marble flooring

How to remove marble flooring?

Marble is a beautiful and elegant material for floors. Still, no building material lasts forever, and at some point when that marble floor is badly stained or cracked, you’ll be faced with installing a new flooring material. When that time comes, you will have two options: Remove the old marble floor, or lay the new flooring material over the existing marble. 

There’s no way to sugar-coat this: Removing marble flooring is one of the hardest, most difficult jobs there is. If you have the option of installing the new floor over the old, that may be the better choice. Materials such as vinyl, cork, bamboo, laminates, and engineered hardwood are often available in click-together tiles and planks that can be installed directly over flat surface floors, saving you the cost and hassle of removing the marble.

If the marble flooring is in bad shape, or if it’s not practical to lay new flooring over the old, then you’ll have no choice but to remove the marble. 

While marble flooring certainly adds beauty to the home, it is also a slipping hazard when it gets wet. Because of its porosity, it is also easy to stain when it is on the floor. Marble flooring installs in tiles, typically 12 square inches or bigger fitted tightly together and sealed between tiles by grout. To replace the flooring in a room that has marble, you will need to remove the tiles to get at and clean the underlayment for the next flooring material. This is easily accomplished with tools you’ll find in your home’s tool chest.

Marble tiles provide a beautiful, durable surface covering for many areas of the home. If you need to renovate an area of your home that’s tiled in marble, you might want to remove the tiles without breaking them so they can be reused. Depending on the type of marble you have, the tile size and what surface it is installed on, you may be able to extract the tiles for future use.

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Type of Marble

Marble is a calcium-based stone with very high compression strength, meaning that it can handle a lot of force or pressure. It also has a very low tensile strength, which means that if you attempt to bend it, it will crack. Removing tiles without breaking them means you will need to flex them to some point during the removal process. If you flex them past their tensile strength, they crack. Not all marbles have the same tensile strength, however. Black- and dark-coloured marbles have higher tensile strengths than white or lighter marbles. Green marble, which contains a large amount of serpentine, also has a higher tensile strength. Therefore black, green and other dark-coloured marbles are less likely to break during removal.

marble flooring

Substrate

The substrate is the surface that the marble tiles have been installed on. They may be installed on drywall, cement backer board, concrete, plywood or a deep mortar bed. The harder the substrate, the harder it will be to get the tiles off. This is because marble is usually bonded to the substrate using a Portland cement-based mortar, which bonds more with concrete and deep beds than thinner or less brittle surfaces. Therefore, marble tiles on drywall may be wedged off lightly, tearing the drywall rather than breaking the marble. Marble on plywood or cement backer board may come off easily as well. Marble is a deep bed or on concrete will be harder to remove.

Grout

Marble tiles are usually installed with a 1/16- to 1/8-inch grout joint, and in the case of tumbled marble, this joint may increase to 1/4-inch. Grout is typically made of Portland cement, and it helps protect the tiles by absorbing some flex in the substrate that the marble cannot. If you attempt to remove a tile while the grout is in place, the grout joints will put pressure on the surrounding tiles, which may weaken or crack them. Remove all the grout between the tiles before you attempt to remove them. Cut the grout free with a utility knife containing a sharp blade, digging out gaps until the marble’s edges are exposed.

Slide Beneath Them

The smaller the marble tile, the easier job you’ll have getting it off in one piece because the larger the tile, the more likely you’ll be to flex it. To avoid this, remove the tiles by sliding a putty knife beneath them slowly from different angles to loosen the tile gently. Start from an exposed edge; if necessary, break one row of tiles with a hammer to expose the edges of the next row. Tap the handle of the knife beneath the tiles gently, keeping the knife as flat as possible, so you don’t push up on and break the tiles. Work from several angles if necessary until the marble is freed.

Diagnosing the Floor

Marble floors are always hard to remove, but depending on the age of the floor and the installation method, they can be just moderately difficult, or they can be brutally hard. 

Two Installation Methods

Newer marble flooring, like newer ceramic tile floors, may have been laid with thin-set mortar adhesive over a plywood or cement board underlayment. These floors often consist of stone tiles rather than larger slabs, and removal of these floors, while physically hard, is not complicated and requires mostly patience and some elbow grease.

It becomes considerably more difficult and complicated with older marble floors, which often were installed using a thick mortar-bed method, in which the marble tiles or slabs were embedded in a thick layer of cement mortar, often reinforced with wire mesh. Removing such a floor is one of the most demanding jobs there is, and for a floor of any size, you should plan on a week or so of hard labour to remove it. Marble is heavy and strong, and breaking it into pieces is difficult under the best circumstances. When the stone is embedded in mesh-reinforced concrete mortar, the project can be epic.

The only way to know what kind of floor you have is to break out an area of the marble to see what the underlying structure is. Thin-set applications will break free of the subfloor fairly easily, while thick mortar bed installations will be a major chore to get a single area removed. 

