Removing backsplash tile from your kitchen or bathroom walls can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be done successfully as a DIY project. Taking down tile backsplash opens up new design possibilities for your space, whether you’re looking to replace the tile with something fresh or would prefer an open wall instead. Approaching the project step-by-step and with care will ensure you get great results.
Assessing the Tile and Wall
Before you begin prying off tile, it’s important to assess what type of tile you’re working with, as well as the wall behind it.
Types of Backsplash Tiles
There are a few main types of backsplash tiles to be aware of:
- Ceramic tile: Most common type of backsplash tile. Typically relatively easy for a DIYer to remove, especially with the proper tools.
- Porcelain tile: Similar to ceramic tile but more durable and dense. Usually has a glossy glazed surface. Slightly more difficult to remove than regular ceramic tile.
- Glass tile: Made from glass and often has a mesh backing. More delicate than ceramic or porcelain. Requires extra care when removing to avoid breaking.
- Mosaic tile: Tiny tiles mounted in sheets to form a pattern. Mosaics can be made from ceramic, porcelain or glass. The small size makes them challenging to take down.
- Stone tile: Natural stone such as marble, granite, slate etc. Sturdy but brittle if handled roughly. Use caution when prying these off.
- Metal tile: Made from metal for an industrial vibe. Often applied in sheets. Difficult to remove from the wall without damaging.
Before starting demo, inspect your tiles closely and take note of the material. This will dictate the level of care and type of tools needed for removal. Check for any unique challenges like small mosaics or fragile materials.
Assessing the Wall Surface
Just as important as the tile itself is the wall underneath. What’s behind your backsplash can impact how you remove it. Common backsplash wall materials include:
- Drywall: The most convenient option for tile removal since drywall is relatively soft and easy to patch. Minimum wall repair needed.
- Plaster: More durable than drywall but still removable with care. Will likely need repairs and skim coating after tile is taken down.
- Wood: Requires caution when prying off tile to avoid damaging the boards underneath. Nails holding the tile may also pull up wood splinters.
- Concrete or brick: Nearly impossible for a DIYer to remove tile from these wall types without damaging them. Avoid attempting removal unless you’re prepared to also take down the wall itself.
- Backerboard: Cement-based boards like Durock are designed for tile installation. Firmly bonds to tile and may lead to damaging the wall when removing.
Ideally your backsplash was installed over drywall or plaster. This will provide the least resistance when detaching the tiles. With delicate or fragile wall materials, consider calling in a pro.
Gather the Right Tools
Taking on a tile removal project fully equipped will make the process much smoother. Be sure to have these essential tools on hand:
- Hammer: For gently tapping a pry bar or chisel under tiles to dislodge them. Use a light touch.
- Pry bar: Slip the edge under tiles and gently pry upwards to pop them off. A putty knife can also work.
- Goggles: For protecting eyes from flying shards and dust.
- Work gloves: To protect your hands from sharp tiles and tools. Leather gloves hold up best.
- Dust mask: Helps filter out hazardous silica dust particles that tiles produce when broken.
- Ear protection: Reduces noise from hammering and prying for more comfortable demo.
- Kneepads: Cushions knees from hard floor while working low on the wall. Helpful for extended projects.
- Shop vacuum: For cleaning up tile pieces and dust as you work. A HEPA filter model is recommended.
- Tape measure and marker: Helps map out and mark a plan for methodically removing sections of tile.
- Wheelbarrow or buckets: For hauling away heavy loads of tile debris.
Having the right protective gear and equipment for prying, demolition, cleaning and material removal will make tiling removal safe and organized. Invest in quality tools for an efficient DIY job.
Prepare the Workspace
To set yourself up for success, properly preparing the workspace is a key step before demolition begins.
- First, remove anything from around the backsplash area like decor, appliances, dishes etc. This gets them out of the way and protects them from dust or debris.
- Cover nearby surfaces like countertops or floors with drop cloths. This shields surrounding areas from damage.
- Have a clear debris removal plan and place buckets or wheelbarrows nearby to efficiently carry tile pieces away.
- Set up a step stool or ladder. Removing upper tiles is easier from a steady elevated perch. Make sure ladders are secure.
- Line floors with rosin paper. This huge paper roll catches fallen shards and dust for easier cleanup. Find it at hardware stores.
- Isolate the area from the rest of the home. Use plastic sheeting to cover doorways and vents. This prevents dust from spreading through air circulation.
- Remove outlet covers and cut power to any outlets behind the tile. Shut off water supply valves too if removing near sinks or plumbing.
Taking time to properly set up your workspace makes tile demo safe and organized. It also saves cleanup time after the work is done.
Breaking Tile Free
Once you’re geared up and the workspace is prepped, it’s time to start breaking tile free from the wall. Approach this process methodically:
1. Score Around Perimeter Tiles
- Use a scoring tool or angle grinder to cut into grout around the outermost tiles. This frees up the first row.
- Take care not to cut so deeply you damage the wall underneath. Cut just into the grout.
- Perimeter scoring gives you a starting point to pry tiles off and work inward.
2. Start Prying Tiles Off in a Corner
- With perimeter tiles scored, begin prying them off in a bottom corner.
- Wedge the pry bar edge into the grout line and gently pry upward.
- Start tiles off slowly and patiently to avoid damaging the wall.
- Once freed, remove tiles fully and set them into a debris bucket.
3. Work in Sections
- Remove tiles in controlled sections instead of random spots.
- This lets you clear full areas methodically moving upward and across.
