Wall Tile Repair Tips

    Wall tile doesn't face the same kind of abuse and constant threat of staining that floor tile is subjected to. Consequently, most wall tile repairs involve problems with caulk joints and old grout. In other cases, moving an accessory, such as a grab bar or soap dish, means you have to replace a tile or two-a much better solution than simply caulking the screw holes in the old tile.

    Recaulking Tile Joints

    The most common area for wall tile repairs is where tiled surfaces come together or where they meet tubs, floors and countertops. In all of these areas, caulk is supposed to take the place of grout, to create a flexible joint that won't crack with movement. Eventually, however, the caulk fails, potentially letting water in behind the tile. Time to scrape it all out, using a utility knife, putty knife or a painter's 5-in-1 tool. Apply new caulk that matches the grout color.

    Replacing Grout

    Cracking, crumbling or otherwise deteriorating grout joints must be replaced. This is perhaps the most feared and ignored wall tile repair. But it's really not that bad. Scrape out the old grout to remove at least half its full depth (but preferably all of it), using a sharp utility knife (buy plenty of extra blades) and/or a diamond-grit grout saw. Apply new grout just like you would with new tile.

    Replacing a Tile

    The main goal here is to avoid damage to the surrounding tiles, lest your work multiply in a hurry. Remove the grout around the tile to be replaced, then carefully break out the tile and old adhesive with a hammer and cold chisel. Apply adhesive to the wall and back of the new tile, and set the tile in place (use tape to keep it from slipping, if necessary). Grout around the tile after the adhesive dries.

    Matching Old Tile

    Finding exact replacements for wall tile repairs can be difficult. Start by taking a sample of the tile to a large local tile supplier to look for a match and discuss your options. Some tile manufacturers will create duplicates using your samples (minimum orders typically apply). If all else fails, you can use a completely different tile and call it an "accent." The catch here is that you have to replace a number of other tiles in the field with accents to make it look legit.

    You Can Always Hire It Out

    While important, wall tile repair often seems to end up at the bottom of honey-do lists. Enter professional tile restorers. They clean and replace grout, replace tiles, re-caulk and re-seal tile jobs to make them look like new. And their prices can be quite reasonable. Look for these unsung heroes in the phone book and online under Tile & Grout Cleaning & Restoration and similar keywords.

    Get more info on tile and grout restoration, tile and grout cleaning tips, and the basics of designing with tile.

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