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!


Sealing grout & tile

When I finished my subway tile backsplash, I sealed the tile so that food and other grime would easily wipe off and not stain my brand-new white grout.  The process was so easy that I decided I wanted to seal the grout & tile in my upstairs shower.  Of course, to do so meant that I needed to deep clean the shower to prep it– something that I put off for a long time.

If you’re sealing newly-laid tile, you can go ahead and just seal it.  If you’re sealing existing tile, make sure you clean it first.  Otherwise you’re just going to seal in the grout stains.

Here’s what you need:

  • Grout & tile sealer (I bought THIS at Home Depot, jut make sure you buy a sealer for the appropriate kind of tile– mine was porcelain tile)
  • Large sponge (I just reused my tiling grout sponge)

What to do:

1. Deep clean your tile.  I ended up using: 1 tablespoon TSP (Trisodium Phosphate, you can buy this at any home improvement store) and 1 gallon hot water.  I used a non-scratching scrubbing pad I bought at Walmart and scrubbed each and every tile.  Soap scum is gross.

2. Deep clean your grout.  Use a 3 to 1 mixture of baking soda to bleach and scrub the grout with an old toothbrush or grout scrubber.

3. Rinse and wipe down everything.

4. Towel dry and let it air dry for a couple of hours.

5. Pour some grout sealer on your sponge and run down and across each grout line.  Work in sections.  When you’ve covered every line, rub the sealer over all the tiles too.  To see that the sealer got into the grout, you should notice the grout turn a littler darker– like it’s wet.

6. Wait 5-15 minutes (depending on your sealer– read the label!) and repeat.

7. Dry-wipe the tiles and give it 24-48 hours to cure.

There isn’t really a dramatic before & after, but the process of sealing should really help.  Remember that tiles requires cleaning, and after enough cleanings the sealer is going to break down.  I believe they recommend that you apply sealer every 6 months.

Have you been working on any bathroom projects lately?

Subway Tile Backsplash

I’m sorry I’ve been so remiss in posting here.  Between a trip to NY for New Years (!), catching up at work, and saving my pennies for my next big project, I’ve been amazingly busy.

But, last week the tile for my backsplash project came in the mail (does it seem silly that Home Depot doesn’t have white 3×6″ subway tile in stock to anyone else?) and I was so giddy about getting started that I actually dreamed about it.

Yep, I was that excited about it.

What you need:

  • Tile & edge tile (measure the area you’re planning to tile and figure out your square footage– THIS is a great explanation on how to do that.
  • Adhesive (or thinset)  I used Omni-Grip and purchased the larger 4-gallon bucket from HD.  I used more than half of it.
  • Grout.  I used Custom Building Products in Bright White from HD.
  • Grout float
  • Square notch trowel (the size of the notched depends on the size of the tile you’re using)
  • Wet saw (if you have any intricate corners or switches to work around, you’ll definitely need one of these, but you can rent them for a day)  If you only have straight cuts to make, you can probably get along with a Snap Cutter
  • Level
  • Tape & butcher paper (or plastic)

Here is a true “before” picture.  This was taken a couple of months ago for my one-year “House-versary”

And this is what it looked like once I ripped the awful laminate “backsplash” that was already up.  You can just barely see it in the picture, but it was gross.  Super thin with really ugly metal quarter round at the top and by the counter.  Plus, it wasn’t sealed correctly and it was always teeming with ants.  GROSS.

What to do:

1. wash the backsplash area with TSP, to get rid of any oils, grease, or whatnot off the wall.  Better safe than sorry.

2. If you’ll be tiling behind an oven/range, then cut a board (or scrap) to a few inches shorter than the opening.  Using your level, nail it securely (but not so tight you can’t remove it later) to the wall.

3. Figure out where your edge pieces need to go, use the level to measure a straight line guide on the wall.

4. Lay out your tile pattern with your edge pieces and start making your first cuts.

5. Use the notched trowel to put adhesive on the wall where you want to lay the tile.  I used the un-notched side to get it on the wall initially, then switched to the notched side to keep the layer of adhesive even.

This is a great video for technique.

6. Lay on each tile and push in securely to make sure it’s stuck.  And make sure that you use spacers between your bottom tile and counter.  Subway tiles are amazing and self-space themselves, but if you’re using a tile that doesn’t self-space, make sure you buy spacers and use them to keep even grout lines.

7. I found it easiest (and most encouraging) to keep placing as many whole tiles as I could before I started cutting weirdly-sized pieces.  Just make sure you leave enough room for the cut pieces to add in later.

Keep going around the room until you’re done.

Then just grout according to the instructions on the box (mix, wait, apply, wait, wash off, buff, done!)

And now I have shiny, beautiful tile.


  • If you’re buying multiple packages of tile (in one color), make sure you mix the boxes before you start to discourage discoloration lines from one color batch to the next.
  • Buy AT LEAST 15% more tile than you need for square footage.  If you have to order it to be shipped to you, expect that some will break in transit, others will break when you try to cut them.  I needed 38 sq. ft, I purchased 50 sq ft, I only had about 3-4 sq. ft of tile left.
  • Turn off the power to your electrical outlets–I shocked myself at least a dozen times when I got too close.
  • Don’t put too much adhesive on the back of the tiles.  Too little adhesive and the tiles won’t stick, too much and it will come through the crack in between the tiles.
  • Borrow, rent, or purchase a wet saw.  They’re amazing.  And a huge time saver for difficult, but necessary cuts.

I’m linking up with My Repurposed Life, to see all the links, go HERE.

I was “caught” by My Repurposed Life.  Check out some other great tutorials/project there!