Ceramic & Stone Tile Over Vinyl Flooring
A Raging and On-going Controversy in the Flooring Community

In The Old Days…

Back in the early days of the first home improvement Advice Forums for Do-It-Yourselfers on the Internet, less than a decade ago, it didn’t take long to find out that if you were to choose a subject such as this (ceramic or stone tile over vinyl) and rub two tile installers together you could in no-time create fire. If not a raging flaming beast of a fire then at least plenty of smoke. This type of fire and smoke is hard to extinguish because in the minds of some long-time installers, for them to follow this advice would mean changing everything they had been taught by their mentors and fathers and grandfathers and godfathers. For some, these methods mean change and we all know how humans resist change. So, for this reason, this is not directed at any of the long-time professional installers in the flooring community. No sir, instead it is directed toward the Do-It-Yourselfer that is seeking sound advice from an experienced installer that has (trust me) “been there, done that”. You will find this ongoing argument everywhere on the help forums that you go to seek advice.

Existing Floor Coverings Vinyl or Otherwise

In the case of new ceramic and stone tile installations, to allow previous floor coverings of a flexible nature such as vinyl sheet flooring, cushioned vinyl sheet flooring, vinyl composition tile (VCT) to remain in place can only increase the odds of a new ceramic or stone tile installation failure. In the short term it would be less expensive and less effort to leave the old product in place and simply cover it than it would be to remove it. In the longer term however allowing previously installed floor covering goods to remain in place could eventually spell disaster for your new ceramic or stone tile floor. THEREFORE: Any and all previous floor covering installations should be removed before attempting to install new floor coverings.

All of the layers previously installed can create voids in one fashion or another and those voids in turn can cause movement in a floor assembly. Movement in a ceramic or stone tiled floor assembly can be disastrous for the new ceramic or stone floor tile and should be avoided at all costs. Stone floor tiles are more vulnerable to movement than ceramic floor tiles by the way.

Heaping layer on top of layer of flooring goods is never a good idea when installing new floor-covering products. When new flooring products are installed (not limited to hard-surface tiles) all layers of previously installed flooring materials should be removed.

Effects of the Substrate

Properly installed vinyl floors over wood structures probably also have an underlayment product below it, usually some type of plywood or fiberboard or particleboard. This underlayment is part of the vinyl installation and is also subject to movement when seasons change or moisture is introduced from whatever the source. Though a little movement in a vinyl floor covering goes unnoticed, this same movement can destroy a ceramic or stone tile installation, in some cases rapidly.

A single layer of any of the same flexible floor covering products (listed above) over concrete would have less chance at containing voids but here again some vinyls are being installed where only the perimeter is glued and the center of the room is left to gravity holding it in place indefinitely. Edges of sheet vinyl have a tendency to curl over time. This curling is from shrinkage and shrinkage has movement.

Removing existing flexible floor coverings will also give a person an opportunity to inspect the concrete surface for imperfections and cracking. If cracks are discovered in your concrete substrate this would be the time to address and treat those cracks with one of the many fine “crack-isolation membranes” that are available to consumers today. Vinyl floor covering IS NOT a suitable crack isolation membrane material.

Removing Old Vinyl Flooring

This isn’t always easy but it can be done in all cases. Vinyl (VAT/VCT) tiles can be removed with a rigid floor scraper. Home Centers carry several versions of these floor scrapers and the heavier, the better. These “spud bars,” as they are sometimes called, can also be used in some cases to remove the sheet version of the vinyl flooring but there are easier ways.

Sheet vinyl flooring is assembled basically in two layers, a wear-layer/surface-layer and a felt layer or backer layer. A utility knife can be used to score through the surface layer of the product to create strips about two feet wide. The surface layer will then separate from the felt layer when pulled on. Once you get the hang of it the surface layer will usually come off in those strips you cut in the surface. In the case of the felt layer a little warm water to soak the felt is helpful, then the wet felt can be scraped off easily. This would be one of several removal methods when the sheet flooring is installed over concrete. This may be the place to mention that rental machines are also available in some areas of the country that are designed to make this task somewhat easier. Be advised however; they don’t all work well and doing this by hand is sometimes the lesser of the evils.

In the case of sheet flooring installed over a wood surface and assuming there is that quarter-inch underlayment then the best thing to do is to locate the seams in the underlayment, cut through the vinyl at the seams then remove the underlayment with the vinyl still attached to the underlayment. Now let me warn you: if the underlayment has been properly installed then there will be more fasteners than you would ever imagine. Have fun!

Vinyl Adhesives To Remove or Not To Remove

Years past and until recent years, most of the adhesives used to install the flexible floorings was a petroleum-based adhesive and in most cases black in color. This is what has become to be known as “cutback adhesive” and you have probably heard of it. It turns out that cutback adhesive was apparently a very good product for a long time. It wasn’t until the federal government began to mandate the removal of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) in these types of products that the adhesives began to change and cutback in its original form is no longer allowable.

After removal of the vinyl products it is also desirable to remove as much of the previous adhesive as humanly possible. This can be done easiest in my opinion by using a 3 or 4 inch (blade) long handled wallpaper scraper and a lot of elbow grease. BE AWARE that up until the mid-eighties some of these adhesives did contain asbestos, as did the vinyl floor covering products themselves.

The use of chemical adhesive removers and dissolvers is NOT RECOMMENDED. The use of chemicals can cause residues that will compromise the future bond of the ceramic or stone tile setting materials.

But It Says Right On The Thinset Label…

Most all of the mainstream manufacturers of tile thinset mortar adhesive offer a product that clearly states on their label that their product is suitable for installation of tile over vinyl flooring. This is true. Their glue will stick to vinyl. If it were that simple and a guaranteed effort, we would all be doing it and there wouldn’t be any arguments. If you look closely, any warranties of this method extend only to the adhesive sticking to the vinyl and in no way offer compensation more than the replacement cost of their product. So, my advice, which is based on more years of crawling on my knees than I care to admit, is to remove every last bit of resilient and adhesive so that your chances for a successful and long lasting ceramic or stone floor are greatly improved.

This article was originally published June 30, 2006. If you would like to discuss this article, or any of the others you have found here at TheFloorPro.com, please join us in the Articles Discussion Forum. If you are not yet a member of The Floor Pro Community, we invite you to register now, it’s free and gives you the opportunity to enjoy all the features of the site.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. c lindenbusch

    who does this sort of thing,tile removal, in st louis

  2. Mike

    If it is not asbestos adhesive after having tested, adhesive can easily be removed with proper equipment sometimes available from rental centers, or in my instance, I own all necessary equipment to remove surface of slab. I would never recommend putting cement board over a slab, it’s basically what Bud stated above, putting another layer over top.

  3. Harry

    The remaining adhesive, black or yellow, left after removing vinyl tiles is so tenacious that it’s nearly impossible
    to get up. Wouldn’t backerboard over the adhesive-remaining cement floor be better than the incredibly difficult
    removal of the adhesive?

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