How to Break Up Concrete Slab

How to Break Up Concrete Slab

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It’s happened, there was no avoiding it, but it’s finally that time. Your concrete patio is cracking, lifting, and unappealing. You could try to fix it, but sometimes things are beyond repair. In that case, you might want to break the concrete up instead.

While that might sound like a daunting task, it definitely is something you can do by yourself.  Continue reading to learn the exact process.

3 Best Ways to Break Up a Concrete Slab

Before getting into the details, let’s take a look at what are some of the best ways to break up a concrete slab. By far the three most common methods involve using either a sledgehammer or a jackhammer. Using chemicals is an option too.

Method #1: Sledgehammer

Sledge Hammer The first method is the sledgehammer. Using a sledgehammer is best if you are dealing with a slab that is less than three inches thick. It is also the best option if you are on a budget. If you are able to dig, find the bottom, and pry up the corners, the sledgehammer is your choice.

When using the sledgehammer, make sure you pry up the concrete as you are breaking it. Always pull out chunks of broken concrete as you go, this will lower the chances of small debris flying up at you.

Make sure you don’t hit the same spot twice, as this creates smaller pieces that, again, could fly up at you.


Method #2: Jackhammer

Jackhammer The second method to break a concrete slab is probably the most exciting and entertaining, the jackhammer. While they may look fun, jackhammers are dangerous and need to be used with caution. This method is best for slabs that are thicker than three inches and hard to break up manually.

There are two different types of a jackhammer: electric and pneumatic. Both of them use high-power and high-speed motion to break concrete, but they operate very differently.

Electric jackhammers use an electric motor and must be connected to an outlet. The electricity rotates the crank and pumps air back and forth within the tool to create the forceful motion that breaks the concrete. Pneumatic jackhammers are more mobile, instead of using electricity from a power outlet, they use a high-pressure air compressor. Typically, the air compressor is powered by gas or diesel to provide enough force to break the slab.

Much like the sledgehammer, it is important to dispose of broken slabs as you go to prevent any possible injury from flying debris. You also should not use the jackhammer on pieces of concrete that have already been broken, as this can cause injury or damage to other surfaces.

A similar, but lighter-duty tool is a demolition hammer.


Method #3: Expansive Chemicals

Expansive Chemicals for Concrete Breaking The third method to break concrete is the use of expansive chemicals. This is by far the cleanest and quietest method to get rid of slabs that are thicker than six inches.

Using chemicals for concrete removal allows the concrete to crack, cut, and break all on its own. All you have to do is drill some holes almost to the bottom, mix the chemicals, and pour them into the concrete. Then, you just have to wait for the chemicals to do their job – expand in volume and by doing so break the concrete.

When all the concrete is broken up, dispose of it with the help of a heavy-duty wheelbarrow.

How to Break Up a Concrete Slab: A Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you know the basic tools and materials you can use for the job, let’s go through the actual process step by step.

Step #1: Cover the Slab

The first step is to cover the concrete with plastic sheeting. This keeps flying debris to a minimum, protecting you and any objects that may be near.

While this is not absolutely necessary, it can certainly help to keep any potential mess at bay.

Step #2: Dig Under the Slab If Possible

If you are able, dig underneath the slab of concrete and start lifting it. You might want to use a pry bar to do that.

This will make it easier to break the concrete if you are using a sledgehammer.

Step #3: Start Breaking

Next, once you have determined which tool to use, start breaking the concrete.

If the slab is less than three inches, and you can lift up the corners, use a sledgehammer. If the slab is thicker than three inches, you can use a jackhammer. For slabs thicker than six inches, it is best to use an expansive chemical.

Breaking Concrete with a Sledge Hammer

Step #4: Pry as You Go

The fourth step is to make sure you keep lifting the concrete as you go if you are using a sledgehammer.

This will help create an easier break, resulting in less debris.

Step #5: Cut Any Extra Materials as You Go

Step five, depending on your concrete and what is underneath, you may need to cut any extra materials as you go. If there is mesh under your concrete, cut with bolt cutters. If there is rebar underneath, cut with a metal blade.

Step #6: Dispose of Debris

The sixth and final step is the disposal of the debris. You should call your local dump or waste service to determine the best way to get rid of the broken concrete.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

Most importantly, make sure to plan your disposal at least a week in advance. This ensures that you are prepared for any fees you might need to pay. It also lets the dump or waste service know that they should expect your disposal.

Another tip is to make sure you have plenty of help to complete the job as quickly and efficiently as possible. Recruit help from friends and family members. Ideally, you should have between four and eight people in total, depending on the size of the job. Have half of your team help breaking the concrete, and the other half hauling debris out of the way.

To help with the latter, look into renting a power wheelbarrow. Especially do so if the debris container is uphill. They can be used on any type of terrain because they feature a self-propelled all-wheel drive. This allows the wheelbarrow to do most of the hauling work, making it easier for you to focus on demolition.

If you are not using a power wheelbarrow, make sure the wheelbarrow you are using is heavy-duty, not lightweight. Also, be sure to haul debris in small loads. This will make sure you and your help don’t get too worn out too quickly.

Safety Precautions to Keep in Mind

There may be unexpected hazards when breaking up your concrete. It is impossible to prepare for these, but if you know what they are you can maneuver around them.

Before starting the demolition of your concrete patio, you should be aware of plumbing lines leading to your house. It is easy to slice through water pipes, especially if they are older and have started decaying. If you slice a plumbing line, it could cause issues for not only you but your neighbors as well.

Be aware of communication lines as well. There is the potential of cable, phone, and network lines being run underneath the concrete. These lines allow access to the Internet and phone services. If they get cut, it can be an expensive repair.

All that said, the most dangerous line for you to cut is an electrical line. If the power tool you are using comes in contact with electricity, you could be electrocuted and seriously injured. It can also cause power outages or spark a fire. Make it a priority to find out if there are any electrical lines that you need to know about before powering up the jackhammer.


There really is no avoiding the fact that eventually, your concrete patio – or any other slab for that matter – will need to be broken down and replaced. The three best ways to take care of it yourself are using a sledgehammer for thin slabs, a jackhammer for slabs more than three inches thick, and expansive chemicals for the thickest slabs. In case you are looking to break down concrete steps specifically, check this guide.

When working on the job, be sure to follow the proper steps and maintain the safety of yourself and others helping you. Try to cover the concrete with a plastic cover to minimize small debris flying and causing injury. Follow safety precautions that may be included with the tool you are using.

Recruit as much help as possible for your job. It will help prevent you from over-working and injuring yourself, and it will help the job be finished as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Most importantly, be prepared for any lines that may run under the concrete. If one of these lines gets cut, it can cause serious injury and inconvenience to those involved and those helping you.