Everything I normally write is about building your brand new awesome shower. However, to do that you must first remove the old, outdated, non-awesome shower. There are several ways to do this, I’m gonna show you the easiest.
A lot of people will go in and chip every tile off the wall (don’t laugh, they do it…), then remove the drywall (or what’s left of it) to get down to the studs in order to build the new stuff. You don’t need to do that. It’s time-consuming, messy and will give you a fairly crappy attitude about the project right from the get-go. (Did I just type ‘get-go’??? I need a beer…)
Most existing tiled showers being torn out are ‘builder’s grade’ showers, that means 4×4 or 6×6 tiles with a bullnose tile, normally 2″ wide, along the edges. Chipping each tile off the wall will waste an entire day. So you’re going to remove entire portions of the wall at a time.
The first thing you want to do is chip off the bullnose, or little rounded pieces, along the edges (and top, if you’re not going to the ceiling) of the shower. If you notice in the photo to the right I’ve already done this.
Once you get all the bullnose tile removed you want to take your razor knife and cut all the way through the drywall along the edges of the shower tile. This gives you a fairly straight line for the existing drywall so you can butt your new substrate up to it easily. Normally this will also give you a line directly from the outside corner of the tub, so all your new substrate will sit inside your shower, where you want it.
If you are tiling all the way to the ceiling (which I always recommend) take a straight-edge and place it against the tile along the line you just cut and continue your cut all the way up to the ceiling. This should give you a nice straight line from the tub to the ceiling.
Next, take your crowbar and insert it into the line you just cut. You want to pry the entire tiled portion of the wall off the studs. You may not be able to ‘pry’ it! If there is not a stud directly behind the line you cut, or on one side or the other, you may have to just place the crowbar in there and ‘pull’ the wall off.
If there is not a stud behind that area you’ll need to add one to tie the existing wall to your new substrate. This will describe how to do that: Drywall to backerboard transitions for shower walls.
The drywall is normally put up with either nails or drywall screws. In either case you can pull those right through the back of the drywall when you pry. You’ll need to work it back and forth a little to get it loosened, but it will eventually peel off the studs normally in half-wall or whole-wall sized pieces, like the photo at the right.
Just grab that entire piece and haul it off. You can also bust that piece into smaller pieces by pressing against the back of it (after it’s off the wall) towards the tile where you want it to break. It should fold right over to make more manageable sizes.
Then you can take your razor knife, clean up the edges around your shower and install your new (waterproof) substrate. It’s quicker, cleaner and much easier than trying to remove each individual tile, then removing the drywall. Try to make your project easier from the beginning.
If you are removing it all the way to the ceiling be sure to cut the transition from the wall to the ceiling with your razor knife. It is normally taped and mudded to the ceiling, which means if you don’t you’ll tear the face of the drywall off the ceiling board, requiring repair and repainting. If you cut that transition first it should come off cleanly.
I normally leave the caulk or silicone line in the corners as I’m doing this. The photo where the wall is hanging there – that’s just the silicone holding it up there. It gives you a bit more control and everything doesn’t come crashing down once you get it off the studs. Just grab and peel the wall out of the corner, it’ll come right off.
To remove the back wall you’ll need to create an open spot to grab and pull or pry. Take your hammer and bust out a vertical line of tiles in the middle of the wall so you can get your crowbar behind it. Always remove the side walls first, then the back. That is likely the reverse order they were installed and you won’t run into the drywall being hung up in the corner behind the adjacent piece.
This is the easiest and quickest way I’ve found to remove your old shower walls. Don’t waste time on demolition (unless you’re sadistic like that) when you can better spend that time building the new stuff. It’s still a bit messy – demolition always is, but it’s much less messy to have stacks of drywall with the tile still attached than to have buckets of old broken tile and a pile of old drywall.
This method works with nearly every old wall substrate, including cement backerboard, if you are lucky enough to actually have a shower with backer behind the tile. It’s a bit more messy, and a bit more difficult, but the same technique applies.
And if you’re removing carpet – cut it into manageable strips! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people tear it out in one large piece, fold it, roll it, wrestle it through the house to get it out, knock stuff over because it’s still six feet wide and weighs 200lbs., knock over more stuff… You aren’t saving it, cut it up!
