To fix loose bathroom tiles, begin by removing the grout around the problem tiles. Next, use a scraper to pop out the loose tiles. Once you’ve removed the tiles from the floor or wall, scrape the dried adhesive off the building material and the back of the tile. Then, spread new adhesive on the back of the tiles and press them into place. Once the adhesive is dry, apply new grout to finish reinstalling your tiles.
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Why are Your Bathroom Tiles Coming Loose?
Bathroom tiles loosen due to incorrect installation, thermal changes that cause expansion and contraction, and moisture infiltrating through failing grout. Cracked grout is a problem for bathroom tiles, since they are regularly exposed to water. If water easily seeps in between the tiles, it can gradually destroy the adhesive bond holding the tile to the substrate.
Will Grout Hold a Loose Tile?
Regrouting will not fix loose tiles. Grout is essential for adding moisture protection and a finished look to tile but it will not hold tile in place. If a tile is beginning to rock, wobble, or otherwise feels loose it is due to a failure of the thinset adhesive. This adhesive is what’s responsible for holding a tile in place. You will need to take steps beyond regrouting in order to repair loose tiles in your bathroom.
8 Steps to Fix Loose Bathroom Tiles
Loose bathroom tiles are a sign of worse things to come if they are not repaired promptly. Loose tiles can fall, pop up, or crack. Also, if tiles are becoming loose in one area the damage can spread. If you’ve noticed loose tiles in your bathroom, take these steps to repair them:
Start by removing the grout on all sides of the tile. A utility knife or thin-bladed scraper is the best tool for this job. Begin by using a utility knife and work gently, to avoid cracking nearby tiles. Continue working until all the grout has been removed from the seams surrounding the loose tile. Do not start by using a hammer and chisel, since this can damage your wall, floor, or tiles.
- Remove all the grout surrounding each wobbly tile.
- Use a utility knife or scraper to gently remove the grout without causing damage.
- Follow our tips to soften grout for easy removal.
In order to make grout removal easier, it’s a good idea to soften the grout first. Heat, steam, and lemon juice can be surprisingly effective when used correctly. This can make the job a lot easier, since fighting rock-hard grout is frustrating and time-consuming.
Pop Out Loose Tiles
With the grout around the wobbly tiles removed, it’s time to take out the loose tiles themselves. If the tiles are not cracked, chipped, or otherwise damaged, you can reuse them. Remove these tiles gently by prying under the edge of the tile and hammering the end of the scraper handle lightly. Move the scraper around the edge of the tile after a few taps with the hammer, to work at it from different angles. This is a good way to remove tiles in one piece, and without damaging adjacent tiles.
- Be gentle when removing tiles, to prevent cracking nearby tiles.
- If you wish to remove a tile in one piece, gently work around the edge of the tile with a hammer and scraper to pop the tile out in one piece.
- Remove damaged tiles by drilling a hole in the center, breaking the tile with a hammer and chisel, and removing the pieces.
If the tiles are damaged—or if you’d like to replace them with matching tiles—then you can remove them quickly without harming neighboring tiles. Equip a drill with a masonry bit and drill one hole in the center of the tile, just deep enough to go through the tile. Then, starting at the center, use a hammer and chisel to break the tile into pieces and remove the pieces.
Remove Adhesive from the Tile
In order to reuse tiles that you popped out in the previous step, you must remove adhesive residue from the back of the tile. To do this, first, dampen the adhesive with water, allow it to soak for 10–15 minutes, and then scrape the adhesive off the back of the tile.
- Remove leftover adhesive from the back of all tiles that you wish to reuse.
- Dampen the adhesive with water before scraping the adhesive off.
- To soften stubborn adhesive, dampen it with this muriatic acid before using the scraper.
- Wear protective gear and follow all safety precautions on the bottle when working with muriatic acid.
If your adhesive is exceptionally stubborn and scraping it off doesn’t work, use muriatic acid to soften the adhesive. Wear protective gloves, as well as goggles and a breath mask, while working with muriatic acid. Dampen the adhesive residue with muriatic acid and allow it to work for 5–10 minutes, or until the adhesive has softened. Then, you can remove the adhesive much more easily.
Prepare the Substrate
Before you can lay tile back into place on the wall or floor, you must remove any remaining thinset from the substrate (the surface the tile is glued to). Unlike removing thinset from tile itself, you cannot use muriatic acid. This can damage the building material. Instead, use a scraper equipped with a razor blade to remove the adhesive.
