A kitchen backsplash serves both decorative and functional purposes in your cooking space. Often made of tile, metal, glass, or stone, it protects the walls from splashes, stains, and moisture while adding visual interest. However, there may come a time when you wish to remove or replace an existing backsplash for an updated look or to repair damaged areas. Removing a backsplash can be a big project, but when armed with the right tools and techniques, it can be accomplished successfully as a DIY project.
Assess the Existing Backsplash
The first step is to look at the current backsplash and determine what type it is and how it was installed.
- Ceramic or stone tile – These are usually set in a mortar bed or mastic. The grout between the tiles will need to be removed as well.
- Metal backsplash – Often made from stainless steel, copper, or tin, these have a solid attachment to the wall rather than grout.
- Laminate panels – Backsplashes made of laminate, PVC, acrylic or fiberglass sheets are lightweight and typically glued or screwed into place.
- Painted backsplash – A painted backsplash has no tiles or panels to remove, just layers of paint to strip away.
Knowing the specifics of the existing backsplash will allow you to determine which tools and techniques will be required for removal.
Gather the Necessary Materials
Based on the type of backsplash you’ll be removing, gather the appropriate tools and supplies ahead of time:
- Safety gear – gloves, eye protection, mask/respirator
- Pry bar
- Putty knives
- Shovel or dust pan
- Utility knife
- Grout saw
- Multi-tool with scraping and grinding attachments
- Heat gun
- Paint stripper
- Drop cloths
- Trash bags
Having all materials ready will make the removal process smoother.
Protect Surrounding Areas
Since removing a backsplash often involves dust, debris, and chemicals, it’s important to cover nearby surfaces, appliances, and fixtures. Use drop cloths, plastic sheeting, or masking tape to protect:
- Sinks and faucets
- Electrical outlets
Proper masking and drop cloths will save clean-up time later.
If your backsplash has any installed accessories like a soap dispenser, towel bar, or outlets, these will need to be taken out first before backsplash removal can begin. Use a screwdriver to remove any screws or mounting hardware. Set accessories aside carefully to reinstall later.
Prepare the Work Area
Clear counters and stove area to provide ample space to work. Remove any dishes, appliances, rugs, curtains or removable fixtures from the immediate backsplash area. A wide, open workspace allows you to maneuver tools and work efficiently.
Shut Off Water Supply
If you’ll be removing tile or mastic near plumbing fixtures or pipes, it’s important to shut off the water supply lines first. Turn off the valves under the sink or behind appliances before proceeding with backsplash removal to avoid accidental leaks or bursting pipes.
Start Removing the Backsplash
With your workspace prepped and supplies at hand, you can start dismantling the backsplash using the appropriate method for your backsplash type:
- Use a grout saw or oscillating multi-tool to scrape out all the existing grout between tiles. Vacuum up debris as you go.
- Insert a pry bar under each tile and gently pry upwards and outwards to loosen it. Apply even pressure.
- Use a hammer and chisel to lightly tap tiles to dislodge them if needed.
- Once tiles are freed, scrape off any remaining mastic or mortar using a putty knife.
- Look for panels or trim pieces held in place by screws. Remove with a screwdriver.
- Use a pry bar and hammer to gently loosen any caulked or glued areas.
- Use a heat gun to soften stubborn caulk and then pry metal sheets off.
- Scrape off any remaining adhesive with a putty knife.
- Remove any molding or trim pieces around the edges using a pry bar.
- Use a utility knife to cut through caulk or mastic between panels.
- Slowly but firmly pull each panel away from the wall.
- Scrape residual adhesive surfaces smooth.
- Use a heat gun to loosen layers of paint and soften old paint bond.
- Apply paint stripper according to product directions.
- Use a putty knife to gently scrape paint away once softened.
- Thoroughly wash walls once paint is removed to neutralize any chemicals.
Regardless of backsplash type, work slowly and carefully. Removing a backsplash takes time and patience!
Clean the Wall Surface
With the backsplash fully removed, give the exposed wall area a thorough cleaning. Use a multi-surface cleaner and scrub brush to remove lingering debris, dirt, adhesive, grout haze and any soap scum under where the backsplash was. Rinse well and let dry fully before applying any new backsplash.
Dispose of Debris
Properly contain and dispose of all debris generated from removing the backsplash. Sweep up dust and shards. Place broken tiles, grout, caulk, mortar, and strips of metal or laminate in trash bags. Make sure to wear a mask when handling dusty debris. Dispose according to local regulations.
Extra Cautions Near Plumbing
If you detached any sections of backsplash near plumbing lines or fixtures, check pipes and supply lines for leaks. Turn water supply back on and check under sinks and around appliances. Make any needed repairs before installing replacement backsplash.
Prep for a New Backsplash
Once the old backsplash is removed and wall surface cleaned, you can proceed with installing a fresh, new backsplash. Proper prep is key:
- Inspect wall area for any needed repairs – fill holes, smooth surfaces.
- Give textured or heavily painted walls a coat of skim coating for smooth adhesion.
- Prime the walls with tile adhesive primer before applying new backsplash tiles or panels.
With the wall prepped and primed, you’ll have a clean slate for your new kitchen backsplash!
FAQ about Removing Kitchen Backsplashes
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about removing an existing kitchen backsplash:
How long does it take to remove a tile backsplash?
Removing an entire tile backsplash will take at least several hours, if not multiple full days, for a DIYer. Working slowly and carefully is recommended.
Can I pry off backsplash tiles without breaking them?
If they are stuck fast, tiles will likely crack and break when pried off the wall. Don’t expect to salvage full tiles. Wear eye protection when prying.
What’s the easiest kitchen backsplash material to remove?
Laminate and acrylic backsplash panels can be taken down most readily. Prying off each panel takes patience but doesn’t require chiseling out grout or mortar.
How do you get rid of old tile mastic?
Scraping down to the bare surface is ideal. For any remaining thick mastic, try softened it with a heat gun and then scraping or sanding smooth.
Can I put up new tile where an old backsplash was removed?
Yes, as long as the wall area is cleaned, smoothed, and primed. Use an adhesive primer made for backsplashes and tile.
What’s better for removing old caulk – heat gun or multi tool?
A heat gun is useful for softening and loosening caulk for removal by hand tools. A multi tool with scraping attachments can then clear it away.
What do I do with the empty wall space once my backsplash is taken down?
Clean the surface thoroughly once free of the old backsplash. When ready to install the new backsplash, apply primer to the blank wall so tile or panels will adhere properly.
Removing an outdated or damaged kitchen backsplash takes time, patience and the right tools. But with proper preparation and safe removal techniques, a DIYer can take on this project and get their wall ready for a fresh, new backsplash. Always work slowly and carefully. Protect yourself and surrounding surfaces from debris. And take extra precautions when working around plumbing fixtures. With the right approach and materials, those dated ceramic tiles or worn laminate sheets can come down and you can create a backsplash you’ll love.