Removing countertops without damaging the backsplash can be a tricky process, but with the right planning and precautions it can absolutely be done. As experienced home renovation experts, we have successfully removed many countertops over the years without harming the surrounding backsplash tiles.
In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the entire process step-by-step, from initial preparation and tools needed to carefully detaching the countertop and cleaning up afterwards. We will also provide plenty of tips and warnings along the way to help ensure you do not accidentally damage your backsplash during removal.
Gather Necessary Materials and Tools
Before starting demolition, you need to gather all the necessary materials and tools to safely and efficiently remove the countertop. Having everything ready ahead of time will make the process smoother. Here is a list of suggested items to have on hand:
- Safety goggles – to protect your eyes from flying debris
- Dust mask – to avoid inhaling dust particles
- Work gloves – to protect your hands from sharp edges
- Pry bar – to gently pry the countertop free from the base cabinets and walls
- Hammer – to tap the pry bar and break adhesive seal
- ** reciprocating saw** – to cut countertop into manageable sections for removal (an oscillating multi-tool also works well)
- Utility knife – to cut caulk beads and adhesive remnants
- Garbage bags – to collect countertop debris as you work
- Shop vac – to contain dust and particles
- Cleaning solutions – soapy water, degreaser, etc to wipe up adhesive
- Rags – for cleaning up messes
Other Helpful Items
- Headlamp – if working in dim areas under cabinets
- Knee pads – to protect knees when crawling around work area
Tip: Gather all tools, supplies, and demolition debris containment ahead of time so you are fully prepared for each step of the process.
Clear Countertops and Work Area
Before starting demolition, thoroughly clear the countertops and surrounding work area to prevent damage to any items.
- Remove everything from on top of the countertops including small appliances, kitchen accessories, decorative items, etc. It is safest to temporarily relocate these out of the work zone.
- Clear off base cabinets and any shelves or ledges above the countertop work area. Fragmented countertop pieces may fall downwards during removal.
- Cover floors, base cabinets, and backsplashes with drop cloths or plastic sheeting. This will help protect surfaces from dust, debris, and adhesive. Tape down coverings securely.
- Ensure no glass, dishes, food items or other breakable objects are left in nearby cabinets or shelves where they could get damaged by vibrations during demolition. Relocate anything fragile to another room.
Thoroughly prepping the workspace helps allow for safe and efficient countertop removal without worrying about any possessions getting damaged in the process.
Inspect Backsplash and Countertop Connection
Before attempting to pry or detach the countertop, first inspect how it was originally installed and connected to the backsplash. Understanding the specifics of your unique kitchen construction will ensure you can safely detach the countertop without harming the surrounding tile.
Check for Backsplash Grout Lines
Examine the joint where the countertop meets the backsplash. Is there grout present in this seam? Or is it simply caulked?
- Grout lines indicate the backsplash tiles extend under the countertop edge and overlap with the substrate underneath. This is good – it means the backsplash is firmly integrated into the wall structure and should not detach with the countertop.
- No grout lines, only caulk often means the backsplash tiles do not fully extend underneath. The tiles may only be adhered to the countertop edge itself. In this case, extra care must be taken when prying free the countertop to avoid pulling off tiles.
Look for Adhesive Beads
Adhesive is often applied in thick beads along the seam where countertop and backsplash meet. Look for dried adhesive residue or caulk remnants stuck to both the countertop edge and backsplash.
The presence of adhesive here indicates the need for very gentle prying motion to slowly detach the countertop without ripping off chunks of backsplash in the process.
Try Wiggling Countertop
Gently attempt to “wiggle” or lift the countertop near the seam with the backsplash. Does it appear firmly attached? Or does it have some play?
If the countertop barely moves at all, it is likely strongly bonded to the substrate and tiles. Significant adhesive and caulking were probably used during installation. Expect a very slow, delicate removal process.
If the countertop easily lifts a bit from the wall, it may be less securely attached, allowing for a somewhat quicker removal. But still use extreme care around the backsplash.
Safely Detach Countertop from Cabinets
With inspection complete, you can now begin carefully detaching the countertop from the base cabinets and any adjoining walls or surfaces while avoiding damage to the surrounding backsplash tiles. This is often the most delicate and crucial stage of removal. Patience is key!