- You must remove any adhesive residue on the wall or floor where the tile was previously installed.
- Use this long-handled razor blade scraper to remove adhesive from the substrate.
- Scrape carefully to avoid damage to the substrate.
- Do not use muriatic acid on walls or floors—the acid can cause damage.
Work carefully when scraping thinset off drywall, subflooring, or the wall material of your shower. Scraping too aggressively can damage these materials. Hold the razor blade as flat to the surface as possible and gently peel the adhesive off, until you have a clean and smooth surface.
Spread New Adhesive
To begin reinstalling your tiles, apply a small amount of pre-mixed thinset to the back of each tile using a putty knife or a toothed tile trowel. Since you are only replacing a few tiles, it’s easiest to apply the adhesive to the tiles instead of the substrate. Trying to apply adhesive to gaps between existing tiles can get messy.
- Use this pre-mixed tile adhesive to reinstall your tiles.
- Apply the adhesive to the back of the tile with a tile trowel or putty knife.
- There is no need to apply adhesive to the wall or floor if you have applied it to the back of the tile.
If you’re concerned that your newly installed tile may sit higher or lower than the surrounding tiles, check out our article on how much thickness thinset adds to tile height. Using the right toothed trowel can help ensure the precise right height for your tiles. However, if you’re just replacing a few tiles you can eyeball it if you feel comfortable doing so.
Install Your Tile
With adhesive applied to the back of your tile, press it firmly into place on your wall or floor. The tile should not wobble or feel uneven when properly installed. Once you’re satisfied with the look of the tile, use tile spacers to ensure the tiles are the correct distance from their neighbors on all sides.
- With firm, even pressure, press your tiles into place on the substrate.
- Check the tile to make sure it sits evenly, does not wobble, and sits flush with the surrounding tiles.
- Insert these tile spacers at the edges so that the grout lines between your tiles are uniform.
- Choose a tile spacer size that matches the size of the grout lines between your existing tiles, so your new installation matches the rest.
When choosing tile spacers, make sure you get the correct size. The thickness of the spacers should match the width of the current grout lines between your tiles. Using smaller or larger spacers will cause the grout lines between your newly installed tiles to differ from the lines between the existing tiles.
Allow Adhesive to Dry
With your tiles and spacers in place, allow the adhesive to begin drying. 30 minutes after installation, remove the spacers. The adhesive will be soft enough to allow you to remove the spacers but will have set up enough that the tiles won’t slide out of place.
- 30 minutes after installation, remove the spacers between tiles.
- Allow the tile to dry for another 24 hours after removing the spacers.
- Do not grout the tile until the adhesive has been allowed to dry for at least 24 hours.
Once the spacers have been removed, wait an additional 24 hours for the adhesive to fully set. For more information on how long tile adhesive takes to dry, as well as how to tell when it’s ready for the next steps, check out our guide to tile mortar drying times. Waiting for your adhesive to dry ensures your tiles won’t become wobbly again in the near future.
When your tile adhesive has dried, it’s time to begin grouting. Match the grout color to the existing grout between tiles. If you have some left over from the original tile installation, use it as long as the grout hasn’t expired.
- Mix a batch of grout that matches the color of the grout between existing tiles.
- Use a grout float to pack grout into the seams between tiles.
- Wipe excess grout off the tiles with a damp sponge.
- Allow 24 hours for the grout to dry.
- Scrub grout haze off the tiles with a scrubbing pad or cloth.
Apply the grout to the tiles with a grout float. Fully fill the gaps between the tiles. Then, wipe away the excess grout with a damp sponge. 24 hours after installation, the grout will have hardened and your tile surface will be ready for use. For a professional finish, remove any grout haze from the tiles by lightly scrubbing with a scouring pad.
How Do You Fix Loose Bathroom Tiles?
When repairing loose bathroom tiles it’s essential to:
- Remove the grout on all sides of the loose tiles.
- Gently remove the tiles with a scraper if you want to reuse them.
- Scrape the old adhesive off the back of the tile.
- Use a razor blade scraper to remove adhesive residue from the tile substrate.
- Spread new tile adhesive on the back of the tiles you wish to install.
- Press the tiles into place and install spacers on all sides.
- After the adhesive has begun to dry, remove the spacers. Then, allow the adhesive to fully dry.
- Grout the newly installed tile.
This process will return wobbly tiles to a like-new appearance and durability. And, it’s a process any homeowner can tackle. You can make pro tile repairs yourself with the right know-how.