How to Remove Backsplash


Removing a backsplash can be a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it doesn’t have to be. A backsplash serves both decorative and functional purposes in a kitchen or bathroom. Over time, tastes change and backsplashes may start to look outdated. When this happens, you have a few options – you can paint over the existing backsplash, apply new tiles or panels over it, or fully remove and replace it. Fully removing and replacing a backsplash requires more work, but allows you to completely transform the look of your space. This guide will walk you through the entire process of removing a backsplash step-by-step.

Gather Your Supplies

Before starting demolition, make sure you have the proper tools and safety equipment. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Safety goggles & mask – to protect your eyes and respiratory system from dust
  • Pry bar – to remove tiles and adhesive
  • Hammer – to break apart tile and knock off adhesive
  • Putty knife or paint scraper – to scrape off remaining adhesive
  • Shop vacuum – to contain dust and debris
  • Tile cutter – for removing intact tiles you want to save
  • Utility knife – for precise cuts
  • Drop cloths – to protect floors and surfaces from damage

You may also need new backsplash materials like tile, grout, adhesive, etc. once the old one is removed. Have these materials on hand before beginning.

Protect Surfaces and Disconnect Appliances

Before demolition, you’ll want to protect surfaces from damage. Cover counters, floors, and appliances with drop cloths. Remove any items from counters or walls that could get in the way. Turn off and disconnect kitchen appliances like the stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher so they don’t get damaged. Turn off the main water supply to avoid leaks.

Prepare the Workspace

Removing a backsplash can kick up a lot of dust, debris and particles. To keep your workspace clean:

  • Seal doorways with plastic sheeting to prevent dust from spreading to other rooms.
  • Open windows and use fans to ventilate the area.
  • Cover air vents to prevent dust from circulating throughout the home.
  • Wear a mask and goggles to protect yourself from debris.

Have a shop vac ready to frequently clean up debris and keep the area contained.

Removing Backsplash Tiles

With your prep work complete, it’s time to start removing tiles. There are a few methods you can use:

Pry Tiles Off

Use a pry bar wedged between tiles to pop them off the wall. Apply force gradually. Be careful not to damage the surrounding drywall. Prying off tiles is easiest when the adhesive behind them is weak or brittle.

Hammer and Chisel/Putty Knife Under

Use a hammer and chisel or putty knife to chip away at grout lines. This will break tiles free from adhesive. Position the chisel or putty knife at an angle under tiles and tap gently with the hammer. Apply force gradually to avoid damaging the walls.

Score and Break Tiles

Use a utility knife to score lines through grout surrounding tiles. Then break tiles into smaller sections by tapping a hammer against the score lines. Remove smaller sections of tile rather than wrestling with large ones.

Cut Intact Tiles

Use a wet tile saw to cut out intact tiles you wish to preserve. Cut through grout lines surrounding tiles. Remove tiles carefully to avoid breaking them.

Go slowly and be patient during this process. Remove debris frequently to keep your workspace clean.

Removing Adhesive Residue

Once tiles are removed, you’ll be left with layers of thick, sticky adhesive. Removing adhesive takes finesse and elbow grease.

Start by scraping off any chunks and loose debris with a putty knife or paint scraper. Apply force at an angle to avoid gouging the walls. Next, you’ll want to dissolve the remaining adhesive residue. There are a few methods:

Chemical Solvents

Adhesive solvents are the most effective way to break down old adhesive. Look for solvents made specifically for tile or mastic adhesive. Apply a solvent like KB-1 Plus liberally to adhesive and let it sit for 5-15 minutes. The adhesive will soften for easier removal.

Heat Gun

A heat gun can soften mastic or thinset adhesive for scraping. Apply heat slowly to warm adhesive and make it more pliable. Be careful not to scorch or burn surrounding areas. Heat guns work best on small sections.


For thin layers of residue, use a sander or grinder with a coarse grit attachment. A random orbital sander generally works better than a palm sander. Apply moderate pressure and gradually smooth away adhesive. This produces a lot of dust – keep your vacuum handy.

