Removing a ceramic tile backsplash in your kitchen can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be accomplished successfully as a DIY project. A ceramic tile backsplash can get damaged, worn out, or you may simply want to update your kitchen with a new backsplash style. Whatever the reason, this guide will walk you through the entire process of removing ceramic tile from your kitchen backsplash.
Assess the Tile and Backsplash Area
Before starting demolition, take time to fully evaluate the backsplash area and tiles.
- Carefully inspect the tiles and note the material, size, texture and any special mounting techniques used. Ceramic backsplash tiles are typically glazed ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone.
- Determine if the tiles extend partially or fully to the ceiling and any special trim pieces used.
- Look at the grout lines and joint size which can impact how difficult tile removal will be.
- Check whether the tiles continue into adjacent spaces like behind the stove.
- Assess whether the backsplash was professionally installed or DIY. Pro installations often use more durable mounting techniques.
Thoroughly understanding the tiles and entire scope of the area to be removed will help estimate the time, tools and effort needed to complete this project.
Gather Necessary Materials and Tools
Removing ceramic backsplash tiles requires having the right combination of tools and supplies on hand. Key items needed include:
- Hammer – A claw hammer, sledgehammer or small sledge will be useful for breaking tiles and knocking off adhesive.
- Safety glasses and gloves – For eye and hand protection from debris and sharp edges.
- Dust mask – To avoid breathing in tile, grout and adhesive dust. An N95 mask is ideal.
- Pry bar – A sturdy pry bar is essential for removing stubborn tiles and adhesive.
- Putty knives – For scraping off adhesive residue after tiles are removed.
- Utility knife – Comes in handy for a variety of tasks like scraping grout and cutting mesh.
- Grout saw – Makes cutting through grout lines easier and cleaner.
- Trash bags – For collecting and disposing of tile pieces and debris.
- Knee pads – For comfort especially when working on floor installations.
- Drop cloths – For protecting surfaces from debris and dust.
- Scrub brush – For cleaning the backsplash surface after tile removal.
- Vacuum – Wet/dry vacuums simplify cleaning up dust and debris.
- Painters tape – Can help protect adjacent surfaces from damage.
Prepare the Backsplash Area
With your tools gathered, now you can start prepping the backsplash area for tile removal:
- Clear countertops and stove – Remove everything from counters and carefully pull stove/fridge away from the wall.
- Protect surfaces – Use drop cloths and painters tape to cover countertops, appliances and floors.
- Photograph before – Take photos of the existing backsplash from a couple angles before starting demolition.
- Turn off electricity – Shut off power to any outlets, switches or lights in the backsplash zone.
- Remove grout lines – Use a grout saw or oscillating tool to cut any remaining grout free from the tile joints.
- Start on an edge – Plan to begin prying off tiles from an outer corner or edge if possible.
- Have a debris strategy – Set up trash bags and vacuum nearby to promptly contain debris.
- Take your time – Tile removal can be messy and physically demanding. Work slowly and carefully.
Following these preparatory steps will create a cleaner, safer workspace and set you up for easier tile removal.
Techniques for Removing Ceramic Wall Tiles
With prep work complete, it’s time to start taking those tiles off the wall. Here are some of the most effective techniques:
Pry Tiles Off with Leverage
- Wedge the flat pry bar into the corner of a tile and adjacent grout joint.
- Slowly apply pressure until you break the tile free.
- Work systematically across and down columns of tiles.
- To avoid gouging the wall, place a wood block between the pry bar and wall as you lever tiles off.
Strike Tiles with a Hammer
- Use a regular claw hammer, small sledge or rubber mallet.
- Swing firmly but controlled, striking the tile face at its corner or along a grout line.
- Aim blows to crack, chip and dislodge tiles without damaging the underlying wall.
- Wear eye protection to avoid debris.
Knock Off Rows of Tiles
- Use a long pry bar or sturdy 2×4 wood block.
- Slide the bar behind an entire row of tiles.
- Forcefully strike the end to knock tiles loose in sections.
Remove Adhesive Residue
- Once tiles are removed, change to a putty knife.
