How to Remove Backsplash Adhesive


Removing old backsplash adhesive can be a tricky and tedious process. However, with the right techniques and tools, you can get it off efficiently.

Backsplash adhesive is designed to form a strong, permanent bond. So removing it often requires patience and elbow grease. The adhesive type, surface material, and time it has cured will impact the difficulty.

This guide will walk you through the entire process step-by-step. We’ll cover:

  • Identifying the adhesive type
  • Gathering the right removal supplies
  • Safe prep work
  • Using heat or solvents to soften the adhesive
  • Scraping and cleaning techniques
  • Tips for preventing surface damage

Follow these methods correctly, and you can remove backsplash adhesive without harming the wall underneath. Let’s start by identifying the specific adhesive used in your kitchen.

Identifying the Backsplash Adhesive Type

There are three main types of adhesive used on backsplash tiles:

Mastic Adhesive

Mastic is a premixed vinyl or latex-based adhesive. It has a thick, toothpaste-like texture. This adhesive is water-soluble and easier to remove with heat or water.

Mortar Adhesive

Mortar is a dry cement-based powder that is mixed with water before application. It creates a much stronger bond and can be more difficult to remove.

Double-Sided Tape

Some backsplashes use foam double-sided tape. This leaves behind a thin film of adhesive when removed.

Check the back of a removed tile to see the adhesive. Mastic will be smooth and consistent. Mortar will have a gritty, textured look. Tape will appear as a thin foamy layer.

Identifying the type will allow you to choose the best removal methods. Mastic dissolves with water or heat. Mortar and double-sided tape require solvents or scrapers.

Now let’s go over the supplies needed for eliminating each adhesive type.

Gathering the Right Backsplash Adhesive Removal Supplies

Having the proper tools will make removing old backsplash adhesive much simpler. Here are the recommended supplies:

For Removing Mastic:

  • Paint scraper or putty knife
  • Heat gun or hair dryer
  • Rags
  • Warm water
  • Spray bottle
  • Paper towels or scrub pad

For Removing Mortar:

  • Safety gear – gloves, goggles, mask
  • Putty knife or oscillating multi-tool
  • Plastic putty knife
  • Plastic buckets
  • Rags
  • Solvent-based adhesive remover
  • Scrub pad or steel wool

For Removing Double-Sided Tape:

  • Putty knife
  • Plastic putty knife
  • Mineral spirits
  • Rags
  • Scrub pad

A combination of manual scraping and chemical solvents works best for mortar and foam tape adhesive. Mastic can usually be removed with just water and scraping.

Always read the manufacturer’s instructions for any adhesive remover. Ventilate the area well and take safety precautions.

Next, we’ll go over prep work to make removal easier and prevent wall damage.

Safe Preparation Before Removing Backsplash Adhesive

Proper prep work is crucial for backsplash adhesive removal. Rushing in could damage the drywall or leave adhesive residue behind. Follow these steps:

1. Remove Any Remaining Tiles

Take down any intact tiles still on the walls. Start at the top and work downward. Insert a putty knife horizontally under each tile and gently pry down and out.

Be very careful not to gouge or puncture the drywall in this process. Any damage will lead to more extensive wall repairs.

2. Score the Adhesive Layer

Use a utility knife or oscillating multi-tool to score the adhesive layer. Make criss-cross cuts across the entire surface.

This scoring allows solvents or heat to penetrate better. It also divides the adhesive into smaller sections for easier removal.

3. Protect Surrounding Surfaces

Cover countertops, floors, and any adjacent walls with plastic sheeting. Secure it with painter’s tape. This will protect from splashing water or stripping chemicals.

You may also want to detach unsealed cabinets near the workspace. Removing them prevents damage from solvent fumes.

4. Wear Safety Gear

Use gloves, goggles, and a respirator mask when using chemical removers. They contain harsh solvents that can irritate eyes and skin. Make sure the room is well-ventilated.

Now the prep work is complete! Next, we’ll go over techniques for softening and removing the adhesive.

