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The Ultimate Tile Repair Checklist

While you’re relaxing with your favorite TV show and a snack, you hear a loud crash! You run to the next room and discover your lovable but uncoordinated dog just knocked over a large potted plant. To make the situation worse, you discover several unsightly cracks in your tile.

You can’t leave your tile cracked, so you decide tile repair is a must. The only challenge you face is... how do you repair tile?

Learning how to fix a cracked tile is a valuable skill for anyone who cares about the appearance and quality of their home. Depending on the severity of the damage, you may choose to either repair it or remove the broken tile and replace it with a new one.

Fortunately for the avid DIYer, repairing damaged tile doesn’t require you to replace your entire floor and it isn’t as hard as it sounds, although for peace of mind and best results it’s always best to entrust a Mckinney Handyman for repairs. With the right tools and a little patience, you can make your tile look like new!

If you have a broken or cracked tile that needs replacing, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s the ultimate checklist you need to repair and replace a cracked tile.

Why Tile Repair is a Must

Tile, whether it’s stone or ceramic, is durable and long-lasting if well cared for. Despite its strength, however, accidents and an aging house can cause your tile to crack and break. You may find damage on the tile, the caulk, or the grout.

Damaged tile leaves the subfloor, backing, or drywall vulnerable to water and moisture. You want to avoid water from seeping into the subfloor beneath the existing tile. This can cause mold, mildew, and damage to your existing tile.

If water damages your subfloor and existing tile, you’ll most likely need to replace both the tile and the subfloor. Replacing both is a costly and time-consuming endeavor.

Cracks and chips in the tile can also pose a threat to you and your family. The jagged sharp edges can cut your feet and larger gaps may cause you to trip and fall. That being said, you should add tile maintenance to your house repair checklist.

When it comes to cracked and damaged tile, you don’t want to ignore it. Repairing it will make it look new and will prevent significantly worse problems from arising later on. You can learn to make the repairs yourself or call an experienced tile professional to repair it for you.

Tool Checklist for Repairing Tile

As with any home improvement project, there are a few tools and materials you’ll need to complete the job. Tile repair requires a mix of unique tools and materials specific to the project—most of which you can find at your local home improvement store.

The tools you’ll need include:

  • Work gloves

  • Face mask

  • Claw hammer

  • Grout blades and saws

  • Rubber grout float

  • Chisel set

  • Safety glasses

  • Toothpicks and craft sticks

  • Cleaning rags

  • Sponges

  • Tile cleaner

  • Tile trowels

  • Wet & dry vacuum

The materials you’ll need include:

  • Thin-set mortar

  • Pre-mixed grout

  • Paint and brushes

  • Painters’ tape

  • Grout sealant

  • Urethane sealant

  • Epoxy

  • Drop cloths

  • Replacement tiles

The exact tools you’ll need will depend on whether you’re repairing or replacing the damaged tile. You should always save a few extra tiles after the original tile installation just in case you need to replace a tile. Having all of these tools and materials readily available will make repairing your tile faster and easier.

How to Repair Tile Chips and Cracks

Should you replace or repair your damaged tile? The answer ultimately depends on the level of damage.

If the tile is loose or has significant damage, you will want to replace the tile. However, minor tile damage is repairable. You can fix small cracks and little chips with some epoxy or grout and a little paint. Follow our guide below:

1. Clean the Tile

Use a cloth and a tile cleaner or a mild detergent to clean away dust, debris, and grease from the tile. Any debris or grease left on the tile can cause the epoxy to bubble or not set evenly. Let the tile and damaged area dry thoroughly before you start repairs.

2. Use Epoxy

Mix a clear epoxy by following the epoxy manufacturer’s directions if needed. Pour or squeeze a small amount of epoxy onto a piece of cardboard.

Depending on the size and width of the crack or chip, use a craft stick or toothpick to apply the epoxy to the damaged area of the tile. Once the epoxy fills the damaged area, even it out and allow it to cure as per the instructions.

3. Color Match

After the epoxy completely cures, you can use urethane or oil-based paint to cover the crack and epoxy. You can mix your own paint or find a pre-mixed option that matches the colors of your tile.

Use a fine paintbrush to carefully apply the paint to the epoxy and crack. Once it completely dries, apply a thin layer of urethane sealer over the painted area. The sealer will protect the crack and prevent the paint from chipping or cracking later.

How to Replace Tile

Damaged tiles with large cracks or gaping chips, or tiles that are loose, will likely need replacing. If the crack looks too large or complicated to patch with epoxy, it’s best to replace the tile.

1. Remove the Old Tile

The first step in replacing the tile is to remove the old tile. You should wear protective eyewear, work gloves, and a face mask since most tile is brittle; small pieces and dust will get into the air.

Lay a drop cloth or dust sheet around the work area to protect other areas of the floor. If you’re replacing tile on a wall, place a drop cloth below to catch the debris.

Attach painters’ tape to the tiles surrounding the damaged tile. The tape will help protect the tile from scratches or damage.

