How to Remove an Old Backsplash

Removing an old backsplash can update the look of your kitchen or bathroom. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to remove a tile, glass, or other material backsplash.


Replacing an outdated backsplash with a new one is a relatively easy way to give your kitchen or bathroom a fresh look. Backsplashes not only provide an aesthetic focal point but protect the walls from water damage and stains. Over time, backsplashes can become stained, chipped, or just look dated. By removing the old backsplash and installing a new one, you can modernize the room’s style. This project can typically be tackled in a weekend by a homeowner with basic DIY skills.

Before You Begin Removing the Old Backsplash

Completing a few preparatory steps will ensure the backsplash removal process goes smoothly:

  • Clear the countertops and area around the backsplash. Remove everything from the countertops and surrounding area. This provides clear access to the backsplash.
  • Purchase the new backsplash materials. Choose the new backsplash tile, adhesive, grout, and any tools you need so you are ready to install the new backsplash once the old one is removed.
  • Protect surfaces, counters, and floors. Cover countertops, floors, and other surfaces with drop cloths to prevent damage from falling tiles and debris.
  • Turn off electricity and shut off water supply lines. Turn off power to any outlets near the backsplash area. Shut off water supply valves for sinks, faucets, and appliances to prevent leaks.
  • Prepare repair materials. Have drywall joint compound, primer, paint, wood shims, and other repair supplies on hand to fix any damage that is revealed during old backsplash removal.
  • Wear safety gear. Wear safety goggles, gloves, dust mask, knee pads, and any other needed protective equipment.
  • Remove fixtures attached to the backsplash. Take down any soap dispensers, lights, faucets, shelves, or other items attached to the backsplash before beginning removal.

How to Remove Tile Backsplash

Tile backsplashes are installed on a layer of mortar atop the drywall. Here are the steps to remove a tile backsplash:

Materials Needed

  • Hammer
  • Chisel
  • Grout saw or oscillating tool
  • Putty knife
  • Dust mask
  • Gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Drop cloths
  • Garbage bag

Removal Process

  1. Score grout lines with a utility knife. Use a sharp razor knife to cut any existing caulk or grout between the tiles and where the backsplash meets the countertop or wall. This frees the tiles for easier removal.
  2. Carefully pry off tiles by hand. Start prying off tiles with your gloved fingers, working from the top down. Focus on removing whole tiles and avoid breaking them.
  3. Use a chisel or pry bar for stubborn tiles. For any tiles that won’t come off by hand, use a chisel or small pry bar. Tap it gently into the grout lines or under edges to loosen tiles. Take care not to gouge the wallboard behind the tiles.
  4. Use an oscillating tool for remaining tiles. An oscillating tool equipped with a grout removal blade can quickly vibrate and scrape off any remaining tiles and old mortar. Wear eye protection and work carefully to avoid damaging the wall.
  5. Clean the wall surface. Use a wire brush, putty knife, or chisel to remove any remaining grout or mortar from the wall surface. Avoid gouging into the drywall. Wipe the dust clean with a damp sponge or cloth.
  6. Fill any uneven spots or holes. Use drywall joint compound to patch gaps, dents, or uneven areas so the new backsplash will have a smooth surface for installation.
  7. Prime and paint the wall. Once repairs are made and the wall surface is smooth, apply primer followed by interior paint. Allow the paint to fully dry before installing the new backsplash.

Removing Glass Tile Backsplash

To remove a glass tile backsplash:

Materials Needed

  • Safety goggles
  • Work gloves
  • Dust mask
  • Plastic putty knife
  • Plastic scraping tool
  • Adhesive solvent
  • Drop cloths
  • Rags
  • Garbage bag

Removal Steps

  1. Loosen the caulk. Use a thin putty knife to slice through the caulk between the backsplash and wall or countertop. Also cut between the tiles. This allows the tiles to release.
  2. Heat the adhesive. Use a heat gun applied to low setting to soften the mastic adhesive behind the backsplash. This allows the tiles to release easier.
  3. Slowly pry off tiles. Starting at the top, gently lift off each glass tile. Take care not to break the tiles. Use plastic scrapers so as not to scratch.
  4. Remove mastic adhesive. Spray solvent formulated for mastics onto the wall and let it sit for 5 minutes. This helps soften the adhesive for scraping off. Slowly scrape off all adhesive residue.
  5. Clean the wall. Use denatured alcohol on a rag to remove any remaining adhesive. Let the wall dry fully before applying primer and paint. Fill any gouges with joint compound.
  6. Prime and paint. Apply a quality primer followed by interior wall paint suited for bathrooms or kitchens. Allow paint to fully dry before installing the new backsplash.

How to Remove a Stone Tile Backsplash

Due to their weight, stone tile backsplashes typically use a mortar bed layered over cementboard. Follow these steps to remove stone backsplash tiles:

Materials Needed

  • Dust mask
  • Work gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Hammer
  • Cold chisel
  • Grout saw
  • Putty knife
  • Pry bar
  • Drop cloths
  • Rags
  • Garbage bags

Removal Process

  1. Score grout lines. Use a utility knife to slice all grout lines between the individual stone tiles and along edges where it meets the wall or countertop.
  2. Tap tiles to loosen. Lightly tap the stone tiles with a hammer and chisel to begin loosening them from the mortar. Take care not to break the tiles.
  3. Remove grout with grout saw. Use a grout removal saw to grind out all existing grout between the tiles. This allows you to pry them off easier.
  4. Pry off tiles. Insert a pry bar under lifted tile edges and carefully pry them off. Try to remove tiles in whole pieces if possible.
  5. Grind down high spots. Use the grout saw to grind down any remaining mortar or thinset adhesive left high on the cementboard. Wear a dust mask and goggles.
  6. Clean surface. Wipe the entire surface with denatured alcohol to remove adhesive residue. Let it fully dry before re-tiling. Fill any divots in the cementboard with patching compound.
  7. Prime cementboard. To improve adhesion, apply a primer formulated for cementboard per manufacturer instructions. Allow it to fully dry before installing the new backsplash.