- Holding it at a 45° angle, work the knife over residual adhesive.
- Take care not to gouge into the wall surface below.
- A heat gun can help soften particularly stubborn adhesive deposits.
Special Considerations for Removing Floor Tile
The techniques above all apply when removing ceramic tiles from a kitchen backsplash. Yet tackling ceramic floor tile removal brings added considerations:
- Floor tile demolition is tougher on the body – use knee pads and take frequent breaks.
- The subfloor below floor tiles may be plywood, cement board or concrete.
- Removing thinset mortar off cement-based floors can be very difficult.
- A flooring scraper, oscillating multi-tool or angle grinder simplify cutting floor tile and mortar.
- Expect the process to be slower and more labor intensive than a wall backsplash.
So while the fundamentals are the same, removing ceramic floor tiles requires extra tools and perseverance.
How to Dispose and Recycle Ceramic Tiles
As old ceramic tiles come down, you’ll accumulate piles of tile fragments, dust and debris. Here are smart ways to handle the waste:
- Wear a dust mask when sweeping and bagging up tile pieces.
- Only dispose of small amounts of tiles in your regular household trash.
- For larger quantities, check if tiles can be taken to a construction debris recycling center. Call ahead to confirm policies.
- Some ceramic tiles may contain asbestos. Have tiles tested before disturbing them. Special disposal is required for asbestos tile waste.
- Leftover intact tiles can potentially be re-used for other projects or sold/donated.
- Grout, thinset and adhesive can go in the trash once dried and solidified.
Proper handling and disposal of backsplash tile waste makes the project safer while benefiting the environment.
Preparing the Backsplash for New Tiles
Once the tedious demolition work is complete, take time to get the backsplash surface ready for new tile installation:
- Remove any remaining grout haze or adhesive with a scrub brush and cleaning solution.
- Fill any gouges, holes or cracked drywall with patching compound and sand smooth.
- Prime and paint the backsplash area with an appropriate primer and latex paint.
- Look for sources of potential moisture like leaky plumbing that could impact new tiles.
- Ensure the surface is clean, smooth, dry and ready for the thinset mortar application.
With the backsplash prepped, you can move on to the fun part – picking out and installing a stunning new backsplash design!
Frequently Asked Questions About Removing Ceramic Tile
Here are answers to some of the most common questions about DIY ceramic tile removal projects:
What tools do I need to remove ceramic wall tiles?
A hammer, putty knives, pry bar, grout saw, gloves and eye protection are essential tools. For floor tiles, add a floor scraper, oscillating tool or angle grinder.
How do I get thick adhesive off the wall after removing tiles?
Scraping with a putty knife can remove quite a bit. For really stubborn adhesive, try heating with a hair dryer or heat gun while scraping.
Can I put new tile backsplash directly over old tile?
It’s not recommended. Existing tile should be removed to allow proper thinset mortar bonding to the wall.
How do I remove tough thinset mortar from a concrete floor?
Use an angle grinder or oscillating multi-tool fitted with a special concrete/masonry blade. Wear eye and breathing protection.
What is the easiest way to break ceramic floor tiles?
The most efficient method is using an electric hammer drill with a masonry drill bit to break apart tiles. Wedge tiles up and continue drilling to dislodge completely.
Is it cheaper to remove tile yourself or hire a contractor?
In most cases you can save substantially on labor costs by taking on tile removal as a DIY project. Just be prepared for an arduous and time-consuming process.
Removing an existing ceramic tile backsplash in your kitchen takes time, effort and the right tools. But with the proper techniques, safety precautions and disposal methods, a DIY tile removal project can successfully prepare your backsplash for an exciting new look. If the scope of the job is beyond your comfort level, don’t hesitate to call in a professional tile removal contractor. But for many do-it-yourselfers, taking on this challenging demolition project can be extremely rewarding, not to mention cost-effective. Just be sure to do thorough prep work, work slowly and carefully, and properly handle the waste. With some perseverance and muscle, you’ll have that outdated tile backsplash eliminated and ready for your stunning new upgrade.