How to Remove a Kitchen Tile Backsplash

Removing a kitchen tile backsplash can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be accomplished by the average DIYer. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to remove tile backsplash in your kitchen.

Gather the Necessary Materials

Before starting demo, make sure you have all the necessary materials on hand:

  • Safety gear – This includes goggles, durable work gloves, a face mask or respirator, and knee pads
  • Hammer – A 3-lb sledgehammer works best for breaking up tile and mortar
  • Cold chisel – A 1-inch flat cold chisel helps pry up stubborn tiles
  • Pry bar – A sturdy pry bar is useful for removing trim and loosening tiles
  • Dustpan and broom – For cleaning up debris
  • Shop vacuum – For cleaning up dust and small debris
  • Tile remover solution – This solution helps loosen mortar and reduce effort
  • 5-gallon buckets – For collecting tile pieces and debris
  • Drop cloths – For protecting floors and surfaces from damage
  • Utility knife – For scoring grout lines and cutting mesh backing

Make sure to use the proper safety gear like goggles, gloves, knee pads and a face mask at all times during the demo process. The debris can be sharp and irritating to the eyes and lungs.

Prepare the Workspace

Before starting demo, you need to thoroughly prepare the workspace:

  • Clear countertops and remove anything breakable or valuable from the backsplash area.
  • Protect floors, countertops and appliances with drop cloths.
  • Have a clear debris removal plan – set up buckets and bags for collecting rubble.
  • Shut off electricity and gas to stove to prevent fires or explosions from exposed lines.
  • Cover nearby surfaces like cabinets and walls with plastic sheeting.
  • Open windows and doors to maximize ventilation during demo. The tile remover solution and mortar dust can be irritating.

Make sure you have buckets or bags ready to quickly collect broken tile pieces and debris as you go along. Shut off gas and electricity to prevent any accidents while the backsplash is exposed.

Score Grout Lines and Cut Mesh

With your workspace prepped, you can start prepping the tiles for removal:

  • Use a utility knife to score all the grout lines surrounding each tile. Cut all the way through the grout and mesh.
  • For mesh-mounted mosaic sheets, make cuts every 6 inches across the mesh.
  • This scoring and cutting allows you to remove tiles in neat sections rather than one by one.
  • Wear gloves during this step to avoid cutting yourself on sharp edges and grout.

Scoring the grout lines and cutting any mesh backing prep the surface for removal. It allows you to pry off whole sections rather than chiseling each tile individually.

Apply Tile Remover Solution

With the grout scored and mesh cut, you can now apply a tile remover solution:

  • Apply the solution liberally to the tiles and grout with a paintbrush or sponge.
  • Let it sit for 5-10 minutes so it can penetrate and soften the mortar.
  • Apply more solution and agitate with a grout rake or stiff brush while waiting.
  • The remover contains chemicals that break down mortar to make tiles easier to dislodge.
  • Follow all safety precautions when using chemical removers – wear gloves and eye protection.

Letting the remover solution penetrate for a few minutes before demo softens the mortar substantially, allowing tiles to be pried off with minimal effort. Just take care not to get it on surfaces you don’t intend to demolish.

Knock OffTiles with Hammer and Chisel

With the tile remover applied, you can start knocking off tiles:

  • Use a 3-lb sledgehammer and 1-inch cold chisel to smash off tiles.
  • Position chisel into grout lines or under tiles and strike firmly with the hammer.
  • Strike tiles diagonally across the face to fracture them.
  • Clear all debris frequently for a clean surface to strike.
  • Remove tiles in whole sections by working methodically in rows.
  • Wear eye and ear protection – tile pieces and mortar can fly.

Breaking tiles diagonally across their face prevents the force from hammering straight back at you. Removing sections at a time is faster than individual tiles. Keep the surface clear of debris for clean hammer striking.

Pry Up Stubborn Tiles

For stubborn tiles that won’t come free with the sledgehammer:

  • Use a sturdy pry bar, working it under tiles and applying upward force.
  • Place extra shims or wood blocks under pry bar for additional leverage.
  • If needed, reapply tile remover and let penetrate for 5 more minutes before prying.
  • Take your time and pry carefully to avoid damaging the wall behind the tiles.

