How To: Remove Big Tiles Without Breaking Them

Like I said the other day, we started with the pass through project last Sunday. We were initially going to wait until we were done with smoothing down my parents’ walls but we decided to do that while they’re traveling at the end of next month, so we have enough time to make some real progress with the “window”.

Now, walls here are made of bricks, so cutting a hole is definitely more complicated than if it were drywall. Plus, there’s an added layer of complication: the kitchen side of the wall is tiled. And it has outlets on it where the hole will now be. Since we want to keep the tile around the window/hole, it meant we were going to have to remove most tiles (if we make the hole with the tiles there they will more than likely break and we won’t be able to reuse them).


We removed 20 tiles total. The window will be smaller than those 20 tiles, it’ll be the red rectangle pictured above. But the best way to achieve that was to remove all the tiles, make the hole, and then cut the outer tiles to measure and re-tile the kitchen wall around the hole.

Now, one might think it’s easy to remove tiles… but we had a lot of problems with ours, mainly because they’re pretty big (1 foot x 1.5 foot more or less) but also because the builders tiled the kitchen without leaving any space between tiles. Yeah. I know that’s a big no-no, but apparently they didn’t mind taking shortcuts. So there’s a lot of tension/force between them and it’s practically impossible to remove them without breaking at least some of them.

After sketching out the hole we realized we only really needed 5 whole tiles to retile after the passthrough is done though. Four, one for each corner; plus five more for the non-corner ones (because they’re less than half of a tile). We already have several spare tiles (they came with the house) in the storage room but we wanted to have more just in case. So our goal was to remove them without breaking as many as possible.

We took out the outlet covers and that gave us a starting point. Our first step was to insert a drill but equipped with a hammer tool (it vibrates, doesn’t really drill) between the tile and the wall. The vibrations were supposed to help separate the tile from the wall. There was just too much tension (caused by the fact that there was practically no space between tiles… grr) and the first tile broke. Then the second. Things weren’t looking great… every time we inserted the tool between the tile and the wall and pulled, trying to remove a single tile, you could see how all the surrounding tiles moved with it. Too much tension.

I thought maybe if we could separate the tile from the surrounding ones a little, that could help. So I started scraping the grout between them with whatever tool I could find. The space between them was tiny but that seemed to help A LOT. In the end, what worked for us was the following:

  1. Accept the fact that we were just going to have to “sacrifice” several tiles. We were only able to save a tile if two of the four sides surrounding the tile were “free”, because most of the tension was gone.
  2. Besides that, we also scraped all the grout we could on the remaining two sides. On one occasion we thought that having 2/4 sides free was enough to get the tile out so we didn’t remove the grout. Bad idea. It broke into several unusable pieces.
  3. We alternated between using the drill/hammer thingie and kept on scraping the grout as the tile separated more and more. The vibrations allowed the tile to separate from the wall, slowly.

Diy passthrough tile 1

Diy passthrough tile 2

Diy passthrough tile 3

Diy passthrough tile 4

Diy passthrough tile 5

As we worked to free as many tiles as we could, we also thought about where to break the ones that we couldn’t save entirely. You can see on the diagram above that we don’t really need many full tiles (just four for the corners), a few big pieces would also be useful to us. Using the steps described above we were able to save 12 entire tiles, plus several big pieces that we’ll be able to use. If you don’t add the ones we have in the storage room to that pile, we have more than enough to retile once the pass through is gone. This was important to us because we wanted to do this in a way that could be done by anyone – even if they didn’t have extra tiles in storage!

What do you think? Share your opinion in the comments.

12 thoughts on “How To: Remove Big Tiles Without Breaking Them

  1. Katja @ Shift Ctrl ART

    Having removed quite a few tiles, I know just how difficult it is without breaking any. I held my breath all the way to the end of your post :) and saw that you got 20. 20! That is really amazing. It looks really good so far!!

    1. Ainhoa Post author

      Haha, well we removed 20 but managed to not break about 12-13. We also have a few useable pieces, too. Basically the ones we broke beyond use were the first two and a third one when we skipped removing the grout, I think.

  2. John @ Our Home from Scratch

    Wow. I often wonder why european homes are mostly brick and mortar.. is it an economy of scale thing or for climate reasons? Makes my rewiring work look like kid’s play. Nice technique. Hammer drills are great. Looking forward to the hole in the wall!

    1. Ainhoa Post author

      Yeah I’m not sure either… the insulation is better but for electrical stuff and for throwing down walls it sure sucks. I do know that in newer/cheaper homes they use drywall for the interior sometimes though.

  3. Jeanette

    I know how hard it is to remove tiles. I did this several years ago, removing tiles from the back-splash of my kitchen sink. I chipped away gently using a putty knife and a hammer. I did break several but I saved the pieces and laid the broken ones around the bottom my livingroom fireplace. You can’t see unless you are looking for cracks. The perfect ones I placed on the sides and top. These were all beatiful tiles made in England which I had collected over the years. When people come into my livingroom this is the first thing they comment on. Well worth all the efford.

    1. Ainhoa Post author

      Oh I would definitely work hard at saving beautiful tiles! Ours are (obviously) not pretty but they’re 4-5 years old so I’m guessing they don’t make them anymore…

    1. Ainhoa Post author

      We hope so! I think it’ll be especially useful when we have a lot of people over. People tend to concentrate in the kitchen and it gets super crowded!

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