How to Remove Thinset from Concrete: Simple Methods That Work

You’re in a jam. You’ve struggled and fought hard to remove your tiles, only to realize that there’s another job to do.

You’ve got to figure out how to remove old thinset from concrete.

Don’t worry:

Although it’s a tough one, and the method you were using to remove your tiles doesn’t seem to work for this adhesive, I’ve got a solution for you…

Well, technically, I have several different options that you can choose from.

This mix of fine sand, cement, and water isn’t easy to remove. It’ll require a lot of patience and diligence. However, I’m sure that I can make it easier for you.

Keep reading as you’ll also learn about the process of removing thinset from a tile face.

What Makes Removing Thinset So Tough?

thinset mortar on a concrete tile

Thinset has a strong bond, and it’s pretty challenging to scrape off. You can even end up damaging your floor.

That said, this adhesive is often used because of how much more durable it is than other options. It also supports a lot of weight.

It’s essentially the mixture that allows for this durability and strength, and is similarly stubborn to remove like carpet glue on concrete floors.

It’s one of the most frequently used adhesives out there so, thankfully I have a lot of helpful information that I can share with you. We’ll even cover how to remove thinset from a concrete slab.

My own experiences?

Well, through a lot of trial and error and some prayers, I finally cleared out all of my thinset. You might be wondering how.

Well, I will say this:

Water (preferably boiling) changes the game.

When you start scraping thinset away, not only will it be easier with hot water, but it won’t come out as dust. Instead, it’ll be more like mud. This is good.

You probably have a chisel and a hammer lying around at home somewhere, which is all you need. Paired with the water method chiseling is probably the most basic method to remove thinset from concrete by hand.

You can also test out this method for removing thinset from the back of a tile.

I’ll admit that chiseling may not be the most efficient or the easiest way of going about thinset removal.

So, to save you hours of work chipping away with nothing but a chisel, below are a few (much better) options that you can try out.

My Favorite Methods for Getting Thinset off Concrete

old dried thinset on floor

Let me begin by dispelling some concerns.

First, it won’t necessarily cost you that much more to try these methods. It depends on whether you actually have the tools and on which method you end up choosing.

Just a note that these methods will work if you want to know how to remove thinset from a concrete subfloor as well.

The Angle Grinder

Here we start with the more expensive (and potentially more dangerous) option. Watch those fingers!

What you’ll need:

  • An angle grinder with abrasive pad
  • Water (to cut down on the dust – or use a grinder machine with a vacuum attachment)
  • A broom
  • Goggles and a mask

grinding thinset off concrete

Step 1: Go over the Thinset Repeatedly

This’ll require some determination, and it can become quite tedious. Take breaks if needed but know your elbow grease will pay off.

Make several passes and continue to knock down the dried thinset layer by layer until you reach the surface of the concrete.

Step 2: Clean Up

Clean up the thinset that you’ve removed from time to time. That’ll help get the material out of the way so you’re only working on what you need to get rid of.

Plus, it’ll help you track your progress. It also enables you to assess how effective this method is for you.

Doing it dry with a vacuum attachment will remove most of the material as you go.

Step 3: Repeat Steps as Needed

As I’ve already said, this takes time. So it may take a while before you get it all off of your concrete depending on how much you have of course.

A Hammer Drill

The best set up here is a small hammer drill paired with a tile chisel. In fact, you may have already invested in this tool if you broke up and removed your tile this way to begin with.

The key here is not break up the concrete, but only the thinset on top.

What’s needed:

  • A rotary hammer drill
  • Tile chisel
  • Goggles and a mask
  • Vacuum

removal of old floor adhesive

Step 1: Getting Set Up

After you’ve inserted the tile chisel into the drill, get it plugged in, and have your safety equipment on. Now you’re ready to get to work.

Step 2: Work Methodically

As with every method, you will have to work carefully and methodically to ensure that you remove only the stuck on thinset and not gouge or chip the underlying surface.

Step 3: Vacuum as Needed

You’ll need to sweep and/or vacuum up the area of excess dust and debris.

The Putty Knife Method

You should use this if you’re trying to figure out how to remove thinset from a cement board in particular.

Similar to what I suggested at first, this method is quite simple but is helpful, mainly if you’re working at an odd angle, like on a wall.

By tapping the hammer at the putty knife, you’ll be able to remove the thinset slowly.

Removing Thinset from Tiles

When removing thinset from tile, you’re going to want to be careful not to damage the tile itself. This method will work for different tile types on the tile face and the back of the tile.

To remove the thinset between the grout lines, you can also use a screwdriver to essentially dig it out.

What you’ll need:

  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Warm water
  • A sponge
  • A chisel
  • A vacuum

Step 1: Mix it Up

Pour some dishwashing liquid into the warm water (in a bucket preferably) and mix it.

Step 2: Scrub

Put the sponge in soapy water and scrub it all over the affected area of the tile.

Step 3: Get Chiseling

This is where you have to be careful not to go too hard as to damage the tile. Scrape away the large chunks. You can vacuum the area of dust once you’re done.

Other Considerations

damaged concrete removing thinset

You can, of course, try different products that may aid in removing the thinset, such as vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. But it’s really about what works best for you.

On another topic:

I’ve spoken a lot about thinset and seem to have developed a bit of an obsession over it.

That said, if you’re also as determined to gather tons of seemingly impractical information as I am, then I’ve got a video for you.

This short video explains exactly what thinset is, its colors, grades, and a lot more. You should check it out to give you an even better understanding of what you’re working with.

FAQs

Q: Does vinegar remove thinset?

Yes. It helps as it’s a weak acid solvent. It helps to loosen it up. Additionally, it does not damage concrete.

Q: What’s the fastest way to remove thinset?

I didn’t mention it in this article as it is pretty pricey, but you can always use what’s called a floor maintainer (floor buffing machine) with an abrasive pad.

It’s possible to rent one of these machines for a one-time use. Doing this may make sense if you have a larger area you need to clean up.

Q: Does wetting thinset make it easier to remove?

Yes. It decreases its integrity and causes cracks to appear. Wetting it will undoubtedly help when removing thinset from different tile types.

old tile adhesive

All Done

So, you now know how to remove this adhesive from concrete and even the process of removing thinset from grout lines.

Remember, as I mentioned above, it’s a tough adhesive, so no matter what method you use, you’re going to have to be persistent. The same is true if you’re to remove linoleum glue from concrete – it’s not a quick job.

Best of luck with your future DIY endeavors!