How to Remove Interlocking Ceiling Tiles

Written by Milan Jara on 1st Aug 2022

Remove Interlocking Ceiling Tiles

Ceiling tiles add flair to an unattractive ceiling, but stains, nicks, or gouges can ruin the look. Read on for how to remove interlocking ceiling tiles.

Interlocking ceiling tiles, especially acoustic tiles, reduce sound reverberation and improve the aesthetics of a home's vertical space.

The ceiling tiles are soft and easily broken. Therefore, when you have water-damaged or gouged interlocking ceiling tiles, you need to replace them quickly. Luckily, removing worn-out interlocking ceiling tiles is a simple DIY process. We'll guide you through removing interlocking ceiling tiles so you can update your ceiling.

Understanding Interlocking Ceiling Tiles

Interlocking ceiling tiles usually lie on a supporting wooden framework of furring strips. The tiles are stapled or glued into the framework perpendicular to the studs or joists. The tiles have different edge shapes to enable interlocking. Two sides have extended lips to staple onto the framework and insert into the grooves of the adjoining tiles. The other two sides have a recessed groove for the extended lips on the other tiles to interlock, forming a tongue and groove connection.

Most interlocking tiles are acoustic ceiling tiles, but you can spruce them up with glam-looking tin ceiling tiles that offer an eye-catching finish to your ceiling. Interlocking ceilings conceal the HVAC ductwork and electrical wiring and are ideal for rooms with less vertical space.

Understanding Interlocking Ceiling Tiles

Removing Interlocking Tiles

Before beginning the removal process, check for asbestos as it poses health hazards. Ceilings installed before 1977, when the government banned asbestos, are likely to have asbestos. If they don't, you can proceed. Remember that interlocking ceilings may have damaged lips and require strategic removal to expedite the process. Here's how to remove interlocking ceiling tiles:

1. Gather Supplies

The first step in any DIY task is getting tools and supplies ready. You will need the following woodworking tools for this job:

  • Utility knife
  • Putty knife
  • Step ladder
  • Flathead screwdriver or pry bar
  • 9-in-1 painter’s scraping tool
  • Staple lifter
  • Protective gear
  • Drop cloths

You may need additional tools such as a staple gun and replacement tiles if you intend to replace the damaged tiles. If you don’t have drop cloths, alternatives include cardboard and sheets. Some tools are redundant. For example, if you have a flathead screwdriver, there's no need to have a pry bar since they accomplish the same task.

2. Prep the Room

Set the step ladder underneath the damaged ceiling tile. Start on the non-central tiles that are easier to remove. Place drop cloths underneath the working area to catch any falling debris.

Don your protective gear–goggles, mask, and gloves–before beginning tile removal. Once you have guaranteed your safety, proceed to remove the interlocking tiles.

3. Remove the Staples

Strategizing before getting started streamlines the removal process. You need to remove the staples first using a staple lifter. Some interlocking tiles use a glued-up method with staples to lock in the tiles. You can pry the tiles if they have construction-grade adhesive. The removal process for removing glued-in ceiling tiles is much like removing crown molding. Alternatively, use a putty knife to tap and pry the staples. A 9-in-1 painter's tool or a flathead screwdriver also do the prying job well.

4. Remove the Tiles

You may have multiple damaged tiles adjacent to tiles in pristine condition. Score the edges of the damaged tile in an “X” pattern. Cut one inch from the edge of the damaged tile using a sharp utility knife. In our practice, the sharper the utility knife, the easier it is to cut through.

You may notice damaged lips that you initially didn't see when the tiles were in place. If you intend to paint and reinstall the tiles, consider marking them to remember the correct positioning. Score the edges of the remaining tiles, working from the corners to the central tile.

If the interlocking tiles are mounted on furring strips, you will need to pry the board from the tiles. Usually, this process damages the drywall. Reinstalling the furring strips is straightforward as the drywall sheets align with the edges.

5. Finishing Up

When you’re finished, clean up the area and prepare it for painting, installation, or updating the ceiling tiles. You may want to replace the interlocking tiles with drop-in ceiling tiles that are a cinch to remove and refit.

Put the tools back in their storage and head to the store to find replacement tiles or check out our array of modern ceiling tiles.

Modern Ceiling Tiles

Things to Remember When Removing Interlocking Tiles

  • Interlocking ceiling tiles form a meshwork of tiles but removing one does not cause them to fall out of place. Remove one tile and score the seams of the adjoining ones if you intend to remove them. Follow steps 3 and 4 and remove the entire ceiling if you intend to replace it.
  • Asbestos causes lung cancer and other illnesses. Use face masks approved for protecting against inhaling asbestos particles.
  • Purchase a sharp utility knife. Sharp utility knives cut crisp lines and avoid damaging the nearby tiles.
  • Check the batch number of the interlocking tiles and visit your retailer to purchase replacements if you intend to replace the damaged tiles. Interlocking tiles come in different finishes, textures, and sizes. The precise batch number helps you get exact replicas to replace the tiles. You can also take a sample to compare with the tiles at the store.
  • If you are removing tiles to replace them, use a utility knife to cut the skirted edges of the central tile and flip it over. Apply adhesive in a wave pattern before sliding in the tiles in a tongue and groove system. Do not use staples as they will be visible.


Removing interlocking ceiling tiles is a simple weekend job. Armed with basic woodworking tools and a can-do attitude, you can remove interlocking tiles from the kitchen to the balcony in just a few hours. Consider replacing the tiles with newer ceiling tiles to breathe new life into your vertical space.

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