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Loose Tile In Shower

The ceramic tile in the bottom of my shower has come loose. How can I repair it? The house is 23 years old. I think I need to let it dry out and then re-grout it, but I am unsure how to start this project.


If a tile is loose but hasn't come off, I suspect you have small tiles (less than 4" square) that are held together with a fiberglass mesh. The purpose of this mesh is only to make the initial tile installation easier by maintaining uniform gaps between all the tiles. 

If the tile is very slightly loose, that is if the movement is so little it is barely visible, then you might try just re-grouting it. You can buy a carbide grout saw (it looks like a toothbrush gone REALLY bad!) and file away the old grout around the loose tile. 

But... if the tile moves more than 1/32", I would strongly recommend prying it out and adhering it again to the backing material. There are two common methods for bonding tiles: thin-set mortar and adhesive mastic. I have purchased small containers of mastic for replacing loose floor tiles. If there is cement below the loose tile, then get some thin-set mortar (I think it's available in small quantities) and apply it to the back of the tile.

But first... the old adhesive or mortar should be scraped off as much as possible, or it will hold the tile too high, and probably interfere with proper bonding. Nothing will bond to dirt and mildew. A cold chisel is the best tool for scraping mortar because it is made from hardened steel.

You may need to clean the area. I would suggest a little bit of bleach to kill the mold and mildew. The area also needs to be dry for mastic, a hair dryer works fine to dry out the spot. Dampness is okay for thinset mortar.

Wait a day for the adhesive or mortar to dry, and then apply new grout.

You may take this time to remove other spots of loose grout and refill them. I prefer to use a 4" diamond blade (about $20-40) on a small angle grinder. This makes fast work out of mortar and grout repairs. But... be careful, you can cut the tiles with this tool, and WEAR EYE PROTECTION. This tool can throw small rocks directly at your face, safety glasses are required. You might do a careful inspection of the grout at the corners, which always seems to crack first. Try probing with an old screwdriver or cold chisel to see of the grout is loose. 

But first I would give the shower a thorough cleaning, first using bleach to remove mildew, then rinsing and using a chemical for removing mineral deposits. One of the best values is the Zep brand from Home Depot. But never mix these chemicals with bleach or you will get toxic chlorine gas, very unhealthy when confined in a shower enclosure. When you are done with the grout and loose tiles, it will be like new.


Bruce W. Maki, Editor.



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Copyright 2001

Compiled September 2, 2001