How to Remove Ceramic Backsplash

Removing a ceramic tile backsplash can be a tricky DIY project, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be accomplished successfully. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to remove a ceramic backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom.

Assess the Tile and Wall Material

The first step is to examine the existing backsplash tile and determine what material it is made from. Ceramic tiles can be glazed or unglazed. Glazed ceramic is smoother and more resistant to scratches. Unglazed tile is more porous.

You’ll also need to check what type of material is behind the tile. Drywall, plaster, concrete, or cement backerboard are common wall materials used behind backsplashes. This will determine what tools and methods you’ll need for removal.

Gather the Proper Tools

Removing ceramic tile backsplash requires having the right tools on hand. Here are some recommended tools:

  • Safety glasses and gloves for protection
  • Hammer for breaking up tile and concrete
  • Cold chisel to wedge under tiles
  • Putty knife for scraping off old adhesive
  • Utility knife for cutting mesh backing
  • Pry bar for leverage and pulling nails
  • Dust mask to avoid breathing tile dust
  • Shop vacuum to contain debris

A variable speed reciprocating saw or oscillating multi-tool with a diamond blade can also make quicker work of cutting through the tile.

Protect Surrounding Areas

Before starting demolition, thoroughly cover and protect any areas surrounding the backsplash. Use painter’s tape and plastic sheeting to cover countertops, floors, appliances and cabinets. This will make cleanup much easier later.

Turn off any electricity running to the backsplash at the circuit breaker. Remove any outlets, switch plates or accent lighting fixtures from the backsplash area.

Remove Accessories First

If your ceramic tile backsplash has any soap dishes, towel bars or accent tiles, carefully remove these first with a screwdriver. Soak any remaining screws or anchors with penetrating oil to loosen the bond and aid removal.

Next, score around the outer edges of the backsplash tile using a utility knife. This helps delineate the area and allows the chisel to wedge behind the tiles.

Break Up the Tile

With safety glasses and gloves on, use a cold chisel and hammer to chip away at the grout lines surrounding tiles. Angle the chisel slightly underneath each tile and tap gently to wedge it up. Apply only light pressure, as too much force can damage the wall behind.

Once freed, remove tiles whole or break them up into smaller sections with the hammer. Deposit shards directly into a waste bucket or bag to contain dust. Use a shop vacuum with hose attachments to suck up any remaining debris or dust.

Remove Adhesive and Backing

With the bulk of the tile removed, focus on getting rid of any remaining thinset mortar, mastic or tile backing. Use a sharpened putty knife to gently scrape off old adhesive. Reapply penetrating oil as needed to stubborn areas.

For mesh-backed mosaic tiles, utilize a utility knife to cut away the webbing before scraping off residual thinset. Take care not to gouge into the wall surface underneath.

Go slowly and carefully to get all remnants of old tile and adhesive removed without damaging the wall. This prep work helps ensure a smooth surface for the new backsplash.

Prepare and Inspect the Wall Surface

Once everything is stripped down the bare wall, inspect the surface condition. Use sandpaper to smooth any rough areas. Check for any cracks, holes or uneven spots, and repair as needed with surface patching compound.

The wall may also need a fresh coat of drywall joint compound or skim coating to create a uniform surface for the new tile. Ensure the wall is clean, dry and ready for the next backsplash installation.

Tips and Warnings

  • Porcelain, glass and natural stone tiles require different removal tactics than standard ceramic.
  • Wear eye protection – tiles can shatter and fly when broken.
  • Change out chisel and putty knife blades frequently to keep edges sharp.
  • Take your time and don’t force tools too aggressively against the wall.
  • Dispose of demolished tile properly according to local regulations. Ceramic pieces can often be recycled.
  • Hire a professional if removing a large backsplash area or unfamiliar with demolition.

Removing an outdated or damaged ceramic backsplash takes time and care, but can be successfully accomplished as a DIY project. With the proper tools and techniques, you can clear the way for a fresh new backsplash in your kitchen or bath.

Frequently Asked Questions About Removing Ceramic Backsplash

How long does it take to remove a ceramic tile backsplash?

Depending on the size of the area, it typically takes 2 to 4 hours for a DIYer to fully remove an existing backsplash and prepare the wall for new tile. Professionals with demolition experience can complete the job in 1-2 hours.

What’s the easiest way to get rid of old tile adhesive?

Applying penetrating oils or solvents helps soften old thinset and mastic. Slowly scraping with a sharpened putty knife at a low angle is an effective method. Heat guns may also be used to soften adhesive for removal.

Can I use a hammer and chisel to remove ceramic backsplash?

Yes, a masonry hammer and cold chisel are common and useful tools for breaking up ceramic tiles and their adhesive mortar. Angle the chisel under tiles and tap lightly to pry them up. Take care not to damage the wall surface.

What should I use to protect the countertops when removing backsplash tile?

Painter’s tape, cardboard and plastic sheeting make great protective covers for countertops and adjacent surfaces when demolishing a ceramic backsplash. Remove any décor, outlet covers or lighting fixtures from the backsplash area first.

What’s the best way to get rid of cermaic tile dust and debris?

Have a shop vacuum handy to contain dust and shards as you work. Place a dust mask over your nose and mouth and ventilate the area if necessary. Promptly dispose of debris to avoid spreading around tile fragments.


Removing old or outdated ceramic tile backsplash involves careful demolition work but yields a clean slate for installing a fresh new backsplash. Arm yourself with the proper hand and power tools, take safety precautions, and work deliberately.

Focus on getting rid of the grout, adhesive, mesh and debris without harming the underlying wall. With some time and care devoted to the project, you can open up new design possibilities with a backsplash makeover.