A tile backsplash can be a beautiful addition to any kitchen or bathroom, providing a decorative focal point and protecting walls from splashes and stains. However, there are times when you may wish to remove an existing backsplash and install a new one – whether you want to update the look, change colors or materials, or fix any damage behind the tiles. Removing a tile backsplash can be a big project, but it’s certainly doable as a DIY project if you take the proper precautions.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the entire process of removing a tile backsplash, from start to finish. We’ll cover how to prepare for the project, tools and materials you’ll need, steps for safe removal, cleaning up afterwards, and how to install a new backsplash. We’ll also provide tips to make the process easier and avoid potential mistakes. Follow along with these steps and you’ll be well on your way to a fresh new backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom.
How to Prepare for Removing a Tile Backsplash
Before you start chiseling away at those tiles, there are a few key steps to take to prepare for the project:
Gather Your Supplies
You’ll want to have all the necessary tools and materials on hand before beginning demo work. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Chisel and pry bar
- Putty knife
- Gloves and eye protection
- Dust mask
- Drop cloths or tarps
- Utility knife
- Trash bags and container
- Shovel and broom
Clear the Area
Removing a backsplash can get messy, so clear everything out from the immediate workspace. Remove items from countertops, pack away any dishes or glassware, and clear appliances away from the backsplash area. Cover remaining surfaces with drop cloths.
Turn Off Electrical and Plumbing
Make sure to shut off power to any outlets, switches or lights in the backsplash area. Turn off the water supply as well if you’ll be removing tiles around sinks, faucets or plumbing fixtures. Better safe than sorry!
Score the Grout Lines
Use a utility knife or grout removal tool to score along the grout lines surrounding each tile. This will help break the tile free when you start prying. Be careful not to scratch the tiles themselves if you plan to reuse any.
Snap some photos of the existing backsplash from a few angles before you take it apart. This gives you a reference to work from when putting in the new backsplash.
Tools and Materials Needed
Now that you’re prepped, here are the essential tools and supplies you’ll need to safely and effectively remove a tile backsplash:
A claw hammer is perfect for breaking tile free from the wall. Use quick, firm taps rather than big swings.
Chisels help pry up tiles and scrape away old mortar and adhesive. Opt for varying widths.
A pry bar provides extra leverage for loosening stuck tiles. Use with care to avoid damage.
For scraping away old grout and adhesive, a rigid putty knife is invaluable.
Wear thick work gloves to protect hands from sharp tile edges and debris.
Safety glasses or goggles prevent eye injuries from flying fragments.
Use a basic dust mask or respirator to avoid breathing in fine particulate.
Cover surfaces with tarps or drop cloths to catch falling debris.
Use a sharp utility knife to score grout lines before removing tile.
Have plenty of trash bags on hand to collect broken tile pieces and disposed grout.
Shovel and Broom
A small shovel and broom help clean up debris and get rid of waste.
Steps for Removing a Tile Backsplash
Once you’re fully prepped with safety gear and the right tools, follow these key steps to demolish and remove your existing tile backsplash:
1. Score All Grout Lines
Use your utility knife to cut any remaining grout still intact between tiles. This severs the grout’s adhesion.
2. Knock Tiles Loose with a Hammer
Lightly tap tiles with the hammer at the bottom edge, working your way up. This will gradually break the adhesive’s hold.
3. Carefully Chisel Free any Stubborn Tiles
For tiles that won’t release with the hammer, use a chisel and hammer to carefully pry them free. Angle the chisel at the tile’s bottom edge and lightly tap.
4. Remove Intact Tiles
Tiles that come free whole can be saved for reuse, if desired. Carefully place intact tiles in a container.
5. Pull Away Any Remaining Adhesive
Use a putty knife or chisel to scrape off any leftover thinset mortar, grout, or adhesive on the wall.
6. Take Down the Drywall if Necessary
For drywall that’s damaged or not properly prepped, it may need to be removed and replaced with new boards.
7. Vacuum the Area Thoroughly
Use a shop vac to remove all debris, dust and loose particles from the backsplash area after demolition.
