Can You Recycle and Reuse Ceramic Tiles?

man removing ceramic tile
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A reader says: "My bathroom that I am renovating has 30-year-old gold speckled 4x4 wall tiles, for which I cannot find matching replacements. I want to keep the wall tile (which is in good condition) and just update it with the addition of some glass mosaics strips. I hope to salvage and reuse the bullnose after the glass is installed.

"Here's my question: is there a product I can use to remove the old adhesive, or is it just a question of lots of scraping? Any tips on removing and/or reusing the tile?"

Is It Really Worth Recycling and Reusing Ceramic Tile?

As you might expect, reusing ceramic tile is almost fruitless. A book that I highly value, Unbuilding: Salvaging the Architectural Treasures of Unwanted Houses, by Bob Falk and Brad Guy, even says that it is not worth the effort unless the tile is one-of-a-kind or historic. And this is coming from a book that talks about salvaging timbers, acoustical tiles, and roofing materials.

The reason is because tile is usually adhered either with thinset mortar or some type of epoxy (most likely the former). The mortar almost becomes part of the tile. Even if you can remove the tile, the bottom is highly uneven and unsuitable for reuse.

How to Remove and Reuse Ceramic Tile

If want to try to salvage bullnose, it offers better opportunities for reuse because it is thicker and less prone to breakage. While there is no solvent to loosen the mortar or epoxy, some concerted prying with thin tools like putty knives or chisels may pull the bullnose away without too much damage.