Removing Peel-and-Stick Backsplash Tiles

Many homeowners choose peel-and-stick backsplash tiles for their ease of installation. Fortunately, they are also relatively easy to remove:

Materials Needed

  • Paint scraper
  • Putty knife
  • Adhesive solvent
  • Rag
  • Drop cloths
  • Safety gear

Removal Process

  1. Heat tiles with a blow dryer. Using a blow dryer on a low setting, apply heat to the tiles. This helps soften the adhesive so tiles release easier.
  2. Slowly peel off tiles. Once heated, begin slowly pulling off each tile by hand, working top to bottom. The tiles should release fairly easily.
  3. Remove adhesive residue. Spray adhesive solvent onto the wall and allow it to sit for 5 minutes to soften the adhesive. Gently scrape off any remaining adhesive with a plastic putty knife.
  4. Clean the wall surface. Use a clean, damp rag to wipe away all solvent and adhesive residue. Allow the wall to fully dry before applying fresh paint.
  5. Fill any gouges. Use drywall joint compound to fill any gouges or uneven areas so the wall is smooth for the new backsplash. Allow compound to dry before sanding smooth.
  6. Prime and paint the wall. Apply a high-quality primer followed by interior wall paint. Allow the paint to fully cure before installing the new backsplash.

Cleaning Up After Backsplash Removal

Once the old backsplash is removed, complete the following steps:

  • Sweep or vacuum up all dust and debris from backsplash removal.
  • Dispose of the old tiles, grout, and adhesive by bagging it securely in trash bags.
  • Uncover countertops, appliances, floors, and other areas. Clean up any dust or residue.
  • Reinstall any fixtures, plates, or accessories that were removed prior to backsplash removal.
  • Thoroughly clean the entire workspace with soap and water or disinfecting cleaner.
  • Inspect for any cracking or damage on wall surfaces. Repair damage before applying new backsplash.
  • Allow all repaired and painted surfaces to cure fully according to manufacturer directions before installing new backsplash.

Tips for Removing an Old Backsplash

Follow these tips to safely remove a backsplash without damaging walls or countertops:

  • Always wear protective eye gear, gloves, knee pads, and a dust mask when removing a backsplash.
  • Take care when using pry bars and oscillating tools to not gouge into the walls behind the tile.
  • Heat glass tiles with a heat gun or blow dryer before prying off to prevent tile breakage.
  • Go slowly and be patient when prying off tiles. Rushing can lead to wall damage or broken tiles.
  • Use plastic scrapers and putty knives to prevent scratching countertops or glass tiles.
  • Rinse walls frequently when scraping off adhesive residue to keep the scraping edge clean and effective.
  • Fill gouges and holes in drywall immediately to prevent moisture damage behind new tiles.
  • Allow all paint, primer, and joint compound to fully cure before installing the new backsplash.

Common Problems When Removing Old Backsplash

Here are some common issues that may arise when removing an old backsplash and how to fix them:

Broken tiles: To prevent shattering, heat tiles before prying off and use plastic scrapers. Dispose of broken tiles promptly and carefully.

Damaged drywall: Fill gouges, holes, and uneven areas in drywall with joint compound. Sand smooth when dry before spot priming.

Adhesive won’t scrape off: Heat adhesive with a blow dryer to soften it for easier scraping. Use adhesive solvent and rinse frequently with water.

Discolored wall surface: Once adhesive is removed, prime walls before painting to hide discoloration and provide a fresh surface for new tiles.

Cracked grout: Use a specialty grout removal saw with a carbide tipped blade to efficiently grind out old grout between tiles.

Paint peeling: Remove all loose paint by sanding or scraping. Spot prime bare areas before repainting the entire wall.

FAQ About Removing an Old Backsplash

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about removing an outdated backsplash:

Should I remove the old backsplash before installing the new one?

Yes, it’s best practice to remove the old backsplash completely before installing the new one. Leaving the old tiles under the new can create an uneven surface. Removing it allows you to repair and refinish the wall properly.

What tools do I need to remove a tile backsplash?

A grout saw, hammer, chisel set, utility knife, pry bar, and putty knife are essential tools. Safety gear like goggles, gloves, and a dust mask are also recommended.

How long does it take to remove a backsplash?

Plan on removing an average 8 foot long backsplash in 2-5 hours. Removing glass tile takes longer due to heating each tile and adhesive removal. Removing stone tile is fastest.

Should I repair the drywall before installing a new backsplash?

Yes, fix any gouges, holes, cracks, or uneven areas in the drywall before installing the new backsplash. Use drywall joint compound and primer to patch holes and create a smooth surface.

Can I put the new backsplash directly over the existing one?

This is not recommended. Leaving the old tile under the new one can create an uneven surface. Remove the old backsplash completely for best results.

Is it cheaper to remove or tile over an existing backsplash?

Removing the old backsplash is more labor intensive but provides better results. Trying to install over an existing backsplash often leads to cracked grout and other issues down the line.


Removing an old backsplash is a manageable project for most DIYers that provides big visual impact. Carefully prying off tiles, scraping away adhesive, and refinishing the wall creates the ideal blank slate for installing a new backsplash tile design. With the proper tools and safety precautions, you can eliminate your outdated backsplash and gain a stunning new focal point in your kitchen or bathroom.