If you’ve decided to redo the enclosure of your bathtub or shower, you may be surprised at the amount of material you must remove. In general, chipping away the ceramic tile is an easy, if messy job. Underneath the tile, however, is another layer, called thinset or mortar. This material secured the ceramic tiles into place. Unfortunately, you can not simply install new material over the old mortar. It must be completely removed before new tile or another enclosure is installed.
If removing the mortar is part of a large project, consider using plastic to block the bathtub area from the rest of the house. This will help contain any dust caused by removing tile and thinset, keeping the rest of your house clean.
Step 1: Use a razor scraper to remove as much of the thinset as possible. Start from one end and work your way to the center. The mortar may come off in chunks after you start removing it.
TIP: Always wear eye protection, a face mask, and work gloves when removing mortar or ceramic tile. Not only can the dust be a hazard to your respiratory system, but shards of mortar are sharp and can damage your eyes or skin.
Step 2: Discard the mortar you remove into a bucket for easy disposal. For stubborn areas that you cannot remove with a razor scrapper, try a cold chisel and hammer. Although this method requires more skill than using the scrapper, the results are also much better.
Step 3: Remove the final bits of mortar with a small hand held grinder outfitted with coarse sanding pads. Remember, when using the grinder you should go slowly, taking care to remove only the mortar and not the material underneath.
TIP: When using the hand held grinder, start on a slow setting and make slow circles over the area with the face of the grinder completely parallel to the wall.
Step 4: Sweep the area with a stiff bristled hand broom. Remove any debris and discard.
Step 5: Clean the area with warm water and a little bit of dish soap using a sponge. Don’t saturate the backerboard underneath, just use enough water to pick up any remaining particles stuck to the surface.