How to Tile: Prepare Concrete for Tile

Turnaround tips for an old basement floor

That old basement floor with the crumbling vinyl tile may look hopeless, but with a little scraping and a few strips of crack isolation membrane you can turn it into a perfect base for new ceramic tile.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Removing old vinyl tile and patching concrete cracks

Want to upgrade an aging basement floor to ceramic tile? Popping off old vinyl tile is fairly easy— just use a heavy scraper and elbow grease. Then attack the adhesive with a razor scraper (Photo 1). Scrape up as much adhesive as possible, keeping the blade sharp with a sharpening stone as you go. If the adhesive is hard and brittle, use a chopping motion to break it up. Then scrape again. Even then, some of that old adhesive may be impossible to remove. If you can’t get it all off, don’t worry. Newer latex-modified thin-set can be applied right over the small amount that remains.

After you scrape off the adhesive, touch the floor to see if there are any sticky areas. Use a chemical adhesive remover on those parts. Find one in the flooring department at home centers.

Next, locate all the cracks. You’ll have to prime those areas and cover them with a peel-and-stick crack prevention mat (also called anti-fracture or crack isolation membrane; Photo 3) before you lay the new tile. Skip this step and we guarantee your new tile will crack right over the cracks in the concrete.

Cut the membrane so it’s 1-1/2 times the width of your tiles. Then prime the concrete (see Photo 2) with the recommended solution (consult the membrane manufacturer’s literature). Let the primer dry, and then apply the membrane (Photos 3 and 4).

With the cracks patched, apply a latex-modified, crack-resistant thin-set. Then move on to the fun part, the tile setting (see Photo 5). Scrapers, thinset and crack prevention mats are sold at home centers and tile stores.

CAUTION

Most floor tiles made from the 1920s to the 1960s contain asbestos and require special procedures for removal. If you’re unsure about yours, remove a tile and send it to a local asbestos abatement firm for testing. If it tests positive, follow these asbestos abatement procedures. Seal off the area with poly sheeting. Wear an asbestos-rated respirator. Change clothes before moving into a “clean” area. Clean the entire room with a damp cloth before removing the sheeting. Follow your local environmental codes for disposal.

For more information, search the Internet for “removing asbestos tiles.”

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Knee pads
  • Notched trowel
  • Paint roller
  • Paint scraper
  • Roller tray
  • Shop vacuum
  • Utility knife

You'll also need a floor scraper, a razor scraper and rubber gloves.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Chemical adhesive remover
  • Peel-and-stick crack prevention mat
  • Peel-and-stick primer
  • Thin-set mortar