Be aware that if you begin breaking up a marble floor, you are in it for the long run and there is no turning back. Before beginning, think carefully about laying the new floor over the existing marble instead. 

Breaking the Marble

If the only option is to remove the floor, then the project begins with a crash—by smashing some things.

Preparation

Make sure to wear long sleeves and trousers with heavy fabric, as well as hearing protectors and eye protection. Shards of marble will likely be flying during this process, and you need to take every precaution against being cut or otherwise injured. Bashing marble with a sledgehammer can be deafening, so make sure to wear hearing protectors. If the area is not well ventilated, you may also need a breathing mask due to dust particles filling the air.

Beginning the Work

Beginning in the centre of the room, use a sledgehammer to crack several tiles. Aim for grout lines as these will be the weakest points. As you work with the sledgehammer, be careful not to get carried away. You want to crack the material so that it can be removed, but at the same time avoid damaging the subfloor in the process.

Begin Removing Large Pieces

Once you have the marble cracked and shattered in several places, you can start to remove large pieces from the floor. You can either use a floor scraper from a standing position to pry up large sections of tile, or use the flat edge of a masonry chisel to slide up under the side of individual tiles to lift them away. You may need to jab at the mortar underneath to crack its hold.

Mortar Bed Installations

This is the point where you will recognize if your marble was installed in a thick mortar bed reinforced with wire mesh. If so, you may now need to begin cutting the mesh apart with aviation shears to free it from the floor. This is hard work, but it has the advantage of allowing larger sections of marble to be pulled up intact. Make sure to wear heavy leather gloves during this work, as the wire mesh can be sharp when you cut it apart. 

Chisel Up Smaller Remnants

The sledgehammer is only for breaking up the tile, not for removing everything. For smaller pieces of stubborn stuck-on debris,​ place the cutting edge of the masonry chisel against the bottom side of the tile, then tap the handle of the tool with a hammer. This will force the sharp edge of the chisel under the mortar and free the shard.

Smoothing the Subfloor

Use a flat-bladed paint scraper to pry up the last of the thin-set mortar that remains dried to the subfloor. In some cases, you may need to use medium or coarse sandpaper to smooth out the surface. Floor-leveling compound can also be used to repair any damages that occurred during the removal process. 

Make sure that the subfloor is completely flat, even, and free of defects before you move on to installing new surface flooring over it. In some cases, the best strategy will be to install a new layer of thin underlayment over the subfloor to make it suitable for new flooring. 

If you need to know how to remove a marble floor, using the proper tools and little instruction can help simplify the process. Like any do-it-yourself project, take your time so you can ensure both safety and success. Once it’s gone, you’ll be able to tackle that new flooring project you’ve been lining up to accomplish.

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Tips on removing marble flooring

Take off the baseboards in the room that has the marble flooring. Write a number on the wall and the same number on the back of the baseboard with the felt-tip pen. This makes it easy to identify where the baseboards go on reinstallation. Insert a screwdriver, pry bar or putty knife in the space between the baseboard and the wall. Pull the tool toward you to pull the nails and the baseboard from the wall—work close to the nail location to reduce the chance of breaking the baseboard during removal. Remove the nails and set the baseboards aside.

  • Cover and protect any items in the room that could be damaged by flying tile shards. Use old blankets or drop cloths as protective coverings.
  • Put on gloves and eye protection. Score the grout lines between the marble tiles using a grout-scoring tool or chisel. If using a chisel, place the chisel at a slight angle atop the grout and use the hammer to tap on the chisel as it gouges and removes the grout.
  • Vacuum the grout debris and dust-up from the marble tiles with the wet-dry vacuum.
  • Insert a pry bar between two marble tiles and catch its lip underneath the tile. Push down on the pry bar until it lifts the tile. It may take several attempts to get the lip of the pry bar underneath the tile. To save the tile for use elsewhere if it is not cut or broken, scrape off the thinset by using the putty knife across the back of the tile. Set the tile aside.
  • Repeat Step 4 until all marble tiles are removed.
  • Remove the thin-set from the underlayment by scraping it with a putty knife and vacuuming the debris.

Step 1 – Prep the Area

Make sure you remove all the articles from the room where you intend to remove the marble floor. Also examine the floor, making sure there are no loose pieces of anything. You might want to remove any wall hangings to be on the safe side.

Step 2 – Start in the Middle

Starting in the middle of the room, use demolition hammers (sledgehammers) striking at a grout joint to begin breaking up the floor.

Step 3 – Use the Chisel

Ease the chisel underneath the edge of marble tiling, working away from the centre. Employ a side to side motion for the most effective removal.

Step 4 – Smaller Areas

You are going to have to use a hammer and chisel in those smaller areas where the demolition hammer is too big and unyielding. Be particularly careful around the corners of the room and doorways.

