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How To Remove Old Tile Adhesive From Concrete

Tile removal is a painstaking process that involves not only the removal of tiles but also the removal of the tile adhesive. Removing old tile adhesive is not an easy job, and the amount of elbow grease involved depends on the type of adhesive used and the flooring material. The adhesive must be removed before installing new tiles for the best results.

You can remove old tile adhesive from concrete by soaking the floor in chemical adhesive removers, like water or solvent-based removers. Alternatively, you can take the mechanical route that involves scraping, grinding, and sanding the adhesive off of your concrete floors.

Tile floor tool removal

This article will take you through the two old tile adhesive removal methods and the factors that determine the best removal method. Additionally, you will understand why it is important to remove tile adhesive and be equipped with information on the tools, supplies, and equipment you will need to remove various types of bonding materials.

Why Remove Flooring Adhesives?

Tile floor adhesive

Before jumping into how to remove flooring adhesives, here is why it may be time for you to remove your flooring adhesives.

Your floor is compromised by water due to floods or sewer damage.

You need to remove the contaminated adhesives to prevent further problems. Changing your floors and leaving the contaminated adhesives makes your home susceptible to odor, mold, and mildew growth.

Some flooring materials, especially those installed before 1984, were made of asbestos.

As a homeowner or landlord, it is best to have the asbestos flooring adhesives removed by a professional to prevent future problems that may result when an unknowing contractor and residents get into contact with the hazardous flooring material.

Old and new tile adhesive materials are mostly incompatible.

Hence, it is best to remove old tile adhesive to achieve a clean and working slate for installing new flooring that allows perfect curing and adhering. Removing old tile adhesive also prevents installation problems.

How To Remove Old Tile Adhesive From Concrete Floors

Tile floor removal

Removing old tile adhesive from concrete floors is a tiresome and dusty process. Therefore, before you begin, ensure you are mentally prepared for the not-so-easy DIY project that’s ahead of you. You could also hire professionals, but if you insist on carrying on, gear up appropriately with gloves and goggles to protect your hands and eyes during the process.

Also, ensure you are working in a well-ventilated room, and we recommend wearing a respirator or a mask to further protect yourself from inhaling toxic fumes and dust. Below is a breakdown of what you should expect with the two main tile adhesive removal methods.

Chemical Tile Removal

Chemical old tile adhesive removal is preferable for different situations, including small and big jobs and working with hazardous materials.

A chemical tile adhesive remover can be a household product like water or other multi-purpose adhesive removers, such as the Adhesive Stripper (Quart-32oz) Super Remover, which is available on Amazon. It is a strong adhesive remover that can be used to strip off various types of adhesives, like epoxy and contact cement, off your concrete floors. It also works on toxic chemicals very fast.

When you are looking to purchase the best chemical remover, you need to look at the flammability, toxicity, ease of rinsing, odor, and the local VOC regulations. You may also have to choose between three main formulas: solvent-based, citrus-based, and soy-based chemical removers which work differently on different adhesive materials and differ in their ease to wash off or rinse.

There are biodegradable or greener products available in the market for you and for consumers looking to reduce their carbon footprint. You also need to consider the adhesive’s application method and its specific use. For instance, you need to get an adhesive remover that lists itself as “safe to use on concrete.”

Solvent-Based Removers

Solvent-based removers are the strongest adhesive removers on the market. These react and work by breaking strong adhesive bonds; thus, you can rely on them to remove the most stubborn old tile adhesives.

However, they contain harsh active ingredients, like naphtha, benzene, ethylbenzene, and methanol which are toxic and may emit fumes dangerous to inhale for long. They are also highly flammable, so they must only be used in well-ventilated spaces.

Soy-Based Removers

These professional-grade removers contain propane and soy oil as the top two ingredients. Soy-based removers break down old tacky tile glue, including thick mastics, faster and better than citric-based removers. However, they have a longer dwell time than other adhesive removers.

We recommend the BLUE BEAR Mastic Remover for concrete surfaces made with soybeans and is very effective in removing ceramic mastic, vinyl glue, conventional carpet glue, and black mastic.

Citrus-Based Removers

Citrus-based removers are made of a combination of propane and citrus fruit extract. They are available in liquid and paste form and are perfect for removing moderate adhesive residue. You will love them for their pleasant smell and how easy they are to wash off concrete floors with water.