Cut Any Caulk Beads
Use a sharp utility knife to slice through any caulk beads, old adhesive, or other sealants adhering the countertop to the backsplash. Cut vertically through the beads up against both the countertop edge and tile.
Removing these adhering substances first allows the countertop to detach more cleanly later on.
Warning: Do not gouge or scrape caulk against the backsplash tiles themselves – this could scratch or chip the tile faces. Keep cutting action against the countertop edge only.
Insert Pry Bar and Gently Lever
Carefully insert the flat pry bar into the new gap created between countertop and backsplash after cutting old caulk beads. Slowly and gently lever sideways to begin detaching the countertop from the base cabinet edge beneath.
Apply even steady pressure on the pry bar – no jerking motions. Continuous levering motion will gradually break the adhesive seal beneath.
Caution: Do not aggressively pry upwards, as this risks cracking tiles right off the walls. Only pry sideways parallel to cabinents.
If needed, have someone tap the pry bar end lightly with a hammer to help dislodge the bond while you lever it. But use minimal force to protect backsplash.
Work Slowly Along Entire Seam
Gradually work your way down the entire seam, prying a few inches at a time until the full countertop edge releases from cabients and walls. Expect this to be slow going, requiring 20-30 minutes of diligent prying.
Rushing this risks damaging tiles, so be patient! Frequently stop and inspect that no backsplash tiles are cracking or loosening. Carefully pry up any that snag on adhesive and re-adhere with tile mortar later after countertop is removed.
Cut Through Stubborn Adhesive
For any extremely stubborn areas where adhesive simply won’t release, you can carefully slice through it with a utility knife or oscillating multi-tool while prying. This helps free the bond while minimizing force against tiles.
Scoring through adhesive also allows you to gradually separate the countertop without ripping off chunks of backsplash mortar in the process. Just be very gentle and precise when cutting.
Remove Detached Countertop in Sections
Once fully pried free from base cabinets and surrounding walls, the detached countertop can now be safely maneuvered out. But it is often too large and unwieldy to remove in one intact piece without damaging backsplash. Instead:
Slice Countertop into Manageable Sections
Use a reciprocating saw to cut the freed countertop into smaller, lighter pieces that can be easily lifted out without scraping against backsplash. Make relief cuts completely through the countertop every 4-5 feet.
This allows you to remove the countertop in several smaller, manageable pieces rather than wrestling with one massive slab. The backsplash is far less likely to get damaged this way.
Tip: Set saw blade depth just deep enough to cut through countertop – do not also slice into cabinet or walls beneath!
Carefully Maneuver Pieces Out
With the countertop cut into smaller sections, you can now gingerly lift and angle each piece out.
Slide pieces sideways through the opening first, keeping the cut edge lifted up. This prevents scraping the ragged severed edge against backsplash tiles during removal.
If any section feels too heavy or unsteady to lift alone, get a helper. Together, carefully tilt and rotate pieces as needed to finagle them out without damaging surrounding tiles.
Immediately Discard Debris
As each countertop segment is removed, immediately take it to a dumpster or trailer to get it out of the workspace. Leaving scattered piles of debris can lead to accidentally bumping the backsplash later on.
Maneuvering cut countertop chunks out takes time and patience. But it is truly the safest means of removal without harming the backsplash.
Clean Up Backsplash and Prepare for New Countertop
With the old countertop fully detached and discarded, just a bit of finishing cleanup remains:
Wipe Away Adhesive Residue
Examine the backsplash tiles and wallboard closely for any lingering adhesive, caulk beads, or bonded mortar remnants. Using either cleaning solvents, a scraper, or sandpaper, gently remove every last bit of residue.
This ensures the backsplash will bond properly with the new countertop later on. It also prevents uneven tile edges that could telegraph through a fresh countertop installation.
Re-adhere Loose Tiles
During the removal process, some backsplash tiles may have come loose or unbonded along the outer edges. Glue any of these detached tiles back into place with tile mortar.
Let set completely before installing new countertop. Use painter’s tape temporarily to hold tiles flush with wall until mortar cures.
Fill Gaps with Caulk
For any tiny gaps left between backsplash tiles after re-adhering, fill carefully with paintable silicone caulk that matches the tile grout color. Tool smoothly for a flush finish.
Filling gaps leaves a pristine backsplash surface ready for bonding to the new replacement countertop.
Prepare Walls and Cabinets
Sand and clean base cabinets to prep for new countertop installation. Fill any gouges or damage with wood filler and sand smooth.
