How to End Backsplash: The Complete Guide

Backsplashes are a popular design element in kitchens and bathrooms. Often made of tile or other water-resistant materials, they serve both aesthetic and functional purposes. However, there may come a time when you wish to remove or alter an existing backsplash. Ending a backsplash properly ensures you don’t damage the walls or surrounding surfaces. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps for safely ending a backsplash.

Choosing Whether to Remove or Alter the Backsplash

The first decision is whether you want to completely remove the backsplash or simply update part of it. Here are some factors to consider:

Reasons to Completely Remove the Backsplash

  • You’re doing a full kitchen or bathroom remodel with a new design aesthetic. The old backsplash doesn’t fit.
  • The current backsplash is damaged beyond repair or has flaws in the original installation.
  • You want to replace the backsplash material entirely, for example switching from tile to stone or glass mosaic.
  • The existing backsplash has an outdated color scheme or style that you want to get rid of.
  • Removing gives you a fresh slate to install an entirely new backsplash.

Reasons to Only Alter Part of the Backsplash

  • Your goal is to update part of the backsplash but keep the overall design.
  • Only part of the backsplash area is damaged or flawed.
  • You want to keep most of the original backsplash but change out a few tiles or install new accent tiles.
  • The backsplash is in good condition overall but could use some minor updates or refreshing.
  • This option is less costly and labor intensive than replacing the entire backsplash.

Once you decide on the scope of the project, follow the steps below for safe backsplash removal or alteration.

Removing the Entire Backsplash

If you decide to remove the entire backsplash, take the following steps:

1. Gather Your Materials

You will need:

  • Eye protection
  • Work gloves
  • Dust mask
  • Pry bar or putty knife
  • Hammer
  • Chisel
  • Utility knife
  • Multipurpose cleaner
  • Garbage bags
  • Drywall repair supplies like joint compound, tape, and drywall patches

2. Clear the Area

Remove everything from the counters, range, and shelves around the backsplash area. This protects your belongings and gives you room to work. Turn off and disconnect any fixtures attached to the backsplash like light fixtures or soap dispensers.

3. Prepare the Surface

Use a multipurpose cleaner and water to wash the entire backsplash surface. This helps remove built-up grime and grease. Allow it to fully dry before you start demolition.

4. Score the Grout Lines

Use a utility knife to score along the grout lines surrounding each tile. Only cut into the grout, not the tiles themselves. This helps weaken the grout so the tiles can release more easily.

5. Carefully Remove the Tiles

Start prying tiles off in small sections working from the top down. Wedge the pry bar or putty knife into a grout line and gently twist and pry. Tap lightly with a hammer if needed. As you remove tiles, place them directly into garbage bags to contain dust and debris.

Be careful not to damage the drywall behind the tile. Go slowly and assess after removing each section.

6. Get Rid of Any Remaining Grout or Adhesive

Once all tiles are removed, examine the wall for any remaining grout or adhesive. Use a multipurpose tool, putty knife, or chisel to scrape off any excess. A grout removal tool with a rotating carbide tip works well for stubborn areas.

7. Clean the Wall Surface

Use a drywall sander with 80-100 grit sandpaper to smooth the area. Then wipe away all dust with a dry cloth. Wash the walls down again with multipurpose cleaner and rinse thoroughly. Allow to dry completely.

8. Make Any Necessary Drywall Repairs

Examine the drywall for any gouges, holes, cracked corners, or other damage. Repair any flaws with drywall joint compound and tape per package directions. Sand smooth when dry.

9. Prime the Surface

Once repairs are complete and the walls are smooth and clean, apply a stain-blocking primer to the entire backsplash area. Allow to dry fully before installing the new backsplash.

10. Install the New Backsplash

Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions to install your new backsplash tiles, panels, or other materials. Take care to waterproof appropriately around sinks, range, or other wet areas.

With patience and proper technique, you can completely transform the look of your kitchen or bath by removing and replacing an outdated or flawed backsplash.

Updating Only Part of the Backsplash

For a smaller backsplash update, it is possible to remove and replace only certain portions:

1. Determine Which Areas to Update

Examine the backsplash and decide which specific areas need refreshing. This may include a single damaged tile, one section around the stove, accent tiles, or an outer border or trim row of tiles. Mark the boundaries with painters tape.

2. Protect Surrounding Areas

Cover the countertops, range, and any adjacent backsplash areas you want to preserve with rosin paper or plastic sheeting. Mask off with painter’s tape.

3. Remove Marked Tiles

Following the main backsplash removal steps above, carefully pry off only the marked tiles you want to replace. Take care not to damage surrounding tiles or drywall.

