tile if it has leftover adhesive on!



Other Tips

Types of Tile Adhesive

    • Mastic — this is an organic compound commonly used for tile-to-concrete adhesive
    • Thin set mortar — this is water-resistant and durable
    • Vinyl — may be removed with chemical solvent


After Adhesive Removal

There are some things you need to check and take care of after removing adhesive from your flooring or wall. These include:

  • Clean-up — For floors, sweep up the residue scattered on the subfloor. For walls, lay down protective sheets beforehand to make clean-up easier
  • Skimming — You may need your wall or flooring skimmed to smooth it over in preparation for re-tiling.
  • Plastering — Depending on the state of your wall after you use a tile adhesive remover, or if the set mortar is especially strong, you may need to have the wall replastered.


About Author

Sophie Franklin

Sophie is the subject matter expert within Maid2Match. Most importantly though she is our biggest fan girl and generous in sharing what she knows.


About Author

Sophie Franklin

Sophie is the subject matter expert within Maid2Match. Most importantly though she is our biggest fan girl and generous in sharing what she knows.