Fast Fix for Cracked Tile
Follow these seven easy steps to replace damaged ceramic tiles on a floor or countertop.
Glazed ceramic tile is among the most durable floor, wall and countertop coverings and, when properly installed and maintained, it can last a lifetime. But as tough as it is, tile isn't indestructible. Anyone who has dropped a cast-iron pot or heavy can of food on a tiled kitchen floor is well aware that the fire-hardened glaze on tile can chip. And the tile itself will crack under normal, everyday use if it's hiding a manufacturing defect or if the subfloor flexes too much. All of which means you'll probably have to replace a broken ceramic tile sooner or later. The good news is that you can handle it yourself. All you'll need are a few common tile-setting tools and materials, and a portable drill with a masonry bit. GEARING UP
The hardest part of tile repair is finding a replacement tile that matches. First, check your basement, garage or storage shed - the tile setter might have left a few extra tiles behind when the floor was laid. If you don't find any, check with local tile dealers for a match. But if the floor is old, finding a matching tile could be impossible. Manufacturers often discontinue old patterns and colors as new ones are introduced. Unless you're willing to live with the damage, choose a replacement that comes close. Matching the new grout to what's already there is also important - the wrong color will make the repair conspicuous, even if the tile is dead-on. Go to a well-stocked tile outlet or floor-covering dealer and ask to see the colored grouts (about $7 for a 10-lb. bag). Take home a sample chip that shows the different colors, compare it to the existing grout and pick the matching color.
BORE A SERIES of holes diagonally across the damaged tile with a 1/4-in.-dia. masonry drill bit.
REMOVING THE OLD TILE
You want to remove the cracked tile without damaging any others. Work carefully, be patient and, above all else, do not pry against surrounding tiles. You might want to lay cardboard around the cracked tile for added protection. First, use an electric drill fitted with a 1/4-in.-dia. masonry bit to bore a series of holes diagonally across the cracked tile (photo 1). Space the holes no more than 1 in. apart. Next, wearing safety glasses and work gloves, split the tile along the holes using a 1/2- or 3/4-in.-wide cold chisel and ball-peen hammer (photo 2). Don't pound too hard on the chisel or you'll crack neighboring grout joints. Make several light taps until tile fragments pop loose. Remove loose pieces and pry up any remaining shards with a flat bar (photo 3). Then use the bar or cold chisel to carefully remove any surrounding grout remnants. After clearing away the damaged tile, take a stiff-bladed scraper or toothed chisel and scrape the old mortar from the subfloor. Don't worry about removing every last bit - just smooth the surface. Then vacuum up all loose dust and debris.
LIGHTLY TAP along the holes with a hammer and cold chisel until tile sections start popping loose.
Setting the New Tile
You can set the replacement tile with either an adhesive ($5 per quart) or latex-fortified thinset mortar ($8 for a 50-lb. sack). Both products are applied with a notched trowel and work well for all types of tile. We used thinset. Why? Because we happened to have some on hand. Dump about two cups of thinset into a bucket and stir in about 1/3 cup of water for each 8-in. tile you're replacing. Mix to a smooth consistency, adding more water if necessary. Let the thinset stand, or slake, for about 10 minutes so all the water is absorbed. Spread a 1/4-in.-thick bed of mortar onto the subfloor with a 3-in.-wide drywall knife; be sure the entire area is covered. Next, rake out the mortar with a 1/4-in. notched trowel (photo 4). Set the new tile into the fresh mortar, center it in the space and tamp it down using a wood block and a hammer handle (photo 5). Be sure the tile is still centered, then let the mortar cure overnight. Mix powdered grout with water in a small container. Its strength and color are affected by too much or too little water, so follow package directions closely. Again, let the mixture stand a few minutes for full water absorption. Then stir the grout one more time and force it into the joints with a rubber float (photo 6); a large, dense sponge also works. Sweep the rubber float or sponge over each joint diagonally several times until the gaps are filled and level with the surrounding joints. Skim over the surface a final time to scrape up any excess grout. Let the grout cure until a hazy film dries on the surface of the tile. Lightly wipe the surface with a damp towel to remove this film (photo 7). After waiting a few hours, thoroughly buff the entire area you worked on with a clean, dry towel. You should avoid walking on the new tile for at least another 24 hours.
PRY UP LOOSE tile shards with a flat bar. Then use the bar or chisel to scrape up any remaining pieces.
Manufacturers of tile-setting materials: American Olean
7834 C.F. Hawn Fwy., Dept. TH498, Dallas, TX 75217
aotile.com W.R. Bonsal Co
Box 241148, Dept. TH498, Charlotte, NC 28224
Box 277, Dept. TH498, Dayton, OH 45401
da.com Elmer's Products
180 E. Broad St., Dept. TH498 Columbus, OH 43215
800/848-9400 TEC Inc. (an H.B. Fuller company)
315 S. Hicks Rd., Dept. TH498 Palatine, IL 60067