Or don’t cut it up and send me the video of you trying to get it out of your house – I could use the laugh.
Thank you for the info on building my shower. I would like to know how you do the slope in the floor of the shower. Also you didn’t go into how to seal around plumbing. We also have tile on the ceiling. Do we treat the ceiling the same as the walls?
Thank you for your help.
There is a little search bar in the upper right which will answer all those questions.
I would have been in heaven had this been my situation as I removed a 1950’s walk-in shower from my home last weekend. Tiled on 2-3″ mortar over chicken wire and 4-6″ base over lead pan. Thank goodness home depot rents demo hammers. Even with the hammer, the demo had me cursing from dawn to dusk.
Yes yes yes. I could only wish for tile as easy as I’ve removed from a 2001 builder shower several years ago. Utility knife along the grout line to cut out for a new plumbing in wall, water control handle. Strip of same decorative mosaics around 3 walls.
My latest home is a 1970 model. And even the vanity tear out is a tedious challenge. Wire with an inch plus of mortar. Glad I love the tile, and the 3 to 1 water handle areas, since 2 baths, are the only real redos. Pumice stones to 50 years of water mineral and bar soap wax off EACH tile exposed to that was really fun, too.
I HATE removing mud walls. I love building them, though.
Do you have any suggestions for how to remove a tiled floor?
The bathroom floor is 3/4″ higher than the hallway floor so I can see there is concrete board in there. So it would be 1/2″ subfloor , 1/2″ plywood (since that is what was under the original kitchen layers), lino, concrete board, tile.
My thought is to use a circular set to go just into the lino and cut down come of the grout lines. We plan to go down to the subfloor, put down concrete board on it then tile so the bath and hall heights are the same.
What do you think?
The circular saw is fine if you have a diamond wheel on it, you don’t want to do it with a regular blade. You should remove the tile first, then worry about the underlying layers. A bosch bulldog is what I use, it’s essentially a mini jackhammer.
Thank you very much for all work you put into this great website! It is very educational and to the point.
I want to ask you your opinion on Tile over tile installation in the shower. I know you probably hate the idea, but since me and my husband want to do it ourselves, we are trying to do it easiest. Existing tile is solid and we want to use Green skin first and then lay tile on it (with think set as you so wisely wrote about). What do you think? Here is information about green skin:http://rtcproducts.com/us/greenskin-flooring-underlayment/ Thank you so much. You have probably very busy summer:)
That will work just fine. Greenskin is good stuff.
Thank you so much for taking time to respond! I appreciate it soo much!
As a note: I have done five bathrooms, using these methods and they have all
come out fabulous !! The tile elf is “The Bomb”………………Thanks for all your
Your post about how to remove tiled shower walls gets to several questions that’ve been nagging me as I now contemplate tiling my 9’ x 16’ kitchen floor. Apologies for a long post, but I know you’re a patient, gracious host, and perhaps this will address issues that others are considering as well.
I’ve done two bathroom floors in my home, based on your guidance, and both have gone smoothly, except for the time I forgot, “Don’t grout an entire floor of mosaic tile and leave it to dry overnight before trying to wipe it clean.” (Envision working on your hands and knees with a Dremel tool for four days like a dentist, smoothing down hundreds of grout lines between tiny adjoining tiles. ARRGH!)
After tiling the first bathroom floor (5’ x 5’), I recall thinking, “I wonder if it would’ve been better to use nails to affix the HardieBacker to the subfloor. Thinset filled in all the screw heads, and it’ll be a chore to tear this out if anyone ever needs to get under it to do something like major plumbing work.”
Now, thinking about tiling our larger kitchen—a robust 1 ¼” subfloor comprised of two layers of 5/8” plywood—I’m wondering whether covering each Backer-On screw head with a small piece of duct tape might be a viable “hedge” against some unknowable need to rip it all out in the future. Or might that possibly affect the integrity of an otherwise properly mortared, screwed-taped-mudded cement-board substrate (using 1 ¼” screws to affix ¼” HardieBacker)?