Don’t use abrasive removal methods on drywall, as it will damage the paper facing. Take your time with removal – going too aggressively can harm walls. Thoroughly wash walls once finished to remove any remaining debris.

Disposing of Debris

A backsplash tear out project produces loads of debris. Be sure to dispose of it properly:

  • Broken tile pieces can go in your regular trash. Avoid leaving jagged edges that could harm waste collectors.
  • Adhesive scrapings may contain asbestos – do not place in regular trash. Seal waste in leak-proof bags and dispose of properly. Check local regulations for asbestos disposal.
  • Rinse dust and particles from drop cloths into garbage bags. Do not rinse debris down drains.

After removing the old backsplash, your walls are now blank canvases ready for a new backsplash installation. Be sure to repair any damage to drywall before applying new backsplash materials. Follow all backsplash manufacturer instructions for proper installation over bare drywall.


How do I soften mastic adhesive?

To soften mastic adhesive, you can use chemical solvents made specifically for mastic. Apply solvent liberally and let it sit for 5-15 mins before scraping. You can also use a heat gun to warm and soften mastic for removal. Go slowly to avoid burning.

What tools do I need to get backsplash tiles off?

The main tools for removing backsplash tiles include a pry bar, hammer, putty knife/paint scraper, and utility knife. Use the pry bar to wedge under tiles and pop them off. Use the hammer and putty knife to chip away at grout. Score grout lines with a utility knife before breaking tile.

How do I remove backsplash glue?

Start by scraping off any loose chunks of old adhesive with a putty knife or paint scraper. Then apply adhesive solvents or use a heat gun to soften and dissolve remaining residue. Gently scrape softened adhesive off. For thin layers, use a sander or grinder with coarse grit to smooth residue away.

How do I remove backsplash without damaging drywall?

  • Go slowly and apply minimal force when prying tiles to avoid ripping drywall paper.
  • Use solvents or heat instead of excessive scraping to dissolve adhesive.
  • Use sanders/grinders lightly to prevent gouging the drywall.
  • Repair any drywall damage before installing new backsplash. Joint compound and primer will cover scrapes.

Can I put new tile backsplash over old?

It’s generally not recommended to install new tiles over an existing backsplash. The layers of old adhesive and grout make it difficult for new tiles to adhere properly. Uneven surfaces can also prevent a quality installation. Fully removing the old backsplash allows you to start fresh with a smooth, even surface.

How do I prep walls for new backsplash installation?

Once old backsplash is removed, ensure walls are smooth, clean and dry. Repair any gouges in drywall and apply primer to bare drywall. Seal porous surfaces like plywood with primer or sealer. Finally, apply appropriate backsplash adhesive before installing new tiles. Follow all manufacturer instructions.

Is it cheaper to remove or cover backsplash?

Covering a backsplash with new tiles, panels or paint is generally cheaper than fully removing and replacing it. However, covering an outdated backsplash usually gives a temporary facelift versus a full transformation. Weigh costs vs. benefits – removal brings higher costs but allows you to completely revamp your kitchen or bath.

What do I do with old backsplash tiles?

Salvage intact tiles by cutting them out with a wet saw if you wish to reuse them elsewhere. Broken tiles can go in the trash. Try to recycle or donate usable tiles if you choose not to keep them. Many architectural salvage stores also accept dismantled tiles.

How long does it take to remove backsplash?

Removing a full backsplash takes anywhere from 1-3 days depending on size. Allow time for preparing the workspace, demolishing tiles, removing adhesive, hauling away debris, and cleaning up properly. Rushing the job can lead to damage and accidents. Go slowly to do it right.


Removing an outdated or damaged backsplash completely revives your kitchen or bathroom’s look. With the right tools and safety precautions, you can tackle this project as a DIYer. Just remember to work slowly, use solvents and heat instead of excessive force, and dispose of debris properly. Your efforts will pay off when you have a fresh, blank slate ready for installing a trendy new backsplash. So don your goggles and gloves, turn up the tunes, and get to work transforming your space by removing that old backsplash.