How to Remove Backsplash Tile Without Damaging Drywall

Removing backsplash tile without causing damage to the underlying drywall is possible with some patience and the right techniques. With care and precision, you can successfully remove tile and salvage the wall surface. Here is a detailed guide on how to remove backsplash tile from drywall without causing harm.

Assessing the Tile and Wall

Before starting demo work, take time to fully evaluate the backsplash tile and wall surface:

  • Tile type – Glazed ceramic tiles often pop off easily. Porcelain or natural stone tiles adhere more stubbornly. Know what type you’re dealing with.
  • Grout lines – Check the depth and width of grout lines. Narrow, shallow lines mean tiles are strongly bonded. Wide, deep grout suggests a weaker bond.
  • Wall composition – Determine if you have drywall or plaster walls. Drywall is more delicate and prone to damage. Plaster is extremely durable.
  • Tile thickness – Thin tiles flex and come off cleanly. Thick tiles resist flexing and can crack.
  • Layout patterns – Grid patterns are easiest for systematic removal. Diagonal designs involve prying up resistant edges.
  • Condition of grout – Weak, crumbling grout means tiles will release easier. Hard, intact grout offers more resistance.

Closely inspecting the materials before starting allows you to plan the safest, most controlled removal process.

Equipment/Tools Needed

Removing tile without harming drywall requires having the right equipment:

  • Flat pry bar – A stiff, sturdy pry bar slides easily under tiles to lift them off. Opt for at least 12 inches long.
  • Grout rake – This multi-tined tool is perfect for scratching out old grout. Get one with carbide tips.
  • Hammer and chisel – For stubborn tiles, use light taps to dislodge them. Pick a carbide-tipped chisel.
  • Grout scraper – A rigid 3-inch scraper cleans out remaining thinset and grout.
  • ** Utility knife** – Score grout lines with a sharp blade before prying up tiles.
  • Eye protection – Wear safety glasses to prevent debris getting in your eyes.
  • Knee pads – Kneeling on hard surfaces is tough without soft knee pads.

The right tools allow you to remove tile without having to aggressively pry, scratch, and scrape the drywall subsurface.

Step-by-Step Tile Removal Process

With planning and care, here is how to cleanly remove backsplash tile from drywall:

1. Prepare the Workspace

  • Clear countertops and cover appliances/fixtures with drop cloths.
  • Have a thick rag nearby to wipe up any dust or debris.
  • Have a bag or bucket available to collect removed tiles and grout shards.

2. Score All Grout Lines

  • Use a utility knife to cut into all grout lines surrounding each tile. Cut 1/8″ to 1/4″ deep.
  • Trace diagonals across grout intersections to weaken bonds.
  • Deep cuts make prying tiles off easier and prevents ripping up chunks of drywall.

3. Apply Removal Solutions (Optional)

  • For extremely stubborn tile, spray vinegar or tile remover solution along cut grout lines.
  • This allows the solution to penetrate behind the tile and loosen the bond.
  • Wait 5-10 minutes before proceeding to allow solution to work.

4. Remove Border Tiles First

  • Begin prying up tiles around the outer edges and corners of the backsplash.
  • Use a pry bar inserted at grout line cuts to pop them off the wall. Start gently.
  • Work methodically around borders so inner tiles have free edges to leverage up.

5. Work From Top Down

  • Once borders are removed, begin extracting tiles from the top row moving down.
  • Avoid excessive prying force. If met with major resistance, re-score grout lines before continuing.
  • Dislodge tiles so they flex open from the top to pop free at the bottom.

6. Lift Off Whole Tiles When Possible

  • Ideally, tiles will come off in full, intact pieces with minimal attached grout.
  • If grout shards cling to the back, use a grout rake tool to gently scrape off remnants.
  • Minimize time spent scraping to avoid digging into the drywall finish.

7. Clean Up Thinset and Grout

  • Use a grout scraper to remove globs of old thinset adhesive from the exposed wall.
  • Avoid excessive scraping force. Thinset is designed to bond tenaciously.
  • Wipe dust and debris immediately to prevent particles from clung to the wall.

Finalizing the Wall Surface

Once tiles are fully removed, a few finishing steps will have the drywall looking fresh again:

  • Sand rough spots or grout residue using fine 120-150 grit sandpaper. Work lightly to avoid scouring.
  • Fill any gouges with drywall joint compound and let cure fully per package directions.
  • Prime wall and apply two finish coats of quality latex paint. Allow proper drying time between coats.
  • If desired, install new backsplash tile once wall prep is complete and surfaces are suitable.

With proper tools, technique, care, and patience, it’s possible to remove backsplash tiles without incurring damage to vulnerable drywall underneath. Just work methodically, avoid excessive prying force, clean up thoroughly, and make finish repairs to have your backsplash renewal project turn out perfectly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the easiest way to remove backsplash tile?

Cutting grout lines with a utility knife before prying makes removal much easier. Prying up border tiles first also helps release interior ones cleanly.

How do you get adhesive off drywall after removing tile?

Use a grout scraper to gently scrape off leftover thinset adhesive without gouging the drywall. Avoid excessive pressure or digging motions.

What if my tiles won’t come off the drywall?

If tiles resist removal after cutting grout and prying carefully, try spraying vinegar or tile remover product to penetrate behind tiles and loosen bonds. Allow solution to soak in before retrying.

Can I use a hairdryer or heat gun to remove backsplash tile?

No, applying direct high heat can scorch, crack, or melt the vinyl paper surface of drywall. Stick to using liquid tile removers applied sparingly.

Is it OK to hammer tiles to break them off?

Hammering carries high risk of marring or puncturing drywall. Use light chisel taps only on very stubborn tiles after trying other gentler methods first.

How do I prep drywall for new tile after removing old backsplash?

Fill gouges, sand rough areas, prime, and paint. This refreshes the wall for proper adhesion of new thinset when installing replacement backsplash tiles.