Replacing Tile Grout to Renew a Wall, Countertop, or Floor

The grout is an important embellishment of the tile work. In some applications, tiles fit closely together so there is little grout to begin with. This is often on bathroom walls or in cafeteria tile work, and some people choose to use a fine caulk bead to touch up the grout instead of replacing tile grout.

More commonly, replacing tile grout is a bigger maintenance procedure because grout lines are anywhere from 3/16″ to as much as 5/8″ wide. The trick in replacing tile grout is to get the grout out without damaging the tiles, and you will need a special tool to do the job right.

Tile Grout Saw

This tool is a very inexpensive one, and not very large. Anyone who expects to use an electrical contraption for grout removal will be disappointed with the grout saw. It is a simple wooden handle that has a straight piece of metal attached to the bottom and facing in the same direction as the handle.

The process of cleaning out the grout consists of applying downward pressure on the metal cutter and pushing and pulling it back and forth in the gap between the tiles. The metal cuts out most of the grout and doesn’t damage the tiles as long as the operator is careful to keep the saw from jumping out of the grout joint.

A large area can take some time to complete with this simple tool, but it is important to have patience and not make mistakes trying to finish quickly. A slip causing a tile to be scratched only adds more work to the process.

It is not necessary to get all the old grout from between tiles, as long as none remains stuck to the edges of tiles and enough new grout can be placed in the space to hide whatever remains.

Installing New Grout

When all the grout has been removed that is necessary for the replacement, the dust should be carefully removed and the tiles cleaned. A close examination should be made to be certain that no part of the initial grout will be seen before mixing the replacement grout.

Replacing tile grout is a messy job, and you will need a rubber grout trowel, a firm sponge, buckets with clean water, cleanup rags, and paper towels. There is no need to attempt to place the grout in the grooves if you are using a standard mortar type material; just drop a glob on the surface and begin working it into the joints with the rubber or foam bottom trowel.

It takes some practice to get the knack for replacing tile grout. First, the trowel should be cocked to make about a 45 degree angle with the surface of the tile. The grout should be pulled across the surface at diagonals to the grout lines, and the direction the trowel travels should be alternated.

For instance, if looking down on the tile, one pass of the trowel would be from the top right corner to the bottom left, and the next would be from the top left to the bottom right.

Several passes are necessary to push the grout entirely into the void.

Once the grout is installed, it is necessary to wait for around fifteen minutes before beginning the cleaning process. A damp cloth used for this purpose should be rinsed often and the water should be replaced as necessary to get as much of the residue off the tiles as possible. At the same time, pressure has to be light so grout won’t be pulled out of the joint.

Once the tile looks relatively clean, it should be allowed to dry before buffing with the paper towels to remove any residue.

Fixing Loose Tiles on the Wall or Floor

In most cases, fixing loose tiles is a fairly simple undertaking. If a tile is loose, it should be easy to take up from the floor or off a wall. Another reason for removing a tile and replacing it is because the adhesive has a void in it that will eventually lead to the tile cracking. This happens when the original installer does not sufficiently apply the adhesive or there are dry pockets in the adhesive mix.

Removing Tile Adhesive

A tile that has come loose so that it can be removed without applying pressure is the easier situation when fixing loose tiles. If the tile is to be reused, any adhesive must be removed from the back before attempting to reseat it. Depending on the type of adhesive used during installation, heat may cause it to soften and liquefy enough to be wiped off. This can be accomplished with a clothing iron used to heat the face side of the tile.

If the adhesive does not contain polymers, heating may not have much effect. In that case, it is a meticulous job to chisel the mortar off the tile without breaking it. Fixing loose tiles is less work if new tiles are used for replacement. When heating works to loosen the adhesive, it is best to apply the iron to the tile while it is in place. That will loosen the adhesive on the floor or wall so that the tile can be removed easily.

It is important to have all adhesive removed from the old tile and the floor or wall behind it. The grout that goes around the tile should also be removed so that nothing interferes with reseating the removed tile. Mineral spirits on a rag will clean adhesive with polymers quite well.

