DEAR MIKE: I have some cracked ceramic tile that I want to replace. I want the replacement tile to match the existing tile and the surrounding grout. What should I do? -- David R.
DEAR DAVID: Removing ceramic tile requires the hands of a surgeon, and in one of those hands should be a big hammer. Take it and smack the broken tile. You must wear safety glasses for this because tiny shards of tile will fly everywhere.
If the cracked tile has already lifted, pry it out with a large standard screwdriver or a pry bar. If you are removing several cracked tiles, once you get the first one up, slide a flathead shovel underneath and pry up the rest.
After you make a hole in the tile or break off a piece, use a chisel and a hammer to remove any old mortar and grout. You must remove the old grout because it will be tough to fit the new piece in without doing so.
If you're lucky, you might find some extra tiles in the garage. Otherwise, you'll need to find a replacement. Depending on the age and style of the tile, you may find a match at a home center, but most likely, you'll have to take it to a tile distributor.
Once you have a replacement, mix up a batch of thin-set mortar according to the manufacturer's directions. This usually involves adding a little water to the mix and stirring. Try a one-quarter-inch notch-toothed trowel, and butter up the back of the new tile. Next, put it in the place of the broken tile and set it with a slight twisting motion. Make sure that the new tile is level with the surrounding tiles or it will stand out like a three-legged racehorse. Once the tile is properly in place, let it sit for 24 hours.
Grout poses a different challenge. Again, you may find some extra out in the garage, but chancesare it won't match the current color. I see this a lot with kitchen counter tops-what used to be pure white grout is now the color of molasses.
Use a color chart (free at the home center) and match the current color to the chart. Buy the smallest box (about $6), and mix it just like the mortar. Make sure you mix it in a different container than the mortar, or that the container is thoroughly cleaned. Otherwise, the dried mortar could taint the color of the grout.
Use a grout float (about $5), and push the grout into the seams surrounding the tile. Use a wet sponge to wipe off any excess. About 30 minutes later, you'll see a haze develop on the tile. Use a rag and buff the haze away. That cracked tile is now a faded memory.