Removing a tile backsplash in your kitchen can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be manageable as a DIY project. A tile backsplash helps protect the walls from splashes and stains, but styles and tastes change over time. Replacing an outdated or damaged tile backsplash with something new can give your kitchen a fresh, updated look. This guide will walk you through the entire process step-by-step.
Things to Consider Before Removing Tile Backsplash
Before you start swinging a hammer, there are a few things to take into account:
Why are you removing the tile? If it is purely for cosmetic reasons to change the look, that is one consideration. However, if the tile is damaged or improperly installed and allowing water to seep through, that rating of urgency may be higher. Inspect the tile and note any problem areas.
What is behind the tile? Most kitchen tile backsplashes are installed over drywall, cement backerboard, or directly on the studs. This will determine how much demolition and preparation needs to be done before installing new tile.
How is it attached? Backsplashes are attached with tile mastic, thinset mortar, grout, and/or nails from back boards. Knowing the method used will help determine which tools are needed.
Assess the area: Note the size of the backsplash area and whether there are any special angles, outlets or switches, or built-in appliances to work around. This will impact the tile removal process.
Take safety precautions. Wear safety goggles, masks, gloves, long sleeves and pants. Tile shards and dust can easily injure eyes and lungs.
Tools and Supplies Needed
Removing tile backsplash is a demolition job, so safety gear and the right tools are critical.
Basic safety gear:
- Safety goggles
- N95 dust mask
- Work gloves
- Putty knives of various sizes
- Flat pry bar
- Utility knife
- Multi-tool oscillating saw with carbide and diamond grit blades
- Shop vacuum with hose and HEPA filter
- Drop cloths or towels
- Trash bags
- Bucket of water and sponges
- Painter’s tape
- Cordless power drill
- Cold chisels
- Ear protection
- Knee pads
Ensure you have all the necessary tools and safety equipment before starting the project. Set up a workspace with good lighting and ventilation, and spread drop cloths to capture falling debris.
Steps to Remove Tile Backsplash
With the right preparation, removing a tile backsplash is a manageable process:
1. Prepare the Workspace
Cover the countertops, cooktop, and floors with drop cloths to protect from dust and debris. Have a vacuum ready to regularly clean up.
Tape off any areas like windows, cabinets, and appliances that you want to protect. Remove any items from the backsplash area.
Turn off electricity and gas to the area at the main breakers. Remove any switch or outlet face plate covers.
2. Score the Grout Lines
Using a sharp utility knife or oscillating saw, score through the grout lines surrounding each tile. Only cut deep enough to get through the grout, not the tile.
Scoring grout lines makes the tiles easier to dislodge. Be patient—this takes time but prevents tile breakage.
3. Loosen the Tiles
Once grout lines are scored, it’s time to start removing tiles. There are a few methods:
Pry each tile off using a putty knife. Insert the putty knife blade under the edge of a tile and gently twist the blade to lift and pry the tile off the wall. Start in an inconspicuous corner or high spot first.
Tap tiles with a hammer. Use light, controlled taps with a regular or rubber mallet to dislodge individual tiles. Aim just off-center to create a twisting action.
Use an oscillating multi-tool. Select a scraper or chisel blade to deliver rapid vibrations under tiles to loosen the bond. Wear ear protection, as this tool is loud.
Remove tiles carefully and discard any broken ones. Place intact tiles in a box to reuse or repurpose creatively.
4. Remove Backer Board if Present
Sometimes backsplashes are installed over cement, fiberglass mesh, or other backer boards. Use a pry bar and hammer to pull these off once tiles are removed.
Inspect the wall underneath—if covered in adhesive mastic, this will also need removal before new tiles can be installed.
5. Clean the Wall Surface
Use a putty knife, paint scraper, or chisel blade on a multi-tool to scrape residual thinset mortar or adhesive off the wall. Go at this from a low angle to prevent digging into drywall.
Avoid metallic scrapers and razor blades—they can easily gouge. Plastic putty knives won’t damage surfaces.
Once adhesive is scraped off, scrub the wall with soapy water to remove leftover debris. Rinse clean. Inspect the wall for any damage in need of patching or sealing.
6. Dispose of Debris
Discard broken tiles, grout pieces, backer board, and adhesive materials properly. Asbestos was formerly used in some tile mastic—have it tested if the home was built before 1990.
Sweep the area before mopping. Allow the wall area to dry fully before attempting to install new backsplash tiles.
FAQs About Removing Tile Backsplash
Some common questions that come up about removing tile backsplash:
Should I Hire a Professional?
Removing backsplash tile is considered an intermediate DIY task. Handy homeowners with demolition experience should be able to tackle it safely using proper precautions and tools.
However, if the tiles contain asbestos, if the area is around complex built-ins, or if you are uncomfortable doing it, hire a professional. It’s an affordable service starting around $200-$500.
What About Electrical and Plumbing Lines?
Use extreme caution around any electrical lines, outlets, or plumbing to avoid contact with the tools. Turn off power and water supplies before starting.
Consider temporarily disconnecting appliance cords or gas lines running through the backsplash area if possible.
How Should Tiles Be Discarded?
Check local regulations for proper disposal. Most tiles can go in standard household waste receptacles. Asbestos tiles require hazardous material handling.
Broken tiles may be reused for mosaics, garden accents, or taken for recycling. Save intact tiles to sell online or use elsewhere.
Can I Put Up New Tile Right Away?
It’s best to wait 24-48 hours for the wall surface to fully dry after removing old backsplash tile and adhesives. This allows time to inspect for any hidden moisture or wall damage too.
Cleaning the area and doing any necessary repairs, patching, or priming should be completed before beginning new tile installation.
What About the Drywall Underneath?
Use care when prying tiles off to avoid ripping up the drywall itself. Some minor drywall repair is normal. Large torn areas may require sealing or replacing sections of drywall before applying new backsplash.
Cement backerboard provides an extra moisture barrier if installed over drywall. Consider adding this for kitchens and bathrooms before retiling.
Removing old backsplash tile provides a blank slate to give your kitchen a new stylish look with an updated tile design. While it qualifies as a larger-scale demolition project, it can reasonably be done as a DIY by homeowners with some experience.
The key is taking time to properly prepare the workspace, have the right tools handy, and work methodically to pry tiles off intact. Following safety measures is crucial when dealing with dust debris and sharp edges.
With the old tile gone and adhesive residue cleaned up, the wall can be prepped for a stunning new backsplash tile installation. Just take it slowly and safely, and soon you will have a kitchen backsplash you love showing off.