Replacing Old Bathroom Countertops: A Classic DIY Project
If you have an older home, chances are it could use a little updating. A great place to start for a do-it-yourselfer is replacing old bathroom counters.
There are four main steps to replacing a bathroom countertop:
- Remove the existing countertop.
- Install granite tile.
- Grout granite tile.
- Seal granite tile and caulk.
This guide is for replacing a laminate countertop with granite tile, but the steps are essentially the same for any existing counter surface with modifications made depending on the type of existing counter surface (for example, tile will require breaking or chipping off to remove).
Materials and Tools
You will need the following materials and tools to replace your countertop:
- Tape measure
- Level or other straight edge
- Razor blade
- Adjustable wrench
- Philips head screwdriver
- Pry bar
- Rubber mallet
- Belt sander or orbital sander
- Tile saw
- Granite tile
- Silicone caulk
- Caulking gun
Before you can replace your countertop though, you need to remove your old one as well as the sink(s).
Removing the Existing Sink
- Turn off the hot and cold water running to the sink.
- Unhook the water line from the sink.
- Unscrew the sink bowl clamps holding it to the countertop.
- Disconnect the drain from the sink.
- Use a razor to score the silicone around the sink to break the seal.
- Pop up (carefully) from underneath the sink to lift it out and away from the countertop.
Removing the Countertop
Once you have removed the sink, remove the existing countertop:
- Use a razor to score around the edges of the back splash or anything against the wall, as well as the underside of the countertop that connects to the cabinets to loosen the adhesive/silicone seal.
- Check for any screws connecting the countertop and cabinets and remove them using a Philips head screwdriver.
- Pry the countertop carefully using a pry bar and lift off and away from the cabinets and wall. You may need to use a rubber mallet to pry particularly stubborn countertops.
- Use a razor to take off any remaining adhesive on the walls or cabinets to create a flat surface.
Deciding What to Do With the Old Countertop
Before installing the granite tile, you’ll need to replace the countertop.
You can either re-use the existing countertop as a base for the granite tile or use a new plywood board and backerboard.
Backerboard will help create a moisture barrier between the tile and plywood, which is particularly useful for tiling around tubs or shower areas.
Reusing the Old Countertop
To reuse the old countertop, you will need to prepare to laminate surface by sanding. Use a belt or orbital sander to sand the surface until it is roughened enough for the adhesive to get into all the grooves and scratches.
Replacing the Old Countertop
- Place the old countertop with prepared surface back onto the cabinets to re-secure.
- Screw old countertop into place using pre-existing holes. If using a new plywood board, pre-drill holes into plywood to line up with pre-existing holes in the cabinets.
- To install the backerboard, apply a thin layer of mortar (also called thinset) to the plywood before placing the backerboard on top. Countersink screws every 8–10 inches to secure the backerboard.
- Dry fit granite tile to identify tiles to cut. Note: You may want to take out all tile from their boxes and spread them out to see how the patterns line up.
- Make cuts in tile.
- Dry fit tile again (with cuts made) to make sure everything fits.
Applying Mortar and Placing Tile
- Mix mortar (also called thinset) according to package directions.
- Apply mortar with a trowel. (Be sure to only apply as much as you can set tile for so it doesn’t dry before you are finished setting tiles.) Use the flat edge of the trowel to spread a thin layer of the mortar.
- Using the toothed edge, score the mortar horizontally and vertically to create a cross hatch pattern.
- For corner edges, apply mortar (sometimes referred to as "buttering") directly to the back of the tile piece, using the same application technique as in the earlier step.
- Carefully set tile onto mortared surface.
- Use a level to make sure the surface is level and remains level with each subsequent tile.
- Wipe off any remaining or excess mortar off tile using a damp sponge.
- Tape tile in place using painter’s tape or similar tape.
- Repeat steps 2–7 if you are including a backsplash.
- Allow tile and mortar to set for 24 hours before grouting.
Choosing Grout That Will Match the Granite Tile Well
For granite or any other natural stone, unsanded grout is recommended.
Although for most tile projects you would use spacers between the tiles, this project doesn’t use spacers to create the illusion of a seamless surface (like a slab of granite). Unsanded grout is recommended for tile projects with 1/16-inch spacing or less.
Be sure to choose grout that will match the granite tile as well as possible. The idea is to minimize the grout lines to create as seamless a surface as possible.
Grouting the Tile
- Mix your grout with water according to directions on the packaging. If you are using pre-mixed grout, move on to the next step.
- Use a float and, moving at a diagonal, press grout into the spaces between tiles until grout line is full.
- Swipe the float along the top of the grout line to remove excess grout.
- Use a damp sponge to wipe up excess grout on the tile after letting the grout set for about an hour. You will want to do this again after the grout has set for a few hours.
- Use a dry cloth to wipe up any remaining “haze” after 24 hours.
Sealing Granite Tile
After the grout has had 24–48 hours to set, you are ready to seal the granite. Make sure the tile is clean and dust free. Be sure to check the directions for the sealant you purchased before applying.
To apply the sealant:
- Pour a small amount of sealant onto a sponge and apply it in a circular motion to the countertop surface. Make sure to evenly coat the entire surface. You should notice the tile and grout will look slightly wet or a bit darker once it has been saturated.
- Use a dry rag to wipe off any excess sealant within 10 minutes of applying it (check manufacturer’s directions).
- Use a dry, clean rag to gently buff the tile.
- Wait another 48 hours to fully cure before getting wet (again, check manufacturer’s directions).
To keep your granite looking its best, you should re-seal once every year.
Reinstalling the Sink
After applying the sealant, put the sink back into place. Be sure to reattach all the water lines, screw the sink bowl clamps back into place, and reconnect the drain to the sink.
Turn on both hot and cold water knobs to make sure the water lines were properly connected. Check underneath the sink as well for any leaks.
Caulking Around the Sink
Once the sink is back into place, and the waterlines and drain have been connected, apply caulk around the edge of the sink where it meets the tile surface.
Be sure to use a clear (or color that matches your sink) silicone caulk to keep out moisture.
Finally, stand back and admire your amazing new countertop. High fives all around!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
MelindaJGH on October 10, 2015:
That is ingenious! I had never heard of granite tile!
Lacey Taplin (author) from Colorado Springs, CO on October 09, 2015:
Thanks, MelindaJGH. Neither of us are contractors (although my husband has several home improvement skills). Another reason to use granite tile is that it is much lighter than the slab. We would not have been able to do the slab by ourselves.