How to Remove Adhesive Backsplash


Removing an existing backsplash that was installed with adhesive can be a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it is very achievable as a DIY project. Adhesive backsplashes like self-adhesive tiles or backsplash panels can make for quick and easy installations, but they are notoriously difficult to take down.

The adhesive used is extremely strong and designed to keep the backsplash secured permanently. However, with some patience and hard work, you can remove an adhesive backsplash successfully. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps and tips you need to know to remove any type of adhesive backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom.

Assess the Existing Backsplash

The first step is to thoroughly examine the existing backsplash you want to remove. Determine the following:

  • Type of material – tile, panels, laminate, etc.
  • Size of tiles or panels
  • Type of adhesive used – mastic, mortar, foam adhesive strips, double-sided tape, etc.
  • Layout of tiles – grid pattern, staggered, irregular, etc.

Understanding the specifics of the current backsplash will help inform the proper removal techniques. Pay particular attention to the type of adhesive used – this will be the biggest factor in how difficult removal will be.

Also take note of any special tools you may need based on the tile size and layout. A backsplash with large tile sheets will require different tools than small mosaic tiles.

Gather the Proper Tools and Materials

Removing an adhesive backsplash requires having the right tools for the job. Gather these items before starting:

  • Pry bar – A sturdy, long metal pry bar is essential for prying up tiles and panels. Get one with at least 12-18 inches of leverage.
  • Hammer – Useful for gently tapping tiles to dislodge or break adhesive’s grip. A small sledgehammer is ideal.
  • Goggles and gloves – For safety when prying tiles and handling sharp edges. Gloves also improve grip.
  • Painter’s tape – For creating a protective barrier around work area and appliances/fixtures.
  • Drop cloths – For protecting floors and surfaces from debris.
  • Buckets and sponges – For cleaning up adhesive residue and debris.
  • utility knife – For scoring paneling or cutting through adhesive.
  • Putty knife – For scraping off excess adhesive left on wall.
  • Mineral spirits – For dissolving and cleaning adhesive residue after removal.

Having these supplies ready will make the process much smoother. Consider the size of your backsplash and how many tiles will need removal when getting multiple tools.

Protect Surrounding Areas

Before starting demo, properly protect all surrounding surfaces from damage. Use painter’s tape and drop cloths to cover:

  • Countertops
  • Floors
  • Nearby walls and tile
  • Doors and cabinets
  • Appliances like refrigerators and stoves

Also remove anything stored on countertops and clear out items below the backsplash. Thorough prep now prevents having to clean up debris afterward.

Turn off any appliances or fixtures on the wall like lights or exhaust fans. Pull the refrigerator out to access behind and underneath it.

Cover yourself too – wear safety goggles, a dust mask, and gloves during the entire backsplash removal process.

Prepare the Tile Surface

With your protected work area set up, now prepare the tile surface for removal. This involves a few key steps:

  • Heat tiles – Use a hair dryer or heat gun to warm up the tiles and adhesive. This softens the adhesive which makes prying easier. Apply heat evenly across tiles, moving the dryer constantly.
  • Cut around edges – Use a utility knife to cut through any caulk or remaining grout around the perimeter edges of the backsplash and down to the countertop. This allows tiles to come free from the wall.
  • Score panel grout lines – For backsplashes made of large panels, score through the grout lines between panels using a utility knife. This will guide where they separate.

Heating and scoring sets up the backsplash for easy removal in the next steps. Take your time prepping – don’t try prying tiles off yet.

Start Prying Tiles/Panels Off

With prep work complete, it’s time to start prying the tiles or panels free. Work methodically:

  • Wedge pry bar under corner – Wedge the pry bar under a corner of a tile or panel and gently twist and lift upward. Apply pressure slowly to break the adhesive’s grip.
  • Work across rows – Once you remove the first tile, proceed along the row, removing each tile in order using the pry bar. Then move down and across to the next row.
  • Leverage multiple tools – You may need to use the hammer to tap the pry bar further under tiles. Increasing leverage with multiple tools is helpful for stubborn areas.
  • Remove remaining adhesive – Scrape off any areas of adhesive left on the wall using a putty knife. These need to be removed to level the surface.
  • Clean as you go – Carefully remove debris, sweep up dust, and wipe up adhesive drips as you work. Don’t let it pile up.