- Stick to one section until fully removed before advancing to avoid missing any spots.
4. Inspect Wall as You Go
- As you remove tile, inspect the exposed wall underneath.
- Make note of any unsound areas that may need reinforcement.
- Check for hidden wires, pipes or other surprises behind the tile.
- Address any issues to ensure the wall will be prepped properly for the new backsplash.
5. Cut Final Row Free
- Once you near the top rows, use a scoring tool to cut along the top grout line.
- This will free up the final upper tiles so you can pry them down.
- Take extra care not to cut too deeply when scoring near the top.
With some patience and the right pry technique, the tiles should come off fairly cleanly. Just take it slow.
Cleaning and Disposing Debris
As chunks of ceramic, porcelain and grout start coming down, tidying up debris will make demolition much more manageable. Be sure to:
- Use a shop vacuum with HEPA filter to contain dust as you work. Vacuum up debris frequently.
- Wipe tiles down before disposal to reduce dust. A damp microfiber cloth works well.
- Place tile pieces in buckets, bags or wheelbarrows for quick removal. Carry out heavy loads carefully.
- Properly dispose of tiles by checking local regulations. Many accept tile waste at dump sites.
- Contain dust and debris in the workspace. Don’t track it through other rooms.
- Use rosin paper on the floor to collect fallen pieces. Roll it up when done for easy disposal.
- Change vacuum filters often as they fill up. Rinse filters to extend life.
- Wipe down the area fully before calling it quits for the day. Lingering dust can spread easily.
Staying on top of clean up will maintain safety and make an organized workspace. It also minimizes mess throughout the rest of the home.
Preparing Walls for New Tile
Once all old tile is removed, some wall preparation will be needed before new backsplash installation. Here are a few tips:
- Inspect for any wall damage that may need patching. Fill holes or cracks with drywall compound.
- For paintable surfaces, apply a quality primer to create a fresh base.
- If removing mosaics, scrape away any remaining thinset mortar residue.
- Use an oscillating multi-tool to cut out old caulk or backing strips.
- Sand off any bumps or roughness on the bare wall area.
- Check flatness and use drywall shims if the wall is uneven.
- Clean thoroughly since dust and soap scum in crevices can reduce tile adhesion.
Taking time to properly prep ensures your new backsplash looks amazing and lasts. Fix any wall flaws revealed during demolition.
Hiring a Pro Instead
Removing backsplash tile has some inherent challenges. Extensive use of scoring tools, pry bars and brute elbow grease is often needed to break tiles free. This can risk damaging delicate wall materials. Breathing all the resulting dust should be avoided as well.
For homes with plaster, concrete, stone or other fragile walls, the safest route is having a professional tile removal contractor on the job. Companies have specialized techniques and powerful tools that make removal far easier. Benefits of hiring a pro include:
- Access to commercial grade tile breakers – Makes fast work of stubborn tiles
- Skilled techniques – Removes tile cleanly without wall damage
- Proper safety measures – Respirators, duct containment, etc.
- Job site experience – Prep, execution and cleanup done seamlessly
- Proper debris disposal – No worries about waste removal
While DIY tile removal is possible in many cases, contractors can make short work of it while keeping your walls intact. Consider leaving it to the professionals if your backsplash will be a challenge.
FAQ About Removing Backsplash Tile
Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about taking down tile backsplashes:
What are some signs my tiles contain asbestos?
Asbestos was used in some tile materials until the 1980s. Signs of asbestos include 9” vinyl floor tiles, adhesives labeled as “asbestos-free”, or black mastic glue on the back. Have a sample tested by a lab first if unsure.
How long does it take to remove 100 sq ft of tile?
For an inexperienced DIYer, plan on at least 8-10 hours to fully pry off, dispose of, and clean up after removing 100 square feet of tile. Experienced pros can get it done much quicker.
Should backerboard be removed too?
Removing tiles from backerboard can damage it. It’s best to leave intact backerboard in place and apply new tile over it. Scrape off any remaining thinset first.
Can I use a heat gun to loosen old grout?
Yes, applying heat can help soften grout lines for easier removal. Take extreme care not to ignite flammable materials or blister paint. Use scrapers, not heat, on backsplashes near cabinets.
How do I protect walls I’m keeping?
For walls adjacent to removal, use painter’s tape and drop cloths to shield surfaces from damage. Cover doorways with plastic sheeting to contain dust.
Is it safe to remove tiles myself from a concrete wall?
Concrete can crack and crumble if tiles are pried off forcefully. It’s safest to call in contractors equipped with specialty tools if removing tile from concrete.
How do I dispose of old tiles?
Check for hazardous asbestos first. If clear, dispose of tiles in a heavy-duty bag. Many landfills have construction dumpsters that accept tile debris for a small fee. Recycle it as landfill alternative if possible.
Should I be concerned about lead in vintage tiles?
Some very old tiles may contain lead. Wear gloves and mask when removing, and damp mop surfaces after to pick up lead dust. Test questionable tiles beforehand. Most modern tiles are lead-free.
Removing backsplash tile can be a big project, but extremely rewarding when you open up new design possibilities for your kitchen or bath. Carefully assessing your tile type, wall surface, and demo approach will ensure success tackling it as a DIY job. Gather the right tools, protective gear, and debris cleanup plan. Work slowly and methodically to pry off tiles without damaging walls. Persistence and patience are key! With the right prep and care, you can take on a tile removal and replacement project on your own. Just don’t be afraid to call in backup if certain challenging scenarios arise.