4. Clean and Smooth the Area

Scrape away old adhesive and grout. Sand the edges of the remaining backsplash tiles smooth. Clean the exposed wall area so it’s ready for new tile installation.

5. Cut New Tiles

Measure the openings where old tiles were removed and cut your new replacement tiles accordingly. Use a tile wet saw for clean precise cuts. Grind cut edges smooth with a stone.

6. Adhere New Tiles

Apply tile mastic adhesive using a notched trowel. Firmly press the new replacement tiles into the adhesive. Use tile spacers to get consistent grout line spacing.

7. Regrout All Seams

Once the adhesive has cured per the manufacturer directions, mix up your grout. Apply into all seams between old tiles and new tiles, wiping away excess grout with a damp sponge.

8. Seal and Finish

Remove painter’s tape and plastic from surrounding areas. Apply a penetrating grout sealer to all regrouted areas and wipe any haze. Buff dry with a soft cloth.

With this more minimal approach, you can update just a portion of the backsplash while leaving intact areas you still like. This cuts down on labor, cost, and install time compared to a total backsplash replacement.

Removing Backsplash Prior to Countertop Replacement

When replacing countertops, you often need to remove portions or all of the backsplash first. Here are some tips for removing a backsplash in preparation for new countertops:

  • Only demo the minimum area required for countertop installation. If possible, preserve upper backsplash areas that won’t get covered.
  • Use painters tape and rosin paper to mask off areas of the backsplash you aren’t removing to prevent damage.
  • Take photographs from all angles before starting demolition to help with reinstallation later.
  • Number each tile and draw a map of its location before removing. This will make it easier to reassemble the pattern correctly.
  • Pry wall tiles off gently and gradually. Don’t try to forcefully chisel off large sections at once.
  • Inspect the exposed wall and cabinet surfaces. Sand and prime any flaws prior to installing the new countertop.
  • Communicate with the countertop installer about the height the new backsplash should start above the countertop. Leave this area bare.
  • After countertops are installed, reapply any salvaged original tiles according to your numbering system and layout map. Supplement with new matching tiles if needed.

Removing only what’s essential for the countertop installation helps retain the original backsplash design while still accommodating the new countertops.

How to Remove Cement, Mastic, Thinset, or Grout

Several types of adhesive are commonly used to secure backsplash tiles:

Cement Backer Board

Cement board provides a durable, water-resistant layer between tiles and drywall. Remove it by:

  • Score lines in the cement board with a carbide-tipped scoring tool.
  • Break pieces off using a hammer and chisel working from the top down.
  • Scrape off any remaining material or backing paper using a multi tool.
  • Smooth with 80 grit sandpaper.

Mastic or Adhesive

Tile mastic is a sticky adhesive paste. To remove:

  • Heat it with a hair dryer or heat gun to soften the bond.
  • Gently pry tiles off once heated using a putty knife.
  • Scrape off residual mastic with a razor blade or putty knife.

Thinset Mortar

Thinset is applied thinly under backsplash tile. Remove as follows:

  • Use a chisel or oscillating multi tool to chip away large pieces.
  • For thinset residue, use a rough sponge or abrasive pad while applying mineral spirits.

Epoxy Grout

Epoxy grouts are durable and water resistant. To remove:

  • Use a carbide-tipped grout removal blade to abrade away epoxy grout.
  • Softens epoxy with mineral spirits applied lightly. Let it penetrate 5-10 mins before scrubbing.

Always wear eye and hand protection when using any solvents or scraping tools during adhesive removal. Work in a well-ventilated area.

How to Remove Backsplash Without Damaging Walls

Removing backsplash without wall damage takes patience and the right technique:

  • Always score grout lines before attempting to pry off tiles. This prevents ripping off chunks of drywall beneath.
  • Start prying tiles in a top corner and work down gradually. Don’t rip off large sections at once.
  • Use hand tools like putty knives and pry bars instead of power tools. Allow momentum from swinging a hammer to pop tiles off instead of brute force.
  • Stop and reassess if a tile won’t release easily. Try reheating the area with a heat gun first before prying with more force.
  • Never use screwdrivers, flat pry bars or crowbars. The narrow tips can puncture and gouge drywall.
  • Keep tiles intact as much as possible when prying off to avoid shards digging into drywall.
  • Remove any loose drywall face paper or broken edges. Fill gouges with joint compound before priming.

Work slowly and carefully, and you can remove tile backsplash without wall damage.

Can You Paint Over Existing Backsplash?

Painting over an existing backsplash is possible, but has limitations:


  • Far less labor intensive and cheaper than replacing tiles.
  • Allows you to drastically change color or finish of the backsplash.
  • Helpful for temporarily refreshing a backsplash between full remodels.