And that doubt is sparked by my prior experience replacing the old kitchen flooring (indoor/outdoor carpet over probably-asbestos-ridden vinyl and mastic that was likely original to the house, circa 1950) with a cheap, faux-wood laminate. Shortly after installing the laminate, a modest dishwasher leak caused the edges of the adjacent laminate planks to swell and remain slightly distorted.
I know that tile is comparatively forgiving of minor water spillage, but this unlikely-yet-possible specter of similar future water exposure seems compounded by the issue of whether or not to tile under the kitchen cabinets. (The tiling is part of a major kitchen renovation.)
I envision installing HardieBacker over the entire subfloor, but I’d rather not pay to “bury” expensive tile that no one will ever see again underneath the cabinets as well. Of course, installing the cabinets directly atop the HardieBacker and then tiling right up to the face of them would leave them essentially “walled in” behind their own little tile bunkers. But more than one DIY friend has suggested laying the tile so that it extends just beneath the front edges of the cabinets, so that they sit atop the tile, with the cabinet rears perched up on shims laid atop the HardieBacker-ed subfloor. This approach seems most reasonable to me.
But then a contractor friend unleashed even more doubt by saying things like, “Most people use Schluter-Ditra as an uncoupling agent over plywood, or they coat it first with RedGard before installing HardieBacker so the plywood doesn’t suck all the moisture out of the thinset, leaving it brittle.” And then I read on your site that you prefer a Schluter-Ditra substrate yourself these days.
What’s a penny-pincher tile novice to do?!?
Thankfully my wife is a patient woman who is willing to endure my efforts to think this through and get it right, but as a DIY dabbler I suspect I may be sweating details that a pro like you would utterly dismiss.
The way I figure it, it’s probably in your best interest to go with an engineered-to-be-failsafe method like Schluter-Ditra so you minimize the prospect of having to redo a job on your own dime (though I’m sure catastrophic failure is unlikely at this stage of your career). For someone like me, however, doing a one-off project, I would think that POH (plain old HardieBacker) done thoroughly and carefully (disregard my prior comment about grout and Dremel tools) would likely be more than adequate if not ABSOLLUTELY as forgiving/reliable as Ditra.
For example, I’ve seen suggestions to moisten a plywood subfloor with a damp sponge before applying thinset and HardieBacker, to facilitate optimal curing by minimizing rapid absorption of water out of the thinset. Or maybe splurging on a can of RedGard would afford a measure of uncoupling/water-resistance that would help me rest easier. And I would HOPE that the volume of water that wrinkled my really cheap laminate wouldn’t affect porcelain nearly as much, even if it DID seep down to a HardieBacker substrate just behind the front edge of an installed cabinet.
What do you say? Any insights to validate my hunches, bolster my confidence, and talk me down from this ledge of considering alternatives to tile? Thanks for considering these doubts and sharing your wisdom over the years.
I look forward to a margin of sanity that may accompany your reply.
In any case, you remain—the best.
The backer will be just fine. Plywood will leach moisture from thinset, weakening it, but if you sponge down the ply, or at least burn in thinset, then it won’t be an issue. No reason for redgard at all. Do the tile up to whatever spot you’re comfortable with. I, for one, NEVER build with the ‘what if’ scenario in mind. My stuff is down, and it’s down permanently. If there’s an issue you need to replace whatever comes up anyway, why risk compromising the stability of an installation just in case something may happen. If something does happen, that seriously, tile is the least of your worries anyway. A minor leak will not affect tile over backer at all.
Thanks, Roger. Appreciate your perspective–AS ALWAYS!
In removing the old tile from the walls in my shower, Ive come across what feels like concrete with tar painted on it? Now what? Do I sheetrock or place tile over this? HELP
That is hot-mop. If solid you can go back over it. It should be replaced, but it’s not imperative.
And yes, I realize this reply is likely too late, but the info will be here for others in the future. Sorry for the delay.
I don’t see an image, but what you have there are mud walls. And they are built to be indestructible. The answer to your question, as strange as it may be, is yes – a sledgehammer is the best way to remove it. Actually, the best way to remove it is to hire someone else to remove it. Be careful too, behind that mud is wire lath and it’s sharp as hell.
