Aww Crap. Please help. Fast. Tile, bathroom, dammit

We are working in our bathroom this weekend. We are removing the carpet (no, I don’t understand the carpet/bathroom thing either) and putting in ceramic tile. I decided that since we have all the tiling shit out anyway, I’d re affix some of the shower wall tiles which have been falling off (the entire lower half of the bathroom AND the entire shower are tiled with 4x4 tiles…yet they carpeted the fucking floor?).

We had a plastic bag over the empty spot where 2 or 3 tiles fell out. When I took it off, more tiles came off. It’s pretty obvious that the mastic is old, dry, and degraded. But, we have a much bigger problem.

There’s a thin (maybe 1/4") white…something under the tiles. It looks like plaster. Maybe. It’s also old and cracking and falling off. Under that is something gray. Maybe cement board? Did they even have cement board in the 60s?

Anyway, this was supposed to be a simple restick and regroute 4 or 5 tile project and now I have a 1’x8" section with no tile, no white plastery stuff, and more tiles ready to come off.

Now, the tiles that are not falling off look they are in no danger of coming off any time soon.

But, what the hell do I do with this problem? I don’t have any clue if I can even do a spot fix on this.

I don’t want to pull down the entire wall, especially since removing that tile and replacing it means we’ll end up with either 3 completely different tiles in our bathroom, or we’ll have to retile all the walls in there.

Please someone tell me there’s a simple fix for this. We have to go to Home Depot in about an hour. But, I can go back later if there’s something I can get that will make my life better. By the way, my fiance is irritated that I decided to fix the tile. If they hadn’t started tumbling down, he would have been happy I did it. Men.


Here are the pics I’ve taken so far in the bathroom. The shower problem is the second half.

As you can see, our shower isn’t exactly standard. It’s not like we can buy an insert from Home Depot and just drop it in.

My experience with home reno projects is that they are never as simple as you think they’ll be - your fiancé needs to understand that more tiles coming off is pretty much to be expected (or something like that). My gut tells me that you need to re-do all the tiles (if the stuff sticking them on has degraded, it likely has degraded all over). Sorry but I have no real help - just encouragement! Think how great it will look when it’s all done! :slight_smile:

He knew they were going to come down in a domino effect, which is why he didn’t want to do anything about it yet. I gave him a workable temporary solution (clean it up, save tiles, cover with heat-shrink window covering) until we figure out what to do. He likes my idea so he’s not irritated any more.

We’ve just redone our bathroom - stripped off the tiles, etc. We’re in the UK, but your walls look similar. If it is the same, the gray bit is the actual wall, and the white part is plaster. Chances are you should take all the tiles and plaster off and start with a bare wall. At the minimum, knock on neighboring tiles - if there is a hollow sound you should pry it off. You’re not going to want to hear this, but you also need to replaster before you affix the tiles. Using regular plaster means waiting for a couple of weeks minimum, but there is quick-drying plaster on the market that is much faster. Something like this. I can give you more technical details if you’d like - I know far more about bathroom walls than I ever would have wanted!

Call a pro. The whole thing needs to be torn out and re-done.

Also, you weren’t planning on installing ceramic tile right on the plywood subfloor, were you?

In time it all will probably (no will) have to come down. I am in the second stage of your problem. I did a temporary fix, it lasted for a while and now more tiles are comming down. I plan on using some plastic and sealing it over the missing tiles. It will look bad, but will give me time to complete existing projects and rebuild my reserve funds.

Workable temporary solutions are fine by me. We had a kitchen counter that was bright orange formica in our last house; we just covered it with a nice beige contact paper (that was strongly not recommended), and it lasted for almost five years like that, until we made a more permanent fix. There’s what you should do, what experts recommend, and what you can get away with for a while. :slight_smile:

Heh. What started out as a re-grouting weekend project ended up an $8,000 complete bathroom remodel for us last year.

Started stripping out cracked grout, tiles started falling off, realized that previous owner put tiles on drywall (not even greenboard). Had to tear out a 4-foot section that was overgrown with mold. Would have had to completely rip out tile, install cement board and retile.

Figured if I was going to do that I might as well do the whole thing. Ended up knocking a wall out (previously separating sink from bath/toilet) and completely redoing. Good times.

Are the tiles coming off whole? If so, could you remove the ones that are already loose, or easily removed, and reset those (knowing that it’s not a permanent solution)?

They are coming off whole. I have them in a grocery bag right now.

Yes, he is planning on putting the tile on the plywood. Yes, we did have this discussion. I decided that if he wants to be stubborn about it, I wont fight him. He is also using mastic. He did have the decency to admit that he is wrong and we’ll be doing this again in the future. He also pointed out that next time, it will be a professional job. Right now, this is a quick $300 weekend job to get the carpet out of the bathroom.

I just finished applying heat-shrink window plastic to the shower. It’s not perfect but it’s better than a Ziploc baggie taped up with packing tape.

The shower is going to be our first correctly done, planned out project. The floor will probably be the last. The mirror, lights, toilet (the new one), and shelves in the linen closet are the only things that will definitely still be in that room in 10 years.