You may be able to pry off a loose tile by using a screwdriver. For damaged tile that remains firmly attached, you’ll need a hammer and a chisel to pry it off. Pry the tile out by starting near the center and working your way outwards.

You can also break the tile into smaller pieces to make loosening it and removing it easier. Place your drop cloth over the damaged tile and tap it with a hammer to break it into smaller pieces.

2. Remove Old Grout and Adhesive

Remove the surrounding grout by using a grout saw. Use a hammer and chisel to loosen the remaining grout and adhesive from the floor.

Be careful not to damage the surrounding tile or grout. Don’t gouge the chisel too deep as you risk damaging the backer board and subfloor.

3. Clean the Area

Use a wet-dry vacuum to clear away the remaining debris. Use a damp towel to wipe away any remaining dust or grease in the area. The empty space should be dry and have an even and smooth surface.

4. Apply Thin-Set Mortar

Apply a layer of pre-mixed mortar to the bare floor where you’re installing the new tile. Use the slate side of a trowel to apply the mortar, making sure it’s as even as possible. Use the 1/4-inch notched side to draw ridges in the mortar.

Improve the tile’s adhesion by applying a thin layer of mortar directly to the back of the tile.

5. Set the Tile

Gently drop the replacement tile on the fresh mortar adhesive. As you do this, keep the tile flat to prevent one side from setting first; (setting one side of the tile first can disturb the mortar and cause the tile to sit unevenly).

Adjust the tile to align the edges with the existing tile. You can press down on the tile once it’s in place.

Keep pressing until the tile is at the same height as the surrounding tile. Place a slightly larger wood block on top of the tile to help it match the height of the other tiles. Gently press or tap the block with a hammer until the tile stops moving.

Let the mortar cure completely as per the manufacturer’s instructions. This can take anywhere from two to 24 hours.

6. Add Fresh Grout

Once the mortar dries completely, you can apply fresh grout around the edges of the new tile. Grout, like tile, comes in a variety of colors and textures. Make sure you use a color that matches your existing grout.

If you’re replacing glass, marbled, or metal tile, avoid sanded grout. Sanded grout will scratch and damage the surface of the tile.

For small projects, use pre-mixed grout as it will save you time and money. Stir the grout to ensure it’s even and well-mixed.

Use a grout float to maneuver the grout into the seams between the tiles. A good tip is to pull the float diagonally across the seam to prevent pulling out any grout.

Let the grout sit for about 15 to 20 minutes or until it’s no longer tacky to the touch. Wipe away extra grout and residue with a wet sponge or towel.

Move the sponge in a circular motion to smooth the joints and grout. Do this as you work, while looking for any low points or flaws in the grout. Add small amounts of additional grout as needed.

After a few hours, once the grout begins to dry, you can then gently clean and buff the new tile with a dry cloth.

7. Grout Sealant

The grout will need about 24 hours to fully dry. During this time avoid using or stepping on the tile. Lastly, to wrap up your tile replacement job, use a grout sealer to protect the grout and prevent moisture and stains from affecting the grout.

Once the sealant dries, your tile will be as good as new!

How to Repair Tile Grout

In some cases, you’ll find your tile is in great shape but the surrounding grout is crumbling and falling apart. Over time, grout can crack, chip, and stain. Similar to tile, damaged grout can also lead to more serious problems including damaging the surrounding tile.

Before you remove the grout, protect the surrounding tile with painters’ tape and a drop cloth.

1. Clean and Remove Grout Stains

If your grout has stains but is in otherwise good condition, you can clean it without having to replace it. You can use a professional cleaner or make a cleaner using a one-to-one ratio of water and vinegar. If you’re repairing or replacing the grout, you will need to clean both the tile and the grout.

After you scrub and remove the stains, consider adding a grout sealant. This will help prevent stains in the future.

2. Remove Grout

Use the grout saw to carefully loosen and remove the damaged grout without damaging the tile. Clear away the debris with a wet and dry vacuum. Dampen the joints and the tile with water after you clear all of the dust and debris.

3. Apply New Grout

Use the grout float to apply the grout into the joints. Draw the float at an angle to fill in the joints. Move the float diagonally to prevent pulling up any grout.

Wipe away grout residue with a wet sponge after you let the grout sit for about 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Clean, Polish, and Seal

Allow the grout to dry as per the manufacturer’s instructions. A light haze should appear on the tile and the grout will lighten as it dries.

Remove the rest of the grout residue by polishing the tile with a clean and dry towel. For difficult areas, try using a haze-remover.

Lastly, add a grout sealer once the grout is completely dry. This will protect your grout and prevent stains.

When In Doubt, Call Professional Tile Repair

Performing your own tile repair is a great skill to learn. If done well, it will save you time, money, and prevent further damage to your tiled floors and walls.

Some people, however, don’t have the time, skills, or tools needed to learn how to repair tile. If this is the case, contact a tile repair professional. Our professionals have the skills and experience to fix your broken tile and make it look new!