I’m in a similar situation as OP and would like to use those indestructible walls for re-tiling the shower walls. Everywhere I read, the advice is remove mud walls and install fresh. Why can’t I just reuse the indestructible gift that’s already there? Is it really that horrible of a practice to do this or can I waterproof and go on my way?
I feel I found your site too late or just in time. I’d be happy to purchase your book if you go into detail of this situation or send you some good Midwestern beer as a thank you.
The issue with doing that is you don’t know if the mud walls have, over time, caused any issues with the underlying substrate. You CAN fill in any low or non-flush areas, go over it with a liquid or sheet waterproofing and tile away. I cannot, however, guarantee that you will never have issues with whatever is currently behind those walls.
I have an old house (1947) and am discovering all kinds of fun things as I take on various projects. I want to retile this small bathroom – started like you outlined here and discovered more weirdness. It took me about 20 minutes to chip away at one bullnose tile and I have not got the whole time off yet. It looks like concrete behind it – how do I get rid of this? Sledgehammer? This porcelain tile covers 3/4 of the bathroom including the ceiling of the shower…I have only tested this wall which happens to be an exterior wall…but I am now thinking handyman. Thoughts? Advice? Help?
We have a small tiled shower that needs to be updated. Is replacing the existing tile floor a simple thing to do or are we better off leaving it as it is and just redoing the walls?
leaving it is absolutely easier, but you need to ensure that there are no issues with the base (leaks, etc.). In my opinion it is always better to tear out everything and begin anew. (And I just typed the word ‘anew’ – that means I have to drink a beer now…)
Hello Rodger – would these same procedures still apply if the shower tiles are attached via a fairly thick mudwall?
Unfortunately (hell) no. If there is a mud wall behind the tile it will need to be busted out just like a concrete floor. That’s what it is, a vertical concrete floor. There is absolutely no easy way to remove them.
One more question. I noticed from watching youtube videos that many professionals dislike stones mosaic on the shower floor, in particular due to large chunks of grout that installation would involve – see an example attached. Do you agree with this point of view? Should I better use square 2″ or 4″ tile with 1/8 grout lines in between for the shower floor?
It doesn’t really matter, imo. If done correctly it’ll last just as long and be just as durable as the 2×2’s. I hate doing them, though, because of the amount of grout it takes and the time needed to get those large grout areas finished off correctly so it’s smooth and even. It’s just a pain in the ass.
What’s the correct way to install curb made from 2x4s with kerdi membrane?
It seems this is what you used for the corner shower depicted on a few pictures in your kerdi book. Do you apply kerdi directly to wood? It does not sound right.
No, you need to put a substrate like backerboard over it to install the kerdi onto.
Ok, thank you, so let me just clarify it.
I screw 2×4 to floor and each other, then screw backerboard strips to the top and sides of 2x4s (should I seal backerboard strips with mortar like I would do on the wall?). Then I apply unmodified thinset and kerdi membrane on top, correct?
That is correct. No need for the tape and mud, the kerdi takes care of that.
How would you attempt to take tile off a shower floor without too much distruction
Replace the floor. Or…take a hammer and bust it into little pieces, then you can peel the individual pieces out.
Thank you for fantastic blog and books (I bought three of them and found them very helpful) !
Can you answer a few questions, please?
– Wall tiles should overlap over floor tiles (floor tiled first and wall second), right?
– Should I apply tape and waterproofing between wall/floor cement boards, or only in the wall corners?
– Is is stupid to install linear drain shorter then the entire length of the shower curb? I am planning to use a linear drain from the Tile Shop and it comes with up to 32″ length, while the curb is going to be 40″? I want to use large 12″x12″ tile on the shower floor.
– is it possible to tile on the drywall outside the shower, or should I replace it with cement board?
Thanks a lot,
1. It really makes no difference in a properly waterproofed shower, I just think it looks better – more ‘natural’ with the wall tile overlapping the floor tile.
2. No, only in the wall corners and in-plane seams on the wall.
3. No if you have a design which contains the water and drives it to the drain on those extra 8″. Such as a 4″ curb on either side of the drain.