You can install tile on plywood. It is done all the time in new construction. In order to have a firm enough base it requires 1 1/2 inches of wood sub-floor ie 2 layers of 3/4 ply.

In my training at Home Depot (contrary to what my ignorance about the shower would lead you to believe, I did actually work as a flooring specialist), we were told that plywood wasn’t ideal but it could be used. There was one type we were supposed to tell customers to avoid but I can’t remember what it’s called. We were told to make sure the floor was a minimum of 1-1/4" thick. My boyfriend and his dad checked and said it’s better than that.

I found out that he didn’t actually get mastic. I could have sworn that he did.

The install is going nicely. He was supposed to do the work but at the last minute he asked me to show him how. I somehow ended with the job. Apparently he HATES the sound of mortar scraping across the floor or the tools. Yes, I have been taking advantage of that. :slight_smile:


Luan? I’m told it gives off something that causes adhesives to not stick as well after a few years. But it could be OSB or particleboard, too.

I’ve done a fair amount of tiling, including all the tile on the floors and bathrooms of my current house (about 2,000 sq feet of tile total for my current house).
I’m a doctor and not a pro, but I do have strong feelings about tile, fwiw. I see a lot of shoddy jobs done by “professional” installers.

First, if some of the wall tiles in the tub and shower surround are coming off, it’s probably best to pull them all off. It means water has gotten through the grout and has weakened the mastic. Consider redoing the whole shebang.

Don’t despair. Tiling is easy. Here are my basic tips from my own experience over the years, in many houses.

Tub and shower surrounds: Cement backer board is best; hopefully that’s what you have. It’s not waterproof but water doesn’t break it down like it breaks down greenboard etc. Hopefully you don’t have to put it back up, and what’s underneath that mastic is already sound material.

What’s under those tiles is either thinset or mastic; either way it needs to be stripped back to the backer board. It should actually sheet off fairly easily, I’d bet. If the tile is sound neare the top, consider only removing the lower layers and either matching the tile or using a cute contrasting color. I wouldn’t bother saving the tiles, but that’s me. Tile is cheap. Get on appropriate for wet areas (needs a hard non porous glaze).

Use the right mastic for bathroom walls in wet areas. Use spacers. It’s actually very easy to apply. Rent a good tile saw and plan to do everything in a day; way easier than scoring and breaking, although that’s not hard. Mastic is easier than thinset for walls. Way easier. Keep it level; work from the center to the sides and measure so you don’t have only a sliver left at the side column. Use a good grout and seal it after it cures.

For the floor, don’t put tile right over the subflooring. It’s better to get a good tile backer board (Durock is fine, but thinner ones OK too) than a second layer of plywood; if you use plywood it has to be a grade with no voids (B or BC at least, and there are some grades made for under tile). Needs to be glued and screwed; I use about 50 screws per sheet, but that may be overkill (we have some areas with large 18" tile which cannot tolerate any floor flex, esp if something heavy like a piano is over it). Use thinset to set the floor tiles; same strategy of starting in the middle and not leaving real skinny rows along the periphery. Use spacers.

Tiling is easy as pie and the only real skill is getting them straight plus a little skill with the trowel–your tile store will help you get the correct notch sizes for mastic and thinset. Grouting is messy but easy too.

Tiling is also cheap if you do it yourself.


It looks like what you actually have under that white stuff is good old fashioned cement. Real, honest to go cement used to be put on the walls as the base for tile. I don’t know any reason why you would put plaster over that. Instead, I would use thinset and re-set the tiles over the cement.

The good thing is that the cement underneath looks to be solid and intact. I had basically the same problem you did. I went to replace two loose tiles and ended up having about 20 of them come off of the wall. I also found that part of the wall behind it had rotted out due to the wall leaking behind the soap holder. I had to replace part of the concrete backer before I could put the tiles back up.

As Chief Pedant said, you need to strip it down to the cement. This means pulling off all of the loose tiles, which from the OP sounds like you have already done. You also need to get rid of all of the exposed white stuff. Some of it will flake right off. Some you’ll have to carefully chisel off.

You don’t need to take off any more tiles other than the loose ones. You can just repair this. You don’t need to rebuild the entire wall.

You need to carefully scrape all of that white stuff off of your tiles, too, if there’s any still stuck to them. Be careful. You don’t want to break the tiles. I’d recommend re-using your existing tiles if they all came off intact. Matching up old tiles with new ones can be almost impossible.

It sounds like you already basically know how to put the tiles back on. Make sure you do a good job grouting around the tiles so that water can’t get back behind them. That’s usually what causes them to fall off of the walls in the first place. You get a crack in the grout that no one worries about and the water gets behind them and the next thing you know you’ve got 20 tiles to put back up on the wall.

Unfortunately, the cement (if it is that), it’s not in as good condition as the pictures look. A fairly large chunk fell out after I lightly tapped it.

I have a feeling it’s all going to have to come down. Anyone know what is typically inside the walls of a log cabin?

At least the floor is coming along nicely.

this video shows how to remove the cement board

cutting the new backer board

lots more videos here that takes you through everything