Full bathroom remodel, part 2: complete deconstruction

Jim Mallery | Improvement Center Columnist | March 2, 2015

Second of an eight-part series on bathroom remodeling

The first part in this series explained how to tear out the old fiberglass shower, but before you can begin your bathroom remodel you still have to pull out the other vital elements: the toilet, vanity and countertop, mirror and flooring.

Tackling toilet removal

old toilet before removal

The old, inefficient, low-rider toilet will go, as will the TP holder in the wall.

Despite the heavy load a toilet bears, it is rather daintily secured to the floor with only two bolts holding it to the flange. Caulking around the toilet base provides the added stability. A wax ring provides the welcome barrier to liquid and fumes between the toilet's outlet and the drain, but it does nothing to secure the toilet.

toilet bolt before replacement
Here the old toilet bolt sits in the notch in the flange. The toilet drain is plugged with an old towel.

wax ring before replacement

The old wax ring pries off with a putty knife. Do not reuse a wax ring.

The first step to toilet removal is to drain the tank.

toilet supply line before replacement

The first step is to turn off the water supply at the wall.

Turn off the water supply at the wall and flush the toilet to empty most of the water. Hold the handle down for a few seconds to let as much water as possible flow from the tank. Put a pan under the water inlet, and unscrew the supply line and flow valve from the underside of the tank. Usually these are plastic connections that can be loosened by hand. Lift the valve out of the tank, and let the last of the water flow into the pan.

You can also remove the supply line from the valve at the wall, if you are planning on installing a new one, which is always a good idea.

toilet bowl bolt cap

The toilet bolt cap pops off with a screwdriver or the tap of a hammer.

Plastic caps cover the two bolts holding the bowl to the floor. You can pry them off with a screwdriver, or pop them off with a hammer. Unscrew the nuts: a box end wrench works best for this task. The bolts can sometimes be so corroded that they won't unscrew, in which case you will need a hacksaw or grinder to remove them.

With a utility knife, you can cut through the caulking that seals the bowl to the floor, but you might find it easier to just tap a pry bar under the toilet, and pop it loose.

If you are a hefty sort, you can finish the toilet removal yourself, though it is best handled by two people. You can lighten the load by removing the tank from the bowl. The tank usually is attached with two bolts, though they may be corroded and need to be sawed or ground off.

The bowl has an internal trap that holds water. If you let the toilet tip backwards, it will spill out, so take care.

Pulling the countertop and vanity

old vanity before removal

The laminate countertop, chipped sinks, de-silvered mirror and cheap, worn cabinetry all are coming out.

The biggest concern in removing the countertop and vanity is damaging the walls. Begin by detaching the sinks from the wall: turn off the water supply, unscrew the supply lines and cut or unscrew the trap from the drain.

Start removing the counter by pulling off the backsplash. Using a pry bar and some hammer taps usually suffice.

If your countertop is laminate, it is probably made of particle board with a 1-by-2 trim piece on the edge.

counter edge pry photo

The front edge of the laminate counter easily pries off, after which you can pry up the old countertop.

First pry off the edge trim. The countertop is most likely held to the cabinetry by a few nails, so pounding upwards can generally pop it off the vanity. However, this is where you can sustain wall damage, so you might want to cut the top into pieces with a circular saw and your reciprocating saw to make it easier to pull away from the wall.

removing the bathroom counter

With the backsplash removed, the counter top easily pries off the cabinet. Here, smooth nails (sinkers) were used to attach the counter to the cabinet. Ring-shank nails would have given a firmer grip.

Your vanity should be screwed to the wall at the studs, but a lazy installer could have used nails. Simply unscrew the screws or pull the nails and remove the cabinet. If you have two or more cabinets joined together, they will be screwed together along the stiles -- the vertical boards in the face of the cabinet. The screws could be hidden under the hinges.

Removing the mirror

There are three common mountings for mirrors: clips that screw in around the mirror; spring-loaded clips and mastic.

About the only way to get a mastic-mounted mirror off the wall is to break it. Cover it with towels or a blanket before you bring it down.

To remove a mirror held with stationary clips, unscrew the top clips and lift the mirror out of the lower clips, using a helper to steady it. To remove a mirror from spring-loaded clips, lift it up against the springs in the upper clips, pull it out of the lower clips, then lower it out of the upper clips. Sometimes instead of springs, the top clips require you to pop them upward to release them from the mirror.

SAFETY NOTE: Always wear leather gloves and a jacket for protection in case the mirror breaks. Falling shards of glass can slice and dice you faster than a Magic Chef.

Lifting the floor

Mortar-set tile floors are nasty, involving heavy hammering, major pry-bars and lungs full of dust. Truly unpleasant.

A vinyl floor is less burdensome. Usually glued to a half-inch particleboard, it comes up more easily. Set your circular saw to cut 5/8-inch deep and score the floor in several places, making sections around 2 feet-by-2 feet. With hammer and pry bar, pop the sections of particleboard off the subfloor. The underlayment should be nailed with ring-shank nails that will hold pretty tightly. This is where you may want a three- or four-foot pry bar.

Finally, after creating a desert-load of dust and perhaps pinching a few fingers, you are ready to begin your bathroom remodel.

Next, part 3: plumbing updates

About the Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing and rebuilding homes.