How to Remove Backsplash Tile Without Damaging Wall

Assess the Tile and Wall

First, take a close look at the type of tile, as well as the wall material it’s adhered to. This will determine the proper removal methods.

  • Tile material – Ceramic and porcelain tiles will likely come off intact. Natural stone may crumble. Glass tiles can shatter if not handled carefully.
  • Wall material – Drywall can easily tear or gouge. Plaster walls are more durable but can still crack under pressure. Masonry walls like brick or concrete are very sturdy.
  • Grout lines – Narrow grout lines allow leverage for prying off tiles. Wide grout lines don’t have enough purchase for tools.
  • Tile edges – Tiles with smooth, rounded edges often pop off easier than sharp, angular edges that grip the wall.

Gather Proper Tools

Having the right tools for removing tile cleanly and safely is key. Essential items include:

  • Grout scraper – A carbide-tipped grout saw removes old grout between tiles.
  • Pry bar – Look for one with a curved, tapered edge to fit behind tiles. Protect walls with old rags.
  • Hammer and chisel – For breaking up tile edges or concrete backer board. Use a 4-lb sledge hammer.
  • Eye protection – Always wear ANSI-approved safety glasses to shield eyes from debris.
  • Knee pads – Cushion knees when kneeling on hard floors during removal.
  • Utility knife – Cuts through mesh on back of tiles or stubborn adhesives.
  • Plastic bags – Collect broken tile pieces and discarded materials for clean up.

Prep the Workspace

To avoid making a bigger mess, properly prepare the backsplash area:

  • Cover the countertop below the backsplash with cardboard or drop cloths.
  • Have a vacuum ready to frequently clean up tile pieces or accumulated dust.
  • Sweep the floor and remove any items from the counters or lower cabinets.
  • Turn off overhead lights and aim a bright work light at the backsplash.

Remove Grout Between Tiles

Removing the grout first makes prying off the tile much easier:

  • Set the grout saw at a 45° angle into a grout line and scrape out all traces of old grout.
  • Work carefully around outside corners or near outlets/fixtures to avoid wall damage.
  • Vacuum up all grout debris before proceeding. Scrub any remaining grout stains with a stiff brush.
  • If the tile won’t budge after grout removal, use a hammer and chisel to carefully chip away the tile edge.

Pry Off Tiles

With the grout gone, you can begin delicately prying and popping off the tiles:

  • Wedge the pry bar into the corner of a tile at a 45° angle to the wall. Slowly twist until it releases.
  • Work outwards from corners and edges to remove border tiles first. This allows access to inner tiles.
  • Apply even, controlled pressure. If tiles won’t lift out, re-cut the grout line before re-trying.
  • Catch broken tile pieces in plastic bags. Don’t let shards drop behind cabinets or down the sink drain.
  • Inspect the wall after removing tiles. Patch small holes in drywall. Larger holes may need backer board patches.

Remove Adhesive Residue

Eliminate any stubborn dried adhesive left after tile removal:

  • Apply adhesive remover chemical and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Use a plastic scraper to peel off residue.
  • For cement backer board, use a wire brush attachment on a power drill to scrub off adhesive.
  • Avoid harsh abrasives or an orbital sander, which could damage the wall surface.
  • Rinse the wall several times to eliminate chemical smell and residue. Let it fully dry.

Fix Damaged Areas

Repair any wall damage that may have occurred during tile removal:

  • For small holes or gouges in drywall, use joint compound and drywall tape to patch.
  • Larger holes may need a drywall patch screwed into wall studs. Mud and tape the seams.
  • If cement board is cracked, cut back damaged areas and install new cement board.
  • Prime and paint repaired patches once dry. Match existing wall color.

Clean and Prepare Wall

With tiles gone and wall damage repaired, finish up by cleaning and prepping for new backsplash:

  • Use TSP cleaner and scrub pads to clean off any remaining gunk or residue.
  • Rinse thoroughly and let the wall dry completely before applying any new backsplash.
  • Sand any uneven areas on the wall to create a smooth, flat surface for new tile.
  • Be sure to seal and prime the wall first before installing your beautiful new backsplash!

Removing backsplash tile is totally doable with the proper process. Focus on taking it slowly to avoid damaging the wall underneath. With care and the right techniques, those outdated tiles can come down and your wall will be ready for a fresh new backsplash design.

Frequently Asked Questions About Removing Backsplash Tile Without Damaging Walls

What’s the easiest way to remove backsplash tile?

Cutting all the grout lines with a carbide-tipped grout saw first is the easiest method. This allows you to pry tiles off cleanly. Trying to chisel off tile without removing grout often results in wall damage.

How do I avoid cracking tiles when removing them?

Always start by prying up the outer edges and corners first. Work your way inward slowly. Apply even pressure with the pry bar to prevent abrupt tile cracking. For fragile natural stone, use a heat gun to soften mastic first.

Should I use a putty knife or pry bar to remove tile?

A pry bar is better suited than a putty knife for removing tile without wall damage. Its tapered edge fits into corners better. Protect walls with old rags, and leverage the curved end for controlled lifting pressure.

What can I do about adhesive residue left on walls?

First scrape off any chunks, then apply an adhesive remover gel to soften the residue. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes before scrubbing with a plastic putty knife. Use a wire brush attachment on a power drill for cement board. Avoid orbital sanders.

Is my drywall too damaged to install new backsplash tile?

In most cases, minor nicks, gouges and small holes can be repaired with joint compound and drywall tape. For large holes or cracks, cut out the damaged section and screw in a new drywall patch. Finish seams smoothly before applying new tile.


Removing backsplash tiles without damaging walls is certainly possible with the proper planning and tools. Always start by prepping your workspace, assessing the tiles and walls, and removing all grout lines. Work slowly and carefully as you pry up tiles, controlling pressure and leverage with a pry bar. Fix any wall damage smoothly and thoroughly before installing fresh new backsplash tile you’ll love. Follow these tips, take your time, and you can eliminate the outdated backsplash without harming the wall behind it.