Tile Repair

Many homes have tile floors, tile countertops, or tile showers. This Fix-It Guide on tile repair tells how tile works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a tile problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it whether the tile is on a counter, on a floor, in a shower, or elsewhere. This guide then gives simple step-by-step instructions for how to clean tile grout, how to re-grout tile, and how to replace a tile.

How Does Tile Work?

Tile is molded clay that has been prepared for use as flooring or as countertop or wall covering; or it is natural stone that has been cut for the same purpose.

Ceramic and natural stone tiles are widely available. Several types of ceramic tile are in popular use. Glazed ceramic tile is baked, coated with glaze, and baked again, creating an extremely hard surface layer. Quarry tile is baked but left unglazed, leaving it porous. It is softer and thicker than glazed tile. Porcelain mosaic tile, made in units of less than 6 square inches, is made of porcelain or natural clay composition, either plain or with an abrasive mixture throughout. Natural-stone tile is simply cut from stone. Granite and marble tiles are usually polished and sealed after cutting, while slate tiles are cut along natural faults, leaving a textured appearance.

Tile flooring, walls, or countertops are installed over a solid base, creating extremely hard and durable surfaces that will serve for many years with little maintenance other than cleaning. Tile is installed with an adhesive, and space between the tiles is filled with grout, a sandy paste that hardens soon after application.

What Can Go Wrong with Tile?

Grout can become dirty and stained. It can crack, chip, or even come out in chunks. A single tile or several tiles can also crack, chip, or break. As mentioned, whether the tile is on a floor, countertop, or wall, repairs are basically the same.

How Can I Identify a Tile Problem?

  • If grout is dirty or stained, you can make it sparkle again (see below).
  • If grout is chipped, cracked, or missing, you can replace it (see below).
  • If a tile is damaged, you can replace it (see below) without damaging the tiles around it.

What Do I Need for Tile Repair?

Replacement tiles and the materials and tools needed to fix them are available from retail tile stores and home centers. The tools you will need to fix tile include these:

  • Replacement tile
  • Electric drill
  • Hammer
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Cold chisel
  • Pry bar
  • Grout
  • Grout sealer
  • Tile adhesive
  • Grout cleaner or bleach
  • Household cleaner
  • Sponge
  • Clean white towel or paper towels
  • Brushes
  • Putty or grout knife
  • Notched trowel

Fix-It Tip

Whenever you install new tile on a floor, wall, or counter, set aside a few extra tiles for the day when you may need to replace a few. Wrap them up in clean paper, sealed with tape, and write the tile color and where it was installed. If you write it on the edge of the package you’ll be able to read it easier if it’s stacked on a shelf.

What Are the Steps to Tile Repair?

Clean tile grout:

  1. Spray on a commercial grout cleaner or heavy-duty all-purpose bleach-based cleaning solution (use 1/4 cup of chlorine bleach in 1 quart of warm water to eliminate mold and mildew). Let soak for several minutes.
  2. Scrub with a stiff brush and rinse thoroughly.
  3. Dry with a clean white towel or paper towels.
  4. Apply grout sealer to keep the grout clean for up to a year.
 Tile Repair

Remove old grout and clean surfaces before applying new grout.

Re-grout tile:

  1. Scrub the tile and grout thoroughly with a strong household cleaner. If there is any mildew, scrub the tile joints with a toothbrush dipped in bleach and rinse thoroughly.
  2. Remove any damaged grout with a putty knife, grout knife, or other sharp tool. Vacuum up any mess.
  3. Scrub the area again, but leave it damp.
  4. Mix sufficient tile grout according to the package instructions. Apply grout with a damp sponge, wiping firmly in areas that need grout. Smooth the new grout with a clean damp sponge. If needed, apply more grout and smooth again, until the tile joints are completely filled.
  5. Let the grout dry for at least twelve hours. Scrub the tile firmly with a clean cloth to remove any grout on the tile.
  6. Seal the grout with an appropriate grout sealer, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Fix-It Tip

Seal grout yearly to prolong its beauty and its effective life.

Replace a tile:

  1. Drill a row of holes and score a line with a hammer and cold chisel. Or break up the tile with the hammer and cold chisel.
  2. Along the chisel line, use a pry bar to pry up pieces of the tile. After the first broken piece of the tile comes out, the rest will come out easily.
  3. Scrape out the old adhesive, if possible, with a putty knife.
  4. Use a notched trowel to spread new adhesive.
  5. Center a replacement tile in the patch area.
  6. Place a block of wood over the new tile to protect its surface, and seat the tile evenly with the surrounding surface. You may have to tap it gently with a hammer.
  7. Let the tile adhesive set according to package directions. Then mix a small batch of grout. Use a wet sponge or a trowel to force it into the seams, and wipe off the excess. Repeat as needed until the joint is filled.
  8. Clean tile thoroughly of any excess grout.
  9. Seal the grout with an appropriate grout sealer, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Fix-It Tip

If you don’t have any leftover tile from the initial tile installation, check with local tile stores. They sometimes have open stock where you might find a replacement.