The Citrus King Mastic Adhesive Remover is one you can trust to get the job done in just a few minutes. It is natural and free of harmful or hazardous compounds. However, ensure you follow the directions for use carefully and handle the product with care to avoid eye or skin contamination.

Greener or Biodegradable Removers

Biodegradable tile adhesive removers are designed to reduce the number of harmful chemicals released into the environment. Most of them are multi-purpose and can disintegrate various tile adhesives. They ensure that your concrete or green building materials stay green to the end.

In addition to the chemical removers, you will need extra supplies, like floor scrapers, stiff bristle brushes, paper towels, rags, which you will use to effect to finish off the chemical removal process. Then rinse or wash the floor to get rid of any remover or adhesive residue.

Mechanical Tile Removal

Removing old tile adhesive mechanically requires specific tools and equipment, such as a hammer and chisel for relatively small projects. You would rather work with a power scraper to scrape tile adhesives off concrete floors or residue for larger spaces.

You could also use a grinder for grinding tile glue off concrete floors, as well as any residual adhesives that were missed by chemical adhesives. Furthermore, you could sand your entire floor after initial old tile adhesive removal to achieve a smooth finish that is completely free of residue.

Ultimately, your method of choice must be suited to the type of adhesive used.

How To Remove Specific Adhesive Materials From Concrete Floors

Tile floor removal debris

Different tile adhesives require other removal methods, equipment, solvents, supplies, and effort to remove. Fortunately, there is something for every job, whether you are doing some damage control or replacing an entire floor. The process may be labor-intensive and intimidating at first, but we will share tips and tricks to make it more manageable.

How To Remove Mortar Bed From Concrete

Mortar is a cement-based tiling glue that is made by mixing cement, water, and sand. It is very durable, water-resistant, and tough to break through. These qualities also make it a nightmare to remove.

Thinset mortar is a modern variation of mortar made up of Portland cement, water, and fine sand. It has similar properties to traditional mortar, but it is thinner than its counterpart. Additionally, thinset mortar is smooth and slippery, making it the go-to tile mortar for indoor and outdoor use.

During removal of this tile adhesive, big chunks come off with the tiles, but some large, uneven, and random mortar patches are left on the concrete. Removing this mortar can be frustrating. However, there are several ways to get them off your concrete slab, including wetting thinset to remove or break the adhesive bonds, which are dependent on a few variables, like the size of the area you are working on.

Here is a step-by-step guide for removing mortar and thinset from your concrete floors.

Protect Yourself and Property

Mortar and thinset removal is a dusty process, and cement, when improperly handled, can be toxic. Thus, it is best if you protect yourself from the potentially harmful compound and dust by gearing up, as we had previously mentioned. Also, cover your furniture and other wares to prevent them from accumulating dust, which makes cleaning dreadful.

Use a Chisel and Hammer

Because concrete floors are sturdy, you can scrape thinset from them using a hammer and chisel, but you must be careful not to hit the chisel too hard, damaging your floor. Water is a thinset removal solvent that you can decrease the adhesive’s integrity by pouring boiling water over it and leaving it for 40-60 minutes or until you notice cracks in the old thinset tile adhesive.

Alternatively, pour a cup of vinegar to remove thinset easily and fast. Then fit the chiseled edge underneath the large chunks and apply pressure on the other end using the hammer.

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Finally, work up the smaller pieces while aiming at a 45-degree angle.

This may be a cost-effective method, but it’s labor-intensive and may take forever to be done.


If there are bits of the thinset mortar adhesive that are yet to be removed using the hammer and chisel, reach out for a more powerful tool to scrape the remains. A power scraper is an effective thinset removal tool that fits the description as it can get in under small and big mortar pieces, removing them in several short jabbing motions.

Use an Angle Grinder

An angle grinder enhanced with a diamond cup is the best thinset removal method that works to remove the most stubborn thinset. It works by sanding down concrete and not popping it out like the methods mentioned above, making it significantly more effective.

However, you should be warned that removing thinset with an angle grinder produces lots of dust. This should not discourage you from reaching for one, whether it’s the one sitting in your garage, or you could borrow or rent one.

