Replacing Individual Tiles

Or, what I like to call, “Goodbye Ugly Fish!”

So my house has this stall shower upstairs with white 3×3″ tiles– they’ve got a little texture to them and aren’t bright white.  But, the most disturbing part of the shower were the five random fish tiles.  Okay, I understand that people like to accent their shower with painted tiles, but the fish just weren’t doing it for me.  In fact, they felt juvenile and haphazard at best.  I’ve wanted them gone from the moment I moved in, but I didn’t realize until this week how easy that could actually be.

Here’s what you need:

  • Replacement tiles (I got lucky and found mine at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore)
  • Grout saw
  • Chisel & hammer
  • Thinset
  • Grout (I used Custom Building Products) **
  • Rubber spackle knife or a grout float
  • Large sponge

**You’ll need to look at your current grout to figure out if you needed sanded or unsanded grout.  If your grout lines are about 1/8″ or more thick, you probably want sanded grout– it holds up better thicker grout lines.  If you just look at your current grout you will most likely be able to see tiny sand particles in the finish.  I used sanded in my shower, but I used unsanded in my kitchen– all depends on the grout thickness.

Here’s what you do:

1. Lay down a towel to catch debris and to keep debris from going down the drain.

2. Use the grout saw to remove the grout from around the tile(s) you want to remove.  Use a back and forth sawing motion and be prepared for a lot of grout dust.  Get as much grout out as you can.  This will make it easier to remove the tiles whole, but it also separates the tile you want to remove from the tiles you want to keep– which is handy when you have to start chiseling tiles out.  You don’t want to break unnecessary tiles!

3. Use the chisel and hammer to pry the old tile out.  If you remove most of the grout (and your adhesion was like mine), most of your tiles will pop right out.  If not, then just chisel out piece by piece.

4. Use the chisel to get the tile area clear.  Scrape all the remaining grout & thinset away from the wall hole.

5. Wipe off the area with a dry rag.

6. Use a vacuum to clear out the area of dust and debris.

7. Mix your thinset (I cheated and reused some already-mixed adhesive that I had bought for my subway tile backsplash project because I was only replacing a few tiles, but the pros recommend that you use thinset over adhesive or mastic in a “wet” environment like a shower.)

8. “Back butter” your tile and set it in the hole.  Press firmly to get a good hold.  Slide the tile a bit until you have it aligned just right.  You can use spacers to keep the spacing, or you can use painters tape to hold the tile in the correct place.  I used neither and it worked out just fine.

9. Let the shower dry for AT LEAST 12 hours to give your adhesive time to dry.

10. Mix your grout (Finding a matching grout color was the hardest part of this project.  I didn’t take advantage of this, but I’ve been told that at Lowes you can get a grout chart to take home with you to make matching grout much simpler.  I just ended up buying two different colors of grout and using the one that was closest).  You want the texture to be like thick pancake batter or peanut butter.  I didn’t measure, just put some grout powder in the bucket and slowly added cold water until it was the consistency I wanted. Then give the grout 5-10 minutes before you start actually applying it.

11. Use the spackle knife or grout float to get the grout in around the tiles.  Hold the bucket with the mixed grout underneath the tiles to catch any falling grout– this will make clean up that much easier.

12. Give it 10 minutes to start to set.  Then, use the sponge to wash the excess grout away.  Be sure that your sponge is only slightly damp, you don’t want to get the grout too wet.

13. Give the grout two hours to completely set and then you can use cheesecloth or your sponge to buff the haze off.

SO much better!


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