4. You can tile drywall in any dry areas outside the shower with no issues.
My shower had hardware (faucet & spigot) to install a bathtub, I am not installing a bathtub. How do I ensure I don’t bust a water pipe when I remove the wall with the faucets and spigots? Thank you.
How do you plan on removing that wall??? Just take off the drywall or whatever substrate is covering the studs and you’ll be able to see all the pipes to work around them.
One thing I’ve seen conflicting info on, and I couldn’t find it in your manual, is what you do with the backerboard where it meets the tub. Some say overlap, some say stay off 1/8″. IF using cement board, do I then run my poly so it overlaps the tub lip to provide a path for water into the tub vice down to the flooring? (See figure 1) If I’m using some sort of topical, 1. do I still caulk the seam above the lip and 2. Do I overlap both that seam and the tub lip with the topical? (See figure 2)
There are different ways you can do it, all correct. The way I do it with topical is to overlap the membrane over the flange, then stop the backer about 1/16″ above the flange. With topical I overlap the flange with the backer, silicone that seam at the bottom then install the topical all the way down, over the cured silicone, onto the tub about 1/8″.
My shower is cultured marble all around: Solid bottom pan, solid side walls and solid rear wall. Can these be removed from the sheetrock without destroying the wall? I do not intend to go all the way to the ceiling with the 9×14 (approx.) tiles and will have an open edge. Should I use the steel or aluminum end trim (as sold @ Home depot) on the edges or will grout suffice? Better to go pro I know, but the estimates I have gotten are astronomical, so DIY here I come.
No, your wall will likely be destroyed. And why would you want to leave drywall up in a shower anyway? You can’t (properly) install tile over it unless you use kerdi. Always use some sort of an edge, grout looks like absolute shit.
P.S. There is a reason the pro prices are what they are.
OMG – Thank you so much for this article! I want to update my main bath area myself, but I was worried about running out of gas halfway thru demolishing and chipping each tile out. It totally makes sense to just cut slabs of the wall out.
Roger, I used your traditional manual to build a shower and had great success thanks. I’m building a new house now and the drywall guys had planned to install denshield in our shower enclosure. Is a tradition base the best way to go with denshield? I don’t see an option in your manuals for a liquid topical base in conjunction with a topical substrate, if that makes sense. Any advise is appreciated.
A liquid topical base is actually the best option with densshield. Have them install the densshield, then pack your pan right up against it. Once it cures install your liquid and paint it up the walls about a foot or so.
Thanks Roger. One more quick question: shower is about 4 feet square with 10 foot ceilings. Walk in with no door. Would you recommend Dens Shield all the way to the top and ceiling? The drywall guys planned to run it 8 feet up or something like that. We haven’t decided whether to tile the entire top and the ceiling yet.
It needs to go a minimum of 2″ above the top of the shower head. Anything above that you can do whatever you want. The only exception is if there is a header across the entrance of the shower.
Thanks again Roger. So I’m building a liquid topical pan with DensShield walls. I have your liquid topical manual and your traditional manual (from a past job). The DensShield is up, the only thing I’m not sure of is finishing the DensShield. I understand I need to seal the seams and corners with a flexible sealant and tape and thinset the seams. Should I just pony up for the other manual to get that information? (I know, I’m asking the wrong guy that question but I’m trying to save money here!) Only things I’m unsure of are what type of sealant to use (seen lots of opinions) and how to handle the DensShield corner transitions from the wall to the doorway and from the wall to the window seal (the convex corners, for lack of a better way to describe them). thanks again.
You can use regular silicone for all those transitions. Then tape and mud the corners and changes of plane and paint over them with redgard.
Roger, what are your thoughts on pre-made curbs you can buy, such as the Durock curb home depot sells? Thx.
They work well, you just need to take care around them until you get them covered with tile.
Awesome. Would you thinset the ends of the curb to the DensShield, or should I cut the DensShield around the ends of the curb and have the curb go under the DensShield? Can I just tile directly to the premade curb?
You can do either one, they both work. Tile is bonded directly to most premade curbs.
Can I tile over top of existing linoleum?) It is in great shape and only 7 years old. It is on a wood floor.