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We're trying to reno our master bathroom, which includes the removal of existing ceramic floor tiles. Per a handy youtube video explaining how to remove them, I purchased a spiffy tool from Amazon that you hammer under the tiles and then use to pry them up.

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The tool worked okayish; the tiles tended to break and shatter instead of popping up whole as shown in the video. However, the larger problem is that after the tiles came up, the vast majority of the mortar stayed attached to the cement board:

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What is the proper way to deal with this mortar to create a flat surface that I can lay new tiles on?

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    Easiest is to place sub floor on top or to remove the sub floor the mortar is on and use new sub floor. Removing just the mortar will need scraping, chisels, and probably grinding if it is really struck to the wood. Good job for someone you do not like that much.
    – crip659
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 13:10
  • Agree on the "remove sub floor"—at least, assuming the subfloor is some kind of cement board or other substrate on top of another (wood) subfloor. Removing the tile substrate in its entirety will generate more "dump" material, but it'll be way less work than scraping off all the old mortar bed.
    – Huesmann
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 13:16

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You're stuck with grinding, chiseling it out or replacing the sub floor. Chiseling is OK when replacing one or two broken tiles but for a whole floor, removing the subfloor will probably be the fastest even though it doesn't seem that way now. You might even find some rotten wood down there that needs to go anyway.

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You could have tiled over the old tile. Most Youtube videos don't tell you that.

Since you have removed the old tile, it will be about impossible to remove the the mortar without damaging the subfloor.

You have 2 options.

You can grind it off. That would be ton's of dust and generally a giant mess.

An alternative would be to scrape off as much as you can with your new tool. Use a chisel to knock down the really high spots. Clean up all the debris. Vacuum over the area. Then pour leveling compound on the entire floor to be tiled. It gives you a new smooth surface to tile on.

The floor will be slightly higher depending on what new tile you are using. (bigger tiles require deeper trowel ridges)
So the question is, using the leveling compound will the floor be too high with the new tile? If that is the case, your only alternative is removing the cement board sub floor and putting new tile underlayment down.

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  • Thanks. I think the floor would be too high tiling over the existing tile, and the existing tile wasn't stable anyway. I'll look into the leveling compound; I'm not sure how the cement board could be pulled up as I thought it was screwed to the subfloor and now the screws are under mortar...
    – Nicholas
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 13:14
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    @ Nicholas, it's not an easy job removing the cement board. Yes you would have to grind, chisel and find those screws and pry a lot. If the floor seems to be stable and no water leaks to make anything soft, I would do the leveling compound.
    – RMDman
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 13:39
  • "You could have tiled over the old tile." Terrible idea. I had a contractor do that (he asked my permission) and years latter when I removed the hallway carpet, the two floors were at drastically different heights. Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 14:27
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    Key words here, "years later" It was ok for you for years. I never mentioned that there would not be a height difference. The situation with transfer to another floor was unknown. It was mentioned as an option that when used in the proper situation can be done.
    – RMDman
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 14:30
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I'm tasked with this type of job often. I use a garden spade, the one sometimes called a "edging spade", but with a straight edge. I then sharpen it to a chisel edge and go at it. I like the Titan thin pry bars for the corners and edges.

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