How to Remove Backsplash Tile Without Breaking

Removing backsplash tile can be a tricky process, but with the right techniques and tools, you can get the job done without breaking the tiles or damaging the wall behind them. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to remove backsplash tile safely and efficiently.

Assess the Tile Installation Method

The first step is to look closely at how the backsplash tiles were installed. This will determine the proper removal method.

If the Tiles are Grouted:

Grouted tiles are set in a mortar bed and will need to be chiseled out. The grout will need to be broken up first before prying the tiles off the wall.

If the Tiles are Adhered with Mastic:

Tiles stuck directly to the wall with adhesive can usually be pried off once you break the seal with a putty knife or chisel. This tends to be an easier removal.

Look for Special Backers or Mesh:

Some backsplash tile installations have a special impregnated paper or fiberglass mesh as a backing. This mesh will need to be scraped or sanded off after removing the tiles.

Gather the Proper Tools

Removing backsplash tile without breaks takes the right tools for the job. Here are the essentials:

  • Putty knives – Use a 4-6 inch knife to break the grout seals and pry up tiles.
  • Chisel and hammer – A masonry chisel and mini-sledge hammer will be needed for grouted tiles set in mortar.
  • Grout rake – A handy tool for scratching out grout between tiles.
  • Pry bar – A long pry bar gives extra leverage to remove stubborn tiles.
  • Heat gun – Heating up the adhesive behind tiles can help release them.
  • Razor blades – Useful for scraping off old thinset, mastic or backer material.
  • Sandpaper – For smoothing the wall surface after tile removal.
  • Safety gear – Gloves, eye protection, knee pads and a dust mask are essential safety items.

Preparing for Removal

With your tools gathered, you can now start prepping the backsplash for tile removal:

  • Clear the countertop and protect appliances/fixtures from flying debris.
  • Give the grout good soaking with water to soften it up.
  • Apply painter’s tape around the outer edges of the backsplash tile area.
  • Score grout lines with a utility knife to give the putty knife an entry point.
  • Have a trash can or bag ready to collect broken tile pieces and debris.

Removing Grouted Ceramic Tiles

For removing ceramic, porcelain or stone backsplash tiles set in mortar grout:

  1. Chisel away grout around one tile, working in a circle pattern.
  2. Once grout is cleared, drive chisel into open joint and pry tile loose.
  3. Alternatively, strike tile surface with hammer to dislodge from mortar.
  4. Pull tile gently side-to-side with pliers to pop it off.
  5. Clear all grout from now exposed wall and rake smooth.
  6. Move to next tile, repeating steps. Remove in a logical order.
  7. For stubborn tiles, use a pry bar for extra leverage or heat the area with a heat gun.
  8. Use a grout rake, putty knife or chisel to scrape off any remaining thinset mortar.
  9. Smooth with sandpaper when done removing all tiles.

Removing Adhered Glass, Metal or Mosaic Tiles

For backsplash tiles like glass, metal or mosaic tiles set with mastic adhesive:

  1. Heat glue with a heat gun to soften bond.
  2. Insert putty knife under one tile and twist gently to break the seal.
  3. Slowly but firmly pry tile off the wall while supporting it.
  4. Pull tiles off in sheet sections for mosaics instead of individual pieces.
  5. Scrape any adhesive residue off the wall using a razor blade.
  6. Use mineral spirits or adhesive remover solution to clean off excess mastic.
  7. Sand the wall smooth when finished removing all tiles.

Final Steps for a Fresh Start

Once all old backsplash tiles have been removed, finish up with these final steps:

  • Wipe down the wall area well to remove dust and debris.
  • Fill any gouges or uneven spots with spackle compound and sand smooth.
  • Wash the wall thoroughly with an all-purpose cleaner and rinse.
  • Allow wall to fully dry before applying primer and new backsplash tiles.

With care, patience and the proper tools, those outdated backsplash tiles can come down without a single broken piece. Just take time to assess the installation method, prep the workspace properly, and work in a systematic fashion. In no time, you’ll have a clean wall ready for your new dream backsplash design.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the easiest way to remove backsplash tile?

For tile set in mastic adhesive, heating the adhesive with a heat gun and prying tiles off with a putty knife is usually the easiest method. Grouted tiles require more labor to chisel out the grout before prying off each tile.

How do you keep tiles from breaking when removing backsplash?

Go slowly and gently when prying, twist rather than pull straight off, and support tiles as you remove them. Score grout lines first so tiles don’t crack. Heating adhesive helps release the bond. Removing in sheets for mosaics prevents breakage.

Can I put new backsplash tile right over old?

It is not recommended to install new tiles over an existing backsplash. The layers of mortar and tile can be too thick and uneven. Old adhesive may not allow proper bonding. It’s best to remove the old backsplash completely before tiling again.

What solvent removes mastic from backsplash tile?

Mineral spirits work well for removing most mastic adhesives from backsplash areas once tile has been removed. Goo-Off and other citrus-based solvents also help break down adhesive residue. Avoid abrasive chemicals that could damage the wall surface.

How do I prep the wall after taking down backsplash tile?

After removing all old tiles, wash and rinse the entire backsplash area thoroughly. Sand down any bumps or uneven areas in the wall. Fill any gouges and holes with spackle compound. Allow the wall to fully dry. Then apply primer before installing the new backsplash tiles.


Removing backsplash tile without damaging the tiles or wall takes vigilance, but the right tools and techniques make it very achievable. Always assess your tile installation method. Prepare your workspace properly. Chip grout methodically or pry adhered tiles gently. Scrape off adhesive residue and sand the area smooth. With this comprehensive guide, you can feel confident tackling a backsplash removal and refresh project. Take your time and the end result will be a wall ready for your gorgeous new tile design.