Step 5 – Missed Spots

The demolition hammer will miss quite a few areas where you’ll need to use either the smaller hammer with a chisel or the pry bar to loosen the floor to remove.

Step 6 – Scrape the floor

Once all the debris – large and small – has been removed, use the floor scraper to dislodge any stubborn material still clinging. You made need to make several scraping sweeps to get all the material needed.

NOTE: You should be wearing not only protective eyewear and gloves while removing a marble floor but also wear a dust mask. Breaking up a marble floor will cause a lot of dust to be released. Therefore, pay attention to walls, windows and other areas that may need to be wiped clean after removing the floor. Use a damp cloth to wipe away dust residue.

Marble Floors: DO’s and DON’Ts

Marble flooring is a great investment for any home. And although marble is, well, hard as a rock, it’s smooth surface can be easily damaged if the proper precautions are not taken. So here are some “do’s”, “do’s” and recommended care for your marble flooring.

DO’s

Sand and grit carried in from outdoors by shoes can easily scratch and grind your marble floor’s surface like sandpaper. To prevent dirt, water, and road salts from getting to your marble floors, you should place large mats with waterproof backings at all entrances to your home (helpful accessory: doormats with waterproof backings). In particular, you will want to catch road salt, which can dissolve and pit your marble’s surface.

You should also protect your marble floor by placing rugs in areas of high traffic. And furniture legs that come in contact with the marble floors should be fitted with special felt pads or plastic floor protectors. And any houseplants should be placed on a special base or stand to prevent deep stains and scratches (helpful accessory: plant mats).

And if any liquids are spilled on your marble floors, quickly remove the spill by blotting with a paper towel (helpful accessory: plastic floor protectors). But do not wipe, since wiping will spread the spill.

DON’Ts

Marble floor tiles are porous and can easily be discoloured by spills from food, oil, ink, water damage, etc. Don’t allow any liquids or foods containing acid to be spilled onto your marble floors. These can etch or leave dull marks on marble surfaces. Examples of acidic liquids are lemon juice, orange juice, carbonated beverages, cranberry juice, apple juice, wine, tomato, etc.

The use of detergents for routine cleaning is not recommended as they tend to dull polished stone, and many contain chemicals that are harmful to your marble’s finish. Cleaning detergents which contain acid can cause etch marks and stains on your marble. Examples of these are tile cleaners, vinegar, Ajax, Soft Scrub, etc. And cleaning solutions that contain high alkaline levels or bleach can also damage marble floors and cause it to lose its shine.

Avoid dragging heavy objects or leaving sharp items on the floor, as these can cause deep scratches or gouges that are permanent. And do not allow your marble to come in contact with materials that can stain the surface, such as items made of iron, bronze, copper, oil and grease, ink, tobacco, and smoke.

Tap water can also damage a marble floor. Local water could contain chlorine, salts, magnesium, potassium and other minerals. When water is used regularly to clean a marble floor, it may ruin certain types of marble by causing pitting, spalling and yellowing.

And never attempt to remove stains or deposits by scraping, scouring, or indiscriminately applying bleaching agents, liquid marble cleaners, or other harsh chemicals.

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Recommended Care

Always use the gentlest means possible to clean your marble floor. You should keep your marble floor routinely clean of superficial dirt by using a minimum amount of plain warm water and a cotton string mop (but remember the problems with using regular tap water that we described above). And be sure only to use neutral cleaners or stone soap liquid specifically designed for natural stone, that will not harm the surface or erode its lustre (helpful accessory: marble floor cleaners).

Damp-mop the floor regularly to remove dirt and soil. Frequent mopping will help prevent soil from penetrating the surface. Use only cold or warm water that is clean. Do not use hot water since this will cause the marble floor tile to streak.

For general griminess, add a very small amount of ammonia to water (so little that you can’t even smell it). Alternatively, you can use extremely dilute solutions of a mild, neutral pH detergent such as dishwashing liquid. But first, be sure to test it on a small area of the marble, that is in the least noticeable area.

If your marble tends to streak when you mop the floor, try drying the marble with a clean terry cloth towel or buffing with a residential buffing machine.

And finally, if your marble floor is scratched, deeply soiled, or has a build-up of yellowed wax or discoloured sealers. The lustre and natural colour can be restored by wet sanding and chemical stripping by a professional.

Don’t throw away any broken up flooring stone. It can be broken up even further to use as a decorative stone in walkways, around and in plant beds plus many other uses where the need for chopped up stone exists. Be careful whenever breaking up marble not to injure yourself. Always use the most caution and safety, wearing the appropriate protective eyewear. Be sure to store any broken up pieces of marble out of the reach of children. Broken marble can have some pretty sharp edges that would be dangerous if handled by someone without gloves. Never let children play with any broken pieces of marble. If possible, always store marble chips in a safe, dry environment, preferably where no one has easy access so as not to get hurt.

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