Taking it slow and steady is crucial during removal. Rushing increases the chances of tiles cracking or surfaces getting damaged. Just keep working in rows until the backsplash is entirely removed.

Clean and Prep the Wall Surface

Once the backsplash demo is complete, you still have some cleanup and prep work left to do:

  • Remove remaining adhesive – Use a putty knife to scrape, chisel, or grind off any leftover adhesive on the wall surface. Get it as smooth as possible.
  • Clean with mineral spirits – Wipe the entire wall down using mineral spirits applied to a cloth. This helps dissolve sticky residue.
  • Fill holes and cracks – Use spackle to fill any holes, cracks, or uneven spots so the surface is ready for the new backsplash. Allow to dry completely.
  • Prime the wall – After repairs dry, apply a layer of primer across the entire surface. This coats everything evenly for the new backsplash application.

Proper prep now prevents issues later on. The wall needs to be as pristine as possible before installing the new backsplash. Allow several days for the cleaned surface to fully dry.

Tips and Tricks for Adhesive Removal

Removing an adhesive backsplash has its challenges, but these tips can help make the process go smoothly:

  • Heat tiles repeatedly – Don’t just heat once; keep reheating to maintain warmth and adhesive softness.
  • Cut tiles into sections – Remove large tiles by scoring and breaking into smaller sections if the pry bar won’t lift whole tiles.
  • Avoid scraping the wall – Use scrapers carefully to avoid gouging and damaging the wall itself when cleaning adhesive.
  • Moisten mastic adhesive – For cement-based mastic, misting water helps soften it up for removal. Let it soak in before prying.
  • Replace dull blades frequently – Sharp razor scrapers remove adhesive faster. Change blades often.

With patience and the proper techniques, an adhesive backsplash can be removed successfully. Just take it slow and don’t force anything. The results will be worth the effort for your next dream backsplash.

FAQs About Removing Adhesive Backsplash

What’s the easiest way to remove a backsplash?

The easiest adhesive backsplash removal method is to heat the tiles or panels with a hairdryer or heat gun first, then gently pry up one corner and work systematically across each row. Heating softens the adhesive which allows clean tile removal.

Can you remove backsplash tile and save it?

It is possible to remove backsplash tile and salvage the intact tiles, but it requires extra care. Use a heat gun to warm the adhesive and slowly work a putty knife underneath to pop tiles off. Pry gently to avoid cracking tiles. Work slowly and clean as you go.

What chemical removes tile adhesive?

An adhesive remover containing the solvent D-limonene works well to dissolve most backsplash adhesives. Dampen the wall surface after tile removal and apply the remover according to instructions. Let it sit for 15 minutes then scrub with a nylon brush.

What removes mastic adhesive from walls?

For cement-based mastic, try misting it with water to soften it, let sit 5 minutes, then gently scrape off using a plastic putty knife. Avoid damaging the drywall. Mineral spirits also helps dissolve mastic adhesive residue after scraping.

Is Goof Off good for removing tile adhesive?

Yes, Goof Off adhesive remover is very effective at removing leftover sticky tile mastic, foam strip adhesive, mortar, and other residues from backsplash removal projects once tiles are taken down. Apply it to the area, let it soak in for 10-15 minutes, then scrub clean.

How do you smooth a wall after removing tiles?

To smooth a wall after removing backsplash tile, fill in any gouges, holes, and uneven spots with drywall spackle. Allow to dry, then sand until the surface is completely smooth. Wipe away all dust, then apply a coat of quality primer to create an even finish.


Removing an existing adhesive backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom takes patience, physical effort, and the right approach. But with proper tools and techniques like controlled heating, systematic prying, and mineral spirits for adhesive residue, it can absolutely be tackled as a DIY project. The end result is a blank canvas ready for your new dream backsplash design. Just be sure to protect surrounding areas, work carefully, and clean as you go for best results.