Using Heat or Solvents to Soften Backsplash Adhesive

The adhesive will cling tightly to the wall surface. Trying to scrape off hardened adhesive can harm the drywall underneath.

Softening it first with heat or chemical solvents makes removal much easier. Here are the best techniques for each adhesive type:

Removing Mastic with Heat

Turn a heat gun or blow dryer to the high setting. Hold it 6 inches from the wall and heat sections for 30-60 seconds.

Go slowly to avoid overheating. The adhesive will gradually soften and liquefy. Check consistency and reheat areas as needed.

As an alternative, apply a damp rag soaked in hot water. Let it sit for 2-3 minutes to moisten the mastic.

Removing Mortar with Adhesive Remover

Adhesive remover formulas are ideal for loosening mortar. They typically contain dichloromethane or other strong solvents.

Apply a thick coat using a paintbrush or roller. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Reapply to keep the mortar saturated. The adhesive grip will slowly weaken.

Mineral spirits also work on mortar adhesive. But they may require several applications for full effect.

Removing Foam Tape with Mineral Spirits

Double-sided foam tape has an acrylic adhesive. Mineral spirits break down the adhesive bonds of acrylics.

Dip a rag into the mineral spirits. Spread onto the tape adhesive and let penetrate for 2-3 minutes.

The adhesive will turn gummy for scraping removal. Avoid oversaturating, which can damage the drywall.

Once softened, use a plastic scraper to start removing the adhesive. Let’s go over the scraping process next.

Scraping and Removing the Backsplash Adhesive

With the adhesive softened, it’s time to start scraping. Work in small sections for the best results:

1. Scrape Off Any Softened Adhesive

Use a plastic putty knife or paint scraper. Hold at a 45° angle and push along the wall surface. Apply firm but even pressure.

Scrape downwards first to avoid dragging adhesive back upwards. Remove all you can while the area is still softened.

2. Further Soften Remaining Adhesive

If any adhesive remains after scraping, reapply heat or chemicals. Wait a few minutes for reactivation.

Repeating the softening steps helps scrape off all the difficult, clung adhesive. Avoid oversaturating the wall.

3. Rinse Water-Soluble Adhesives

For mastic, spray warm water as you scrape. Or apply a wet rag to keep it moist. The water will dissolve the mastic and make scraping easier.

Chemical solvents like mineral spirits can also be rinsed with water during the process. Avoid letting them sit too long on the drywall.

4. Reapply Heat or Solvents as Needed

Keep reactivating the adhesive as you work in sections. Let it penetrate fully before scraping again. Hardened adhesive will resist removal.

Aim to get each section as clean as possible before moving on. Leftover residue is much harder to remove later.

5. Switch to a Plastic Scraper as You Get Close

The flexible plastic putty knife can contour better along the wall. Only use this once most adhesive is gone. It lacks the strength for heavy scraping.

Work carefully as you near the drywall’s surface. Stop immediately if you see any signs of damage.

6. Clean Scraper Frequently

Check the scraper edge often as you work. Clean off any adhesive buildup using mineral spirits and rags.

Built-up adhesive on the scraper makes removal less effective. A gummed-up edge can also scratch the wall surface.

Now let’s go over some final removal tips and wall cleanup.

Tips for Removing the Final Adhesive Residue

Scraping off the main adhesive is the easy part. Getting a completely clean surface takes a bit more finesse:

  • For thin hazy residue of mastic, use warm water and scrubbing. Try a plastic pad, steel wool, or scrubbing sponge. Avoid anything too abrasive.
  • Dampen a rag with mineral spirits for thin residue of mortar or foam tape adhesive. Rub firmly but carefully to avoid damaging the drywall.
  • An oscillating multi-tool with a scraping blade attachment works great for residue in cracks or divots. Keep it moving constantly to prevent digging in.
  • A melamine sponge can also help scrub off final thin residue. Be cautious using too much force.
  • For any remaining specks, an adhesive remover gel works well. Use a small scraper or putty knife to gently lift off.
  • Avoid excessive rinsing, harsh scrubbing, or forceful scraping once close to the wall surface. This risks wall damage or adhesive being pushed into pores.