Also address any wall surface flaws revealed after the old countertop removal. Scrape off old mortar chunks, sand uneven areas, fill gaps, etc.
With a smooth and clean base cabinet and wall surface beneath, you can install the new countertop knowing it will bond tightly and properly without uneven spots.
Hiring a Professional for Worry-Free Removal
For homeowners uneasy about risking backsplash damage during DIY countertop removal, hiring a professional installer is advisable.
Experienced contractors have specialized tools and expertise to detach and extract countertops far more safely and efficiently. Their process may include:
- Using power cutters to cleanly free stubborn adhesive beneath countertops without prying force
- Specialized pry bars that gently release bond instead of twisting tiles
- Suction cups to slowly but steadily detach countertop from wall
- Removal via small sections cut with tile saw for safer lift out
Professional installers also have experience addressing common challenges like:
- Brittle backsplash grout requiring reinforcement before prying
- Unexpectedly weak tile adhesion requiring gentler technique
- Critical structural support points necessitating careful extraction
While pro removal does cost more upfront, it virtually eliminates the risks of repairing accidental backsplash damage later on. For many homeowners, avoiding these risks justifies the added expense of hiring a contractor for worry-free countertop removal.
Step-by-Step Backsplash Protection Tips
To recap, here are the key steps and tips for removing a countertop without harming the surrounding backsplash:
- Clear countertop and cover nearby surfaces for protection
- Inspect seam with backsplash and look for grout lines and adhesive
- Cut any caulk beads before prying to allow clean detachment
- Insert pry bar sideways and lever gently to break adhesive seal
- Slowly work down entire seam, stopping to check for tile damage
- Make relief cuts in freed countertop to remove in smaller pieces
- Carefully lift and tilt sections out, keeping cut edges raised
- Immediately discard removed pieces to avoid bumping backsplash
- Clean off any adhesive residue left on tiles or walls
- Re-adhere any loosened tiles and fill gaps before installing new top
The most crucial advice is this: Take your time! Resist rushing while prying, cutting or removing the countertop sections. Patience preserves your backsplash.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many homeowners considering a countertop removal have additional questions about protecting the surrounding backsplash. Here are answers to some of the most common inquiries:
How can I tell if my backsplash is at risk of damage?
Check for grout lines under the countertop edge – these indicate tiles extend safely under. No grout lines mean tiles may be adhered only to the countertop itself, risking removal damage.
What’s the best way to remove caulk from the countertop/backsplash seam?
Use a very sharp utility knife to slice vertically through caulk beads. Don’t scrape caulk off tiles – this can scratch. Just cut along the countertop edge.
Can I use a reciprocating saw or circular saw to detach the countertop?
No – the aggressive blades can easily chip tile and are hard to control. A simple pry bar with gentle levering is safest for the delicate task.
How do I remove thin-set mortar dried between the backsplash and old countertop?
Try scraping it off carefully with a putty knife. Also soften first with water or adhesive remover chemicals. Avoid excessive force.
My backsplash grout is crumbling. What should I do before removal?
Re-grout any failing grout lines to reinforce before countertop removal. This helps prevent tiles from detaching.
What if a few backsplash tiles do come loose?
Don’t panic! Just glue them back into place with fresh thinset mortar after the old countertop is gone. New tiles can also be installed if needed.
Is it okay to leave uneven thinset on the wallboard behind the backsplash after removal?
No, adhesive remnants should be fully scraped smooth or sanded off. This ensures proper bonding when replacing the countertop.
How can I prevent damaging a brick, stone or concrete backsplash?
These delicate materials require a professional’s touch! Hire a contractor experienced with gentle removal techniques for your backsplash type.
Removing a countertop without harming the surrounding backsplash is possible with careful precision and planning. Always work slowly and cautiously. Instantly address any tiles loosening with adhesive to prevent damage. Patience and the proper tools are key for success.
While DIY removal is achievable for many homeowners, don’t hesitate to call in a professional if you lack experience or feel unsure about safely detaching your countertop. The cost of hiring a pro is typically less than extensive backsplash repairs later on.
With some diligence and these backsplash protection tips, you can eliminate your outdated countertop without a single cracked tile. Soon you will have a seamless, damage-free backsplash ready for a gorgeous new countertop installation. Just take it slow and exercise extreme care around this delicate feature!