Sometimes mortar adheres tiles too strongly for the sledgehammer alone. Pry bars give the extra leverage needed, but use caution to avoid tearing up wall board or plaster behind the tile.

Remove Backer Board if Present

If you have backer board behind the tile:

  • Inspect to see if boards are nailed or glued.
  • For nailed backer, use pry bar and hammer claws to pull out nails and remove boards.
  • For glued backer, use chisel to scrape away adhered areas, then pry up.
  • Removing backer leaves you with a smooth surface for new backsplash.
  • Dispose of backer boards properly – most are not recyclable.

Backer removal takes some extra work, but eliminates an uneven surface for the new backsplash. The boards are rarely salvageable, so plan to haul them away for proper disposal.

Clean Surface and Inspect for Damage

With all tile removed:

  • Wash the now-exposed wall surface with water to remove dust and debris.
  • Inspect the wall for any damage that may need repair.
  • Use a putty knife to scrape off any remaining grout or mortar.
  • Sand rough areas to achieve a smooth surface.
  • Repair any holes or missing drywall before installing the new backsplash.
  • Allow the surface to fully dry before applying any new adhesive.

Address any wall damage before applying the new backsplash. Scrape off all old grout and mortar so the new tiles adhere well. Letting the surface dry prevents problems with new adhesive bonding.

Dispose of Debris

Don’t forget the final step – proper debris disposal:

  • Place all tile pieces and backer board in boxes, buckets or bags.
  • Seal containers well so dust and particles don’t escape.
  • Check if your regular waste collector will remove tile debris. Many require special disposal.
  • You can also rent a covered dumpster for tile debris and other construction waste.
  • Haul tiles to a construction and demolition landfill if needed. Fees typically apply.

Check local regulations for tile disposal, as many haulers and landfills require special handling. Protect yourself and others from dust by sealing it well.

Taking the time to properly prepare your workspace, use the right tools, and work systematically will make removing a tile backsplash much easier. Be sure to use proper safety gear and debris disposal procedures.

FAQs About Removing Tile Backsplash

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about removing kitchen tile backsplash:

Should I hire a professional to remove backsplash tile?

Removing backsplash tile is typically a manageable DIY project for the average homeowner. As long as you have the right tools and take proper safety precautions, you can likely do it yourself and save the cost of a professional.

Can I just put new tile over old backsplash?

It is generally not advisable to install new tile over your existing backsplash. The layers of mortar and tile can make the wall unlevel and prone to cracking. It is better to remove the old tile completely before doing a new backsplash.

What tools will I need to remove kitchen backsplash?

A typical tool kit for removing tile backsplash includes a sledgehammer, cold chisel, pry bar, utility knife, dustpan and shop vacuum. Safety gear like gloves, goggles and knee pads is also a must.

How do I remove stubborn backsplash tile?

For tile that resists removal by sledgehammer, use a pry bar wedged into grout lines to apply extra leverage. Letting a tile remover solution sit on stubborn tiles for 5-10 minutes before prying can also help weaken adhesion.

How do I get mortar and adhesive off once tiles are removed?

Scraping with a putty knife and sanding will remove remaining bits of mortar and adhesive. You can also use an abrasive sponge for stubborn adhesive residue. Just make sure the surface is smooth before applying new backsplash.

Can removed backsplash tile be recycled?

Most standard backsplash tiles contain contaminants and are not recyclable, unfortunately. The best option is disposing at a construction & demolition landfill. Some may be suitable for non-commercial reuse in crafts or home projects.

Is it better to remove backsplash tile intact or break it up?

Scoring grout lines and breaking tiles into smaller sections with a sledgehammer is generally easier and faster than prying off each full tile. Just be sure to wear protective gear to avoid injury from flying tile pieces.


Removing kitchen tile backsplash has a reputation for being a messy, frustrating task. By using the proper tools and techniques, though, you can demolish backsplash tile efficiently and safely. Following the steps outlined here will make the process go as smoothly as possible.

The most important things to remember are wearing protective gear, preparing your work area properly, and using the right mix of demolition tools. Take time to score grout lines before smashing tiles so they remove cleanly. Dispose of debris carefully, as tile often requires special handling.

With some perseverance and the right approach, those outdated or damaged backsplash tiles can come down quickly. You’ll have a smooth, clean surface ready for a stunning new backsplash design in no time!