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How to Install, Cut, Paint, Clean, and Replace Ceiling Tiles

4/7/20 - Zoro Staff

In noisy environments such as schools or commercial office buildings, acoustic ceiling tiles can provide sound absorption while also helping to reduce sound reverberation in a room. While they can also enhance the look of a room, acoustic ceiling tiles are soft, easily broken, and often hard to clean. 

If you have a ceiling that's experienced stains or water damage from leaks, or maybe suffered a puncture or a hole from a mishandled ladder or another object, you'll want to repair or replace the damaged tiles. Doing so is a rather simple DIY project that can usually be done quickly. Most often acoustic tiles are used in two different types of drop tile ceilings. One is where interlocking tiles snap together like tongue and groove flooring and are attached to a framework of furring strips, usually with a staple gun, to the original ceiling. The other, a suspended ceiling, features gridwork that is suspended from the ceiling and the acoustic tiles fit within or lay on top of the framework created by the grids.

If the tiles are looking a little dingy and could stand to be cleaned, most drop ceiling tiles are easy to care for, usually requiring only a light dusting and a wipe down with a mild cleaning solution. Here are some simple steps to follow to clean up the tiles.

  1. To begin, lay drop cloths on the floor beneath the tiles to be cleaned and cover any furniture that you want to be protected from falling debris or drips. It's a good idea to wear safety glasses and a dust mask for cleaning.
  2. Start by vacuuming the ceiling with a soft brush attachment to remove any loose dust, dirt, and debris, or dust the ceiling with a static or feather duster.
  3. Next, dampen a sponge or lint-free cloth with warm water and, after wringing it out well, wipe the tiles gently to remove the light dust or dirt that's built up. For stubborn, heavier dirt or stains, mix 1 tablespoon of mild liquid dish soap into a gallon of warm water and use that, but don't rub too hard or you could damage the tiles. 
  4. Once done using the soap and water solution, rinse the tiles with a clean, water-dampened cloth.

If the tiles are in decent enough shape that you believe a little paint will have them looking good again, you can liven up the room with paint in any color that works for you. Follow these steps.

  1. Lay drop cloths on the floor beneath the tiles to be painted and cover any furniture that you want to be protected from falling debris or paint drips.
  2. Start with a coat of primer followed by the paint of your choice to cover a typical light to medium tile stain.
  3. When applying the paint, be sure to use a foam roller to keep from exerting too much pressure on the tile. They can be easily gouged, nicked, or dented if you're not careful.
  4. And while you're doing the painting, don't forget to paint the gridwork around the tiles, too.

Tiles are made from a variety of materials, including mineral fiber, fiberglass, and even recycled content from discarded ceiling tiles. As these tiles get older they become more fragile and can break easier, so use some caution when painting.

If painting isn't an option and you need to replace a tile, it's not a difficult task. In a suspended ceiling, to replace a stained or damaged tile, simply push it upward, then tilt it and slip it out of the channels. To install a new one, follow the same procedure but in reverse order. 

Follow these steps to replace interlocking ceiling tiles.

  1. Put on safety glasses and work gloves, and begin by making cuts with a utility knife across the tile in an "X" pattern.
  2. After cutting, start in the middle of the tile and begin removing the old pieces and throw them away.
  3. Next, remove any old staples, nails, and brads that may be protruding from the furring strips and scrape off any excess, dried-on adhesive if any was used.

Once all the damaged or stained tiles are removed, you're ready to replace them.

  1. Begin by installing the first tile up on the framework, stapling it to the furring strips where the two sides of the tile have the extended lips, stapling about every half foot.
  2. Continue to staple tiles to the framework and push the interlocking lipped edges of the replacement tile into the grooves of a tile already installed.
  3. Now staple the extended lip on the other two sides of that tile. Repeat until all damaged tiles have been replaced.

If replacing tiles in the ceiling's middle, you won't be able to interlock the edges on each side of the tile in the final row. Staples can't be used since they'd be visible, so you'll need to cut the larger staple edge off and use adhesive to attach that edge to the furring strip framework.

It will take a little time, patience, and planning to get it done correctly, but cleaning, painting, or replacing acoustical tiles will be well worth the effort when you see the final results.

Product Compliance and Suitability

The product statements contained in this guide are intended for general informational purposes only. Such product statements do not constitute a product recommendation or representation as to the appropriateness, accuracy, completeness, correctness or currentness of the information provided. Information provided in this guide does not replace the use by you of any manufacturer instructions, technical product manual, or other professional resource or adviser available to you. Always read, understand and follow all manufacturer instructions.