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Replace a Broken Ceramic Tile

A broken floor or wall tile can be fixed quickly and easily using simple tools and careful swings of a hammer.

Close-up of ceramic tile.

Tools & Materials

Product costs, availability and item numbers may vary online or by market.

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Know Before You Start

  • Matching your broken tile may be difficult if it’s an unusual shade, size, or texture. If you don't have any extra tiles from the original installation, consider removing a chunk of the broken tile and taking it to the store to find a match.
  • Having a sample of the existing tile also helps you match it for thickness. You can add mastic to raise a replacement tile that's too thin, but a tile that’s too thick calls attention to the repair.
  • Breaking the old tile can scatter jagged chunks and small, sharp slivers. That makes work gloves and eye protection critical.
  • Debris from this project also can scratch acrylic tubs and showers. To protect them, place an old blanket or thick protective cloth beneath your work area and tape one edge to the wall beneath where you’re working. Then tape a paper or plastic sack beneath the broken tile to catch falling pieces as you work.
  • If the tile was applied directly to drywall, removing it can easily damage the drywall. Work carefully to minimize gouges and tears and avoid damaging the subsurface by gouging the gypsum.
  • Unless your tile broke from an accidental impact or settling of the house, investigate the cause of the damage. Broken floor tiles, for example, may be the result of problems with your subfloor that should be repaired before you replace the tile.

About the Grout

A quart container of premixed combination grout / adhesive makes these small patch jobs easy and inexpensive, but it’s not always the best product for the job. If the broken tile is in a shower, for example, check the label to make sure you can use it there. For areas that will regularly get soaked, you may need a separate tile adhesive and grout or a tile repair kit designed for damp areas.

The first thing you’ll notice while grout shopping are the terms “sanded” and “non-sanded.” The one to choose depends on the width of your grout:

  • Either works for grout lines 1/8 of an inch wide.
  • For wider grout lines, use a formula with sand to help bridge the gap.
  • For tile spacing less than 1/8 of an inch, use grout without sand to fill those small gaps.

Match Old and New Grout

Place a small amount of replacement grout or adhesive/grout compound on a piece of cardboard and allow it to dry overnight. Compare the replacement grout color and texture to the original after it’s been cleaned. If the colors are too different, switch to a grout mix that’s closer to the original. For example, switching from a grout without sand to one with sand may reduce the brightness of the color.

 

Going from Old to New

Instructions

Step 1

Scraping away grout.

Using a grout saw, scrape away as much grout around the tile as possible. Work slowly to avoid damaging the drywall or backing underneath. Creating this gap around the tile keeps the force of chisel blows on the broken tile from breaking the adjoining tiles.

If your grout lines are 1/8 of an inch or narrower, check the adjoining tiles to make sure your grout saw won’t chip the tiles’ edges. If so, unscrew the blades and remove the saw-shaped insert for a narrower cut.

Step 2

Place the tip of your chisel near the center of the tile and give it a light tap. Start gently and add force gradually. As bits of tile begin to break free from the center, find a spot where you can wedge the chisel between the tile and the wall. With moderate taps, loosen broken pieces of tile from the center.

If some of the drywall paper pulls loose, don’t panic. Change the angle of your chisel to avoid making the damage worse and keep working. You’ll fill the damaged area with tile adhesive later on.

Step 3

Once you establish your starting point at the center, use moderate taps to work your way toward the tile edges. If you’re removing a small tile, take advantage of the backing (which allows these tiles to be installed in sections) and wedge your chisel between the tile and its backing.

Step 4

With all of the tile and adjoining grout removed, use a stiff-bladed putty knife to free any loose mastic still attached to the subsurface. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth, but it must be free of anything that would keep the replacement tile from resting flush with the others. Chip off any remaining grout around the opening. Finish by vacuuming dust from the opening.

Step 5

Test-fit the replacement tile in the opening and check that its surface rests slightly below that of the surrounding tiles. You don’t need any fancy tools for this job; your fingertips will sense the differences in thickness. Apply an even 1/8-inch layer of tile adhesive or a combination adhesive/grout product on the back of the tile. (It’s called “buttering” the tile, even though it goes on more like creamed cheese.) Press the tile into position, centering it in the opening.

Caution

Avoid adhesives that aren't specifically designed for tile. Tile adhesives spread and flatten as you push the tile against the wall or floor, supporting it evenly from underneath. They also help keep the tile from sliding out of place until the adhesive hardens.

Step 6

Check the tile position immediately and confirm that it aligns with the surrounding tiles. Tape the replacement tile to the surrounding surface to hold it in position. Allow the adhesive to dry overnight or as recommended by the manufacturer.

Step 7

Use a premixed grout/adhesive or mix grout to the consistency of peanut butter and use the tip of a plastic putty knife to press it into the grooves surrounding the tile. Also, fill any grout areas damaged during removal of the tile.

Step 8

For a job this small, use your fingertip as a grout-smoothing tool to level it with the tile edges. Use a moist sponge to smooth the grout even with the tile edges and wipe away the excess. Avoid exposing the repair to moisture for several days as the grout hardens.

Step 9

After about a week, apply grout sealer to the new grout to protect it from moisture. Allow a few extra hours to clean and seal the grout around the surrounding tile surfaces as well for long-lasting protection.