how to remove thinsetSo, you want to know how to remove thinset dust free.  At this point, you have decided to take the plunge and do some home remodeling and maybe a new tile installation or install some wood flooring.  You want to get rid of the leftover free tile your friends gave you from their Angie’s List project or simply the dated looking ceramic tile or Saltillo tile you’ve had forever.

That ghastly old floor tile was a beast to pull up, and the silica dust got everywhere; now you are left with a pile of rubble, an uneven stone floor, and what is the jagged stuffed underneath the tile mess?  Even with certain tile removal tools like a floor scraper, it seems to be stuck fast.

That, my friend, is thinset.  Thinset holds the tile in place to hard surfaces like concrete with this adhesive mortar.  Unlike epoxy and other tile glues, thinset cures into a stone-like consistency and can be intimidating to remove if you do not know what you are doing—even with tile removal equipment.

Resist the urge to try to place a new layer over it for your ceramic tile floor installation since it is almost impossible to get a flat surface this way and will end up looking terrible and likely require concrete leveling when you are through.  As daunting as the task of removing thinset may seem this guide is here to walk you through all your options.

Manual Labor

The cheapest way to deal with thinset is to get a heavy-duty scraping tool, such as a chisel, and start going to town prying the stuff off the concrete before installing your ceramic tile floor.  You can determine the effectiveness of this method by the strength of the bond between the thinset and the concrete, as well as the strength of your own body.  It is not for the faint of heart or those who do not like to put in a bit of elbow grease.  The upside is that if you change your mind after giving it a go you do not have any major costs sunk into the project.

Pros: Cost effective; good exercise.

Cons: May take forever; physically demanding if there is a large amount of square foot to remove.

before and after thinset removal

Angle Grinder

An angle grinder is one of the best thinset and tile removal tools around.  If you happen to have an angle grinder on hand you have used before for concrete grinding, try pairing it up with the stiffest metal brush attachment you can find.

This method works best for softer thinset or workspaces where the majority of the thinset came up during tile removal, and some minor cleanup is needed.  It may also be more effective if you heavily wet down the thinset first to try to soften it up.

If you are lucky enough to be dealing with thinset that responds well to the soaking, then this can be a speedy job with minimal mess, though some extra time will be needed on the front end to let the thinset soak.

Pros: Not physically demanding; minimal dust in the work area if properly soaked.

Cons: Effectiveness varies based on the type and sq ft of thinset; can be messy as wet thinset flings around.

Power Chisel and Floor Stripper

There are several types of power tools that will work as the ideal type of tile removal equipment and can chisel away at thinset and self-leveling underlayment.  These tools use a chisel bit and a rapid back and forth motion to chip away at the mortar.  If you are using one of these tools, then goggles are a necessity as small pieces of tile shrapnel will fly away.

This method also tends to create a fair amount of dust that gets into the air, so a dust mask is also a good precaution.  It is not usually necessary to wet down the thinset to let the tool do its work.  In fact, it is best not to use water because the mechanical action is to chip off the hard stone, not pry it up from the concrete.  The mechanical method is usually best for contractors to turn to when the thinset does not soften up when it is soaked.

thinset removal

Pros: Requires little prep work so it can be started immediately after pulling up tile flooring; can also be used for the removing tile; requires only one tool for the job.

Cons: Can still be difficult if the bond between the thinset and concrete is too strong; creates airborne dust.

Floor Grinders

For tough jobs, a grinder is usually the way to go.  Any size grinder will do, though larger ones will get the job done faster.  A strong grinding surface, such as diamond, is necessary to break down the thinset mortar.  With the right grinding surface material, the thinset can be ground away in no time.

Pros: Fastest method; results in the smoothest cleared subfloor; not physically difficult.

Cons: Creates large amounts of dust, with much of it going into the air.

Dealing with the Dust

Some of the dust is unavoidable no matter what method you choose.  Even if you are breaking off chunks of thinset, you will still need to deal with some dust during the process.  While using water is a classic free tactic that you can try, it does not guarantee a completely dustless environment.  Using water also adds time to the project as the thinset has to soak and then the area has to dry before laying down new tile.

If you are going with either an electric chipping hammer or a grinder due to their speed and ease of use, then pairing them up with the very best dust commander components of the DustRam® System will elevate your work.

The DustRam® captures all dust when created so none of it can escape into the air.  The DustRam® System is so good at controlling the inevitable construction dust that you do not have to move or protect anything in the room from dust.  You can even remove tile and thinset in a pantry full of food and not have to worry about anything getting contaminated, as this video demonstrates:

Though you can purchase the DustRam® attachment for electric chipping hammers on its own, only DustRam® System partner contractors can purchase a full DustRam® System for removal services.  If you are looking to get some work done in your house and would like to hire a contractor who offers this dust-free service, then go here to find a certified contractor near you.  Most if not all will have a very high BBB rating.

Just like that saying, “there is more than one way to skin a cat,” there is more than one way to remove thinset.  The methods laid out here are the most commonly recommended and used by professional home improvement contractors and DIYers alike.  If you are starting out with a thinset removal project and you are struggling figuring out how to remove thinset, feel free to try one or all of them or hire a certified DustRam® System Contractor to handle it for you without the mess.