The general consensus of the experts about removing old bathroom floor tile seems to be that the tried-and-true method of getting down on your hands and knees with a hammer and chisel is the one method that always works. In actual fact, the method you choose for removing your old flooring depends more on what lies underneath the tile itself.
Concrete or Wood
If your tiling has been installed directly over a concrete slab, you can start removing old bathroom floor tile by pulling off the baseboards on the walls, and then scraping up the tiles using a hammer and a masonry chisel. You can also rent a power tool specifically designed for tearing up tiling or try a circular saw with a carbide blade.
If you use a circular saw for removing old bathroom floor tile, cut the floor into several small sections and pry up the tiles with the edge of a crowbar.
If you know that your tile had been laid on a backer-board or Wonderboard placed over the slab, then you will have to adjust the blade of your saw to cut through the tile and base material without slicing through the slab.
If the tile has been set in mortar on a wood floor, you will definitely need to hire the help of a professional for removing old bathroom floor tile, especially if you want to have any chance of preserving the wood underneath.
To Save or Not To Save
A question to consider, when thinking of removing old bathroom floor tile, is whether you want to save and reuse the old tile. If the answer is yes, then you will need to be careful removing it from the floor. Cut around each individual tile along the grout lines with a small rotary saw and pry them up carefully.
Of course, the ease with which the tiles can be extracted depends on how long ago the tiles were laid and what type of product was used in the installation. You may end up breaking too many tiles to make them all worth saving.
On the other hand, if you have no interest in salvaging the old tile, then go ahead in removing old bathroom floor tile with a hammer and scrape off whatever is left.
Always wear safety glasses, as chips will fly and can be dangerous, and lay a towel over the section you are working on before you start hammering. The towel will help to reduce the amount of shards flying around.
Does it Get Any Easier
In a word, no. The only way to save time and effort in removing old bathroom floor tile is buying or renting power tools to help with the job. Power tools can be a great advantage if you have a large amount of tiling to take off the floor, and renting a power tile scraper costs between $50 to $70 a day.
If you want to invest in one of these gadgets, Makita offers a power scraper for removing old bathroom floor tile, and the price is about $400. The scraper looks like a hand-held electric drill with a chisel attached instead of a drill bit. The scraper works like a smaller version of a jackhammer, delivering up to 3500 strikes per minute.
This particular tool makes a lot of noise, and you should wear some kind of ear protection while using one. Extra blades are a necessity, in case one breaks while you are working.
When all the tiles have been removed, and you have scraped away any remaining adhesive, check the floor for any gouges or dents you may have made while removing old bathroom floor tile. Fill in those areas with a floor-leveling compound to smooth out the area.
Image by Rick Scully