It is very easy to damage tiles around the removed one when attempting to take out the grout. The best way to reduce chipping or breaking tiles is to move the chisel along the side of the tile. Do not hammer a chisel back toward tiles that remain in place.

Reinstalling the Tile

Once tile grout and adhesive have been cleaned away, new adhesive should be installed on both the back of the tile and the surface where it is to be attached using a small toothed trowel. After the tile is set into the opening, a roller that is long enough to overlap on each side onto the tiles around it can be used to roll across and make certain that the tile is flush with the tiles around it.

Once the tile is pressed into place, any excess tile adhesive should be cleaned out of the space around the tile and off of all tiles before it sets. A damp cloth or one with mineral spirits will remove it. The tile may move out of line with the other tiles, so the last step in fixing loose tiles is to use tile spacers in the grout joints while the adhesive sets.

Based on the location of the replaced tile, it might be very easy for someone to step on it while it is resetting. Always put something around the replaced tile as a warning for people to stay away. It is best to wait twenty-four hours for the adhesive to set even though it generally doesn’t take that long to dry.

Installing Grout

It is always best to use the same brand and color of grout to get the closest match possible to the existing materials. If the grout is sanded, you will need to seal it about seven days after it is placed.

Each step in the process of fixing loose tiles is important if the job is to be performed properly.

The Problems With Tile Chip Repair

Have you ever seen repair jobs that were done so poorly that it would have been better if nothing had been done at all? That is what you may find with tile chip repair if the person performing the work is not well rehearsed in how to complete the task properly.

Not every tile chip repair should be attempted in the same way as another, and in some cases, the trial and error method might be your best course of action. Remember anything you do that can be undone is perfectly fine to try, but if you mess up a tile, you increase the amount of work necessary for the tile repair job. It might even cost more money for materials, plus more time to perform the work.

Tile Repair – Establishing a Course of Action

Anytime you deal with existing tile work, the least amount of change required, generally the better the outcome will be. If the damaged tile has only a hairline crack, you should consider if a repair will even be an improvement.

If the grout is not cracked also, using a resin product that is a match in color to fill the crack is one option to consider. With a hairline crack, the problem is in getting anything into the tiny crevice. A surface application will usually be very obvious and won’t stay in place for long.

If you cannot find anything that will work as a filler for tile chip repair, you may have to replace the tile. This is the most drastic action to take, but often the only one that will offer a suitable solution. If there are no tiles that will match the existing, you may have to rethink any type of repair.

Replacing a Tile

If you have some extra tiles left that match those on the floor, counter, or other surface, there should be no problem in making a replacement that blends with the existing. Tiles do not usually fade over the years like some materials do. The harder part to match may be the grout around the replaced tile because it will fade, stain, and age making it look different than when it was first installed.

The removal of a tile must be accomplished without damaging others around it, and the surrounding grout and thin set mix beneath the old tile have to be completely removed, too. The entire area should be cleaned thoroughly so no grit remains that can interfere with setting the new tile.

When placing the new tile in a bed of thin set, a straight edge should be used to make sure that the new tile is flush with all other tiles at each corner. Once the tile is seated properly, it should be left to set without being disturbed for about 24 hours to assure that the mortar is dry. Then the grout is applied.

Sanded grout can be very difficult to match because you won’t know how it will look until it dries. Even if you have some saved grout from the original tile job, you can’t really expect it to match if it has been a year or more since the installation.

Sanded grout should be sealed about a week after it is installed. This helps prevent staining, and if sealing is performed each year, it may help to prevent a change in color over time. Sanded grout that is taken care of properly should be easier to match when a tile chip repair is performed.

If the grout is an epoxy or other type of hybrid, matching to the existing is much easier because these materials retain color better than sanded grout. In some cases, it is almost impossible to tell when a tile chip repair has been performed when epoxy grout is used.

Again, every repair of a chipped ceramic tile is different based on several variables. A repair job usually requires more skill than installation of new ceramic tile because it has to be handled carefully so a repair is not so visually obvious.