8. Make Any Needed Drywall Repairs
Cut out any damaged drywall sections and install new boards as needed.Tape seams and smooth ready for the new backsplash.
9. Dispose of Debris
Collect all broken tile pieces, grout, adhesive, and other demo debris and dispose of properly. Recycle what you can.
Tips for Easier Removal
Removing a tile backsplash takes some work, but these tips will help make the process smoother:
- For stubborn adhesive, heat it with a hair dryer or heat gun before scraping. The warmth loosens the bond.
- Apply painter’s tape along the edges of the backsplash area before demoing. This helps contain the debris.
- Wrap tile pieces in towels or bubble wrap before hammering to help contain shards.
- Go slowly and carefully when prying near sinks, faucets, lights or outlets to avoid damage.
- Wear knee pads if you’ll be scraping on your knees for better comfort.
- Play loud music – demolishing tile is noisy business, so you might as well have some fun!
What to Do After Removing Tiles
Once all the tiles are down, there are a few remaining steps before you install a fresh backsplash:
- Drywall should be freshly taped, smoothed and primed before installing the new tile.
- Measure the area and make any layout plans for the new tile orientation.
- Thoroughly clean the area of any remaining debris.
- Make any plumbing repairs if needed behind the wall.
- Inspect for any signs of mold or mildew and treat appropriately.
- Ensure the surface is smooth, dry and ready for new tile installation.
Preparing the Area for a New Backsplash
To ensure proper adhesion and alignment of your new backsplash tiles, the area needs to be prepped and ready for the new tile installation.
1. Make Any Repairs
Fix any holes, damage, or imperfections on the wall surface. Fill holes with spackle and smooth.
2. Deep Clean
Scrub the area with TSP cleaner and rinse thoroughly to remove grease, grime, and any cleaning product residues.
3. Prime the Surface
After drying completely, apply a coat of primer to create an optimal bonding surface.
4. Mark Your Layout
Measure and lightly mark vertical and horizontal guidelines in pencil where you plan to start tiling.
5. Apply Adhesive Mortar
Use a notched trowel to spread thinset mortar evenly across the area, ready for your tiles.
6. Stage Your Tiles & Supplies
Line up your tiles, spacers, grout float, and all materials nearby so installation can go smoothly.
FAQs About Removing a Tile Backsplash
If you’re tackling a backsplash removal for the first time, chances are you have plenty of questions. Here are some frequently asked questions with helpful answers:
What tools do I need to remove a tile backsplash?
The essential tools are a hammer, putty knives, chisels, pry bar, utility knife, gloves, and eye protection. A mini sledgehammer helps for heavy duty demo.
How long does it take to remove a backsplash?
Removing an average 8 ft. long backsplash often takes 2-3 hours for an experienced DIYer. Allow more time if the tiles are set in mortar rather than adhesive.
Can I pry off tiles by hand or just with a hammer?
It’s best to use a hammer and chisel to break tiles free. Prying by hand can result in injury from sharp edges and won’t provide enough force.
What’s the easiest way to get rid of old grout?
Scoring grout lines with a utility knife first allows you to chisel out the grout more cleanly. An oscillating multi-tool also works well.
Can I put up new tile right after removing the old backsplash?
It’s best to address any needed repairs to the wall first. Then thoroughly clean before applying adhesive and fresh tile.
What do I do if the drywall gets damaged during removal?
Carefully cut out any badly damaged drywall sections and replace them with fresh boards. Then tape seams and smooth.
How do I get rid of old backsplash debris?
Sweep up debris and put it in a bag or dumpster for disposal. You can recycle intact tiles and scrap metal from the project.
What’s the easiest backsplash to install?
Sheet backsplashes like stainless steel, tin ceiling panels, or plastic laminate offer simpler installation than tile. Peel-and-stick tile is another easy option.
Removing an outdated or damaged tile backsplash is a manageable project for most DIYers equipped with the right tools and preparation. Have patience, take precautions for safety and proper cleanup, and your kitchen or bathroom will soon be ready for a fresh new backsplash you can install yourself or have professionally done. Just follow the process step-by-step, do your demolition carefully, and the rest is a breeze. In no time, you’ll have a backsplash surface you’re excited to use and show off.