  • Doesn’t work well with textured or 3D tile surfaces. Paint adheres poorly.
  • Tiles may show through painted finish giving a patchy appearance.
  • Grouting between tiles remains visible and may not match painted color.
  • Paint inevitably wears more quickly than ceramic or stone and may require frequent touch ups or recoating.

For best results painting a backsplash:

  • Choose high quality 100% acrylic latex paint formulated for kitchen & bath use.
  • Thoroughly clean and degloss tiles before priming and painting.
  • Apply an etching primer first for maximum paint adhesion.
  • Use multiple thin coats of paint allowing full drying between coats.
  • Expect to refresh painted backsplash every 1-2 years as paint wears.

Painting can serve as a temporary backsplash update but works best on smooth tile or surfaces without grout lines.

How to Protect Surrounding Areas When Removing Backsplash

To avoid damaging neighboring surfaces during backsplash demo:

  • Clear countertops entirely of any items that could get broken or dirty.
  • Cover countertops with rosin paper taped down securely with painter’s tape.
  • Use plastic sheeting or cardboard attached with painter’s tape to mask off adjacent walls or cabinets.
  • Use painters tape to outline the backsplash removal boundaries so you don’t exceed them during demo.
  • Sweep and clean surrounding floor areas well and lay down drop cloths or tarps.
  • Wear protective glasses and work gloves during the tile removal process.
  • Pry tiles off gently and carefully deposit directly into trash bags. Don’t let shards scatter.
  • Use thick sponges to contain water spray and residue when scrubbing off adhesive or thinset.
  • Be cautious when using any solvents like mineral spirits that can damage countertops or painted cabinets.
  • Sand and smooth any rough edges to prevent snagging or abrasions on neighboring surfaces.

Proper masking and drop cloths are your best defense against damage to surrounding areas during backsplash removal or refresh projects. Work slowly and clean up debris frequently.

Backsplash Removal Cost

Removing and replacing an existing backsplash involves both labor and material expenses:

Demolition Costs

  • Basic demolition of a 10 sq ft backsplash area generally ranges from $200-$500 depending on the tile, accessibility, adhesive used and local rates.
  • Complex or commercial size backsplash tear out may cost $10-$25 per sq ft or more.

Material Expenses

  • New tile costs $5 and up per sq ft for basic ceramic or porcelain. More premium glass, metal or stone tiles cost $15-$50+ per sq ft.
  • Thinset, grout, edge trim, sealing products, tools, and other supplies add $200-500 or more to material expenses.
  • Hiring a contractor to remove and install a new backsplash often runs $50-$100 per hour.

Total Cost Range

  • DIY backsplash demo and replacement of a 10 sq ft area: $500-$1000
  • Contractor install of a new 10 sq ft backsplash: $1500-$2500

Costs are higher if hidden damage or extensive drywall/plumbing repairs are needed behind existing tile. Consider potential costs before beginning any backsplash removal project.

Backsplash Removal Process FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions about backsplash removal:

Is it cheaper to remove or go over existing backsplash?

Removing and replacing the backsplash completely is generally more expensive due to labor and material costs. Painting over or applying new tiles over top is cheaper but has downsides like visible seams or grout lines showing through.

How do I soften mastic or grout for easier removal?

Heating the tiles and adhesive with a heat gun or hair dryer softens the bond allowing tiles to release more easily. Avoid heating too intensely or applying direct flame which can scorch surfaces.

Can backsplash tile damage drywall if pulled off improperly?

Yes, prying tiles forcibly without scoring grout lines first often tears off chunks of drywall or paper facing. Damaged areas must be repaired prior to new backsplash installation. Work slowly and carefully.

Is it better to smash tiles off or remove whole?

Removing tiles fully intact is preferable to break them into shards. The broken edges of shattered tile can dig into and gouge drywall. Intact tile removal reduces wall damage.

Should backsplash go all the way to ceiling?

Not necessarily. Many backsplashes stop a few inches from the ceiling to allow fitting in crown molding. Cabinets and range hoods also often interrupt full ceiling height. Check standard heights but design as desired.

Can I put new backsplash directly over old?

It is possible but not ideal. The adhesive bond and smooth finish will be compromised going over existing tile. The extra thickness also pushes the new tile out further. Fully removing old tile provides the best surface.


Ending a backsplash by removing or refreshing it takes careful planning and step-by-step execution. Always use proper safety gear and exercise caution not to harm walls or surrounding surfaces. With the right materials, tools, and techniques however, you can rid your space of outdated or damaged backsplash and in turn install an elegant new one in its place. Take time to assess the scope of your project and arm yourself with the information above. An attractive, durable backsplash can greatly enhance the aesthetics and function of any kitchen or bath.