To Replace or Repair? What to do When a Tile Breaks

If you have ceramic tile in your home, you know how durable the material is. Tough as it may be, however, it is not impervious to the cracks and chips associated with daily life. If you’ve never even encountered so much as a hairline fracture, you probably haven’t given much thought as to what you would do in the event of a damaged tile. Would you try to repair it on your own, or head to the closest tile store or wholesale tile distributor to locate a replacement tile? Of course, it’s a little hard to make that call when not faced with the problem, but perhaps it’d be worth knowing ahead of time exactly what’s involved in the repair and replacement processes and how to best determine which route to take. 

Process of floor coating. Ceramic tile on a tiled floor. 3d illustration

 

Deciding to Replace or Repair

If you aren’t accustomed to home repair tasks, you might have trouble making this determination. Here’s what you’ll need to consider: 

  • How significant is the damage? Does it affect one tile or several? If the damage is minimal but impacts numerous tiles, it may be in your best interest to look into replacing the tiles to maintain the integrity of the surface.

  • Do you have spare tiles from when the tiles were first installed? If so, it might make the decision to simply replace the damaged tile easier. Even if you were to locate the same tile at the tile store, there may be a discrepancy in the colour, thickness, or the materials used if the manufacturer has since sourced different raw materials.

  • Repairing is faster and admittedly easier, but it does mean that the damaged area might be susceptible to future damage. 

Replacing a Broken Tile

If, after mulling over your options, you’ve chosen to replace the offending tile, you’ll need to complete the following six steps: 

  1. Remove the grout around the damaged tile. This can be done using a carbide-tipped scoring tool. Be sure to not apply excessive force while completing this task. Rushing the grout removal process could cause the tool to slip and scratch or gouge one of the adjacent tiles.

  2. Loosen the tile. Apply a generous amount of painter’s tape around the entirety of the tile you plan on removing. Doing so is a quick and easy way to protect the adjacent tiles from any accidental damage. Using a drill and a ¼ -inch ceramic bit, drill evenly spaced holes in each of the broken segments of the tile. This will make chiseling out the tile easier as it helps to separate each piece from the substrate.

  3. Chisel out the pieces. For this part of the removal process, you’ll need a hammer, a narrow chisel (or a flat-head screwdriver). Place the chisel at 90-degrees and gently tap it using a hammer to break the glaze, then switch the chisel to a 45-degree angle to begin breaking up the tile. It is recommended that you work from the center of the tile to the edges. Once you’ve removed the tile, switch to a wider chisel to clean off the substrate before setting the new tile.

  4. Set the new tile. Using a ¼ -inch notched trowel, comb a small amount of mortar over the substrate. For additional adhesion, add some mortar to the underside of the towel. Place the tile into the opening and press down firmly so that the newly added tile is flush with the adjacent tiles. Adjust the position of the tile as necessary to ensure it is even on all sides. Leave the tile be for two hours.

  5. Fill with grout. Mix a batch of grout. Using a rubber grout float, apply the grout to the joints at a 45-degree angle. Allow 15 minutes for the grout to harden. Once the grout feels dry to the touch, clean off any excess grout using a damp sponge.

  6. Allow the grout to dry. Avoid walking on the tile for 24 hours.

 

Repairing a Broken Tile

Although repairing a tile requires you to be less experience in home repair, the process itself does consist of some extra steps. 

  1. Clean the damaged tile. No tools necessary here. All you’ll need to clean the tile is a cloth and some soapy water.

  2. Rinse with clean water dry the tile. While a clean hand towel will remove any surface moisture, the exposed, unglazed tile will absorb water so have a hairdryer close at hand so you can expedite the drying process.

  3. Apply a primer to the damaged area. Your primer should be oil-based and should be applied using a small paint brush. Apply the primer in a thin layer and only to the crack. Take great care not to get any primer on the glazed finish of the tile or on any of the adjacent tiles. Allow the primer to dry for at least two hours.

  4. Apply a matching high gloss oil paint.

  5. Cover the tile. This step is not necessary for promoting adhesion but rather to protect it from getting stepped on. Leave the paint to dry overnight.

  6. Mix the epoxy. Squeeze an equal amount of each component of the epoxy onto a piece of clean cardboard. Mix the components thoroughly for the duration referenced on the package.

  7. Apply the epoxy. For this step, you can use either a narrow paintbrush or a toothpick. Apply the epoxy directly into the crack; be sure the amount used is enough to bring the epoxy level with the surface of the surrounding tile.

  8. Allow the epoxy to set. The epoxy will set in about an hour, but you’ll want to protect the surface of the tile from any foot traffic for at least 24 hours.

 

Whether you need to repair a broken tile or replace it, you can rest assured that either task can be completed with relatively limited home repair acumen. If you have additional questions or still aren’t sure if you should repair or replace, a representative of your local tile store can help steer you in the right direction. 

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