On the flip side, the effectiveness of using an angle grinder varies depending on the size of your workspace. The YouTube video below reveals how to remove old tile adhesive using an angle grinder:

Use a Floor Maintainer To Remove Thinset

Unbeknown to many, a floor maintainer is a super-fast thinset removal machine that you can use to remove stubborn mortar. A floor maintainer with a diamond cup grinder is the best for the job as it sand’s down the mortar in no time.

The only disadvantage is that it creates excess dust. So, before you start removing old tile adhesive with a floor maintainer, cover as much of your belongings as you can and close off surrounding areas, where possible.

Removing Vinyl Tile Adhesive

Vinyl adheres more strongly than concrete over time, making it harder to remove if it has been holding tiles to a floor for some time. Thus, its ease of removal varies with the tiles’ age, meaning it is easier and faster to remove vinyl tiles laid three years ago than those laid more than ten years ago.

To remove vinyl tile adhesive:

  1. Start by scraping off as much as is possible using a chisel or a putty knife.
  2. Apply heat directly to any unrelenting scrapes of adhesive. You can do this by placing a hot iron or heat gun several inches above the glue.
  3. Leave it a few minutes for the glue to soften before proceeding to scrape off the rest of the adhesive.

Please remember not to place the heating objects on the adhesive. Alternatively, use an orange-based solvent to make the vinyl easier to work.

You can look at different methods of removing vinyl flooring tile adhesive, as shown by Jenifer on her YouTube channel.

Removing Mastic Adhesive From Concrete Flooring

Mastic is an organic tile glue or adhesive that has been used since time immemorial. It works best in dry areas, and you will probably find it on older floors and counters. Although mastic is not water-resistant, it creates a seal that makes your floors waterproof, making it usable in kitchens and bathrooms as well.

This same quality makes it easy to dissolve and disintegrate when it’s wet. Therefore, to remove old mastic tile glue from your concrete floor, soak the mastic in water. The best way to do this is by soaking some absorbent rags in water and proceeding to lay them on your concrete floors.

The adhesive soaks in the moisture to loosen and soften the paste, facilitating easy scrapping of the glue using a putty knife, hammer, chisel, or a scaler. Using warm water or adding a citrus cleaner to the water will hasten the process and save you some of the energy and effort you’d use to chisel the mastic. Finish by buffing away any leftover mastic using sandpapers.

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Removing Adhesive From Tiles

  1. Soak tiles in hot water for at least an hour; when possible, soak in overnight.
  2. Take the tiles out of the water once they are soaked and scrape off the adhesive carefully.
  3. Wipe off any residual adhesives with a clean cloth.
  4. Leave them to dry out before reapplying them to the wall.

Tips on Removing Old Tile Adhesive From Concrete

Hammer and screwdriver tile floor removal

Small is the rule of the game when you are removing old tile adhesive, and you will see it several times in the next few lines.

Start with the labor-intensive methods. Although there is no universal way of removing old tile adhesive, it is best to start with the manual techniques before bringing out your power tools. This is because the labor-intensive methods are cost-effective and not as risk intensive, environmentally and health-wise, as the other methods. Also, when done right, you reduce the chances of damaging your concrete floors.

Test on small areas first. When working with chemical adhesives, start your testing on a tiny patch to get a picture of how the remover will work. With this, you get to know whether you choose the right remover for the job or whether you need to go back to the store and get a stronger remover.

Work on small patches at a time. It is easier and faster to work on small sections at a go instead of covering your entire working area. This helps avoid wastage and overuse of the remover, for instance, when you have to reapply remover to certain sections after it dries.

Read the instructions carefully. The instructions reveal all the important details of the product’s recommended use and directions to follow. By reading the instructions, you get to find out the drying time, hazards, warnings, right methods of application, the surfaces you should use it on, and the adhesives it works on.

Clean up. Start by collecting the large old tile adhesive pieces, then follow by sweeping off the residue, small adhesive pieces, and dust off the floor. Use a soft bristle brush to ensure you don’t miss any tiny pieces. Vacuum dust from hard-to-reach spots and finish off by mopping with water and soap.

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ReadyToDIY is the owner of this article. This post was published on March 9, 2021.

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