The wall may appear stained or discolored after adhesive removal. This should come off with primer before adding the new backsplash.

Now you know the entire process for removing backsplash adhesive! Let’s go over some final tips for the job.

Final Tips for Removing Backsplash Adhesive

Removing backsplash adhesive takes patience. Allowing time for the softening solutions makes the job much easier. Rushing through can damage walls and leave residue.

Here are some final tips to recap:

  • Test removal in a small area first. This helps gauge technique and time needed for the rest.
  • Keep the surface wet with water or solvents. Reapply frequently to keep it penetrated and softened.
  • Try a plastic drywall knife for final residue. The thin flexible edge can better contour the wall.
  • Avoid excessive force or friction once you get close to the wall. Let the chemicals do most of the work.
  • Wipe up any splashed water or chemicals promptly. Never let them sit too long on wood or surfaces.
  • Consider calling a professional if dealing with a large mortar-set tile backsplash. The cement adhesive bonds tenaciously.
  • Allow 2-3 days of drying time after completion before priming or painting. Check for hidden moisture under the surfaces.
  • Wear safety glasses, gloves, and a vapor respirator when using solvents. Work in a well-ventilated area only.

Removing old backsplash adhesive takes some work. But you can do it successfully yourself with the proper process. Just be patient, use caution around solvents, and protect the wall surfaces.

The effort pays off when you can update with a brand new stylish backsplash!

Frequently Asked Questions About Removing Backsplash Adhesive

What is the easiest way to remove old backsplash adhesive?

For mastic adhesive, heat is very effective for softening. Use a heat gun or blow dryer to liquefy it before scraping off easily. Mortar and foam tape respond best to chemical solvents like adhesive remover or mineral spirits.

What household items can remove backsplash adhesive?

For mastic, just plain hot water and an old rag can help loosen and dissolve the adhesive. Vinegar may also help break down mastic bonds. Mineral spirits or rubbing alcohol allow for easy scraping of mortar or foam tape. Avoid harsh chemicals like paint thinner.

How do you soften old mastic?

Heat is very effective for softening mastic for removal. Use a heat gun or blow dryer at the high setting about 6 inches from the wall. Move constantly to avoid overheating. Apply a hot, wet rag directly to the adhesive as an alternative. Leave it for 2-3 minutes before scraping.

What solvent removes mortar adhesive?

Specialty adhesive remover formulas work best to dissolve mortar bonds. Look for methylene chloride or other strong solvents. Mineral spirits can also be effective but may require several applications. Dichloromethane removers are stronger than acetone for mortar.

How long does it take to remove backsplash adhesive?

This depends on the surface area and adhesive type. Expect it to be a multi-hour process. Work in small sections and allow time for the solvents or heat to fully penetrate and soften before scraping. Trying to rush through removal could damage the wall.

How do you remove adhesive without damaging drywall?

Heat or solvents are key to breaking the adhesive bonds without needing to scrape aggressively at the wall. Reapply them frequently as you work in sections. Let them do most of the work loosening the adhesive. Avoid harsh scrubbing and only use light pressure with a plastic scraper when near the wall surface.

Is Goof Off good for removing backsplash adhesive?

Yes, Goof Off contains solvents like acetone and toluene that can help dissolve mastic and mortar adhesives. Apply a thick amount and allow time to penetrate and soften the adhesive fully before gently scraping off. Be sure to follow all safety precautions when using.


Removing old backsplash adhesive takes some time and effort. But with the right materials and process, you can strip it down completely without harming your walls. Be sure to identify the specific adhesive type in order to choose the best removal methods. Softening up the adhesive first makes scraping much simpler. With caution and patience, you can eliminate the adhesive and prep the surface for a beautiful new backsplash.