How to Remove Glue from Backsplash


Backsplashes protect your walls from water damage and spills while adding style to your kitchen or bathroom. However, over time, the backsplash tiles can become damaged or you may want to change the look by installing new tiles. When removing existing backsplash tiles, you’ll need to deal with the adhesive used to attach the tiles. Removing the adhesive or glue can be tricky, but with the right techniques and tools, you can get it off successfully.

This comprehensive guide will discuss multiple methods for removing the glue residue from backsplashes. We will cover how to eliminate mastic, mortar, thinset, and construction adhesives from tile and drywall. With some elbow grease and cleaning solutions, you can clear away the old glue and prep the surface for new tiles.

Assessing the Backsplash Adhesive

Before deciding on a removal process, you need to identify the specific type of adhesive used on the backsplash. This will determine which method and products work best for removing it. Here are some of the most common types of backsplash tile adhesives:


Mastic is a latex-based adhesive often used to attach smaller tiles like mosaics, pennies, and subway tiles. It has a putty-like consistency and is water-soluble. Mastic allows for flexibility and is easy to apply with a trowel or putty knife. It may be labeled as “adhesive” or “acrylic caulk.”


Mortar is a thick cement-based adhesive used for larger tiles. It provides a very secure bond but can be difficult to remove from the wall. Mortar is applied with a notched trowel and allowed to dry completely before applying tiles.


Thinset mortar is a blend of cement, minerals, and polymers that creates a strong bond for tile installation. It has a gritty, sandy texture and is water-resistant. Thinset is the most common adhesive used by professionals for backsplashes.

Construction Adhesive

This multipurpose adhesive comes in a caulking tube. It is ideal for installing tile on surfaces besides cementboard like drywall. It cures to form a flexible, waterproof bond. Construction adhesives are commonly used for DIY backsplash projects.

Once you identify the adhesive on your backsplash, you can proceed to the appropriate removal technique.

Softening the Adhesive

One of the keys to effectively eliminating existing backsplash glue is softening it first. This makes it easier to scrape off and reduces damage to the underlying surface. Here are some recommended options for softening tile adhesive:

Hot Water

For water-soluble adhesives like mastic, a simple spritz of hot water may do the trick. Use a spray bottle filled with the hottest possible water. Spray the mastic, allowing the water to soften it for 5-10 minutes before scraping. Reapply as needed until the adhesive softens up.

Vinegar or Ammonia

These mildly acidic solutions help break down many types of adhesives. Mix a solution of 1 part vinegar or ammonia to 3 parts hot water. Spray or mop this onto the glue residue and allow it to soak in for 15-20 minutes before scraping up.

Solvent-Based Chemicals

Adhesive remover, Goof Off, or denatured alcohol will all help dissolve and soften certain backsplash glues. Apply a liberal amount to the adhesive and wait 10-15 minutes. Check if the glue has swollen and started to separate from the surface. Reapply and allow more time as needed.


For mortar or thinset, a wallpaper steamer can be useful for loosening the bond. Hold the steam plate against the adhesive for 30 seconds at a time, then scrape. The combination of heat and moisture will soften the glue.

Be sure to spot test chemicals and steam in an inconspicuous place first. Follow the product directions for proper usage. Wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area.

Scrape Off the Adhesive

Once the glue begins to soften, the next step is scraping off as much of the residue as possible. Here are some tools that can help:

  • Putty knives or paint scrapers – good for mastic, thinset, and construction adhesive
  • Mortar chisels – designed to chip away tough mortar adhesive
  • Specialty adhesive scraper – has wheels and corner edge to remove glue
  • Plastic wall scraper – flexible for scraping glue off drywall
  • Wire brush – helps scrub off extra sticky spots

Hold the scraper at a 45° angle against the surface and apply firm pressure while scraping. Take care not to gouge or puncture the drywall or tile underneath. Wipe off any adhesive residue and reapply the softening solution as needed while scraping.

Repeat the process until you have removed all accessible glue from the backsplash area. For crevices or corners, use a small putty knife or the specialty tools made for adhesive removal.

Remove Remaining Glue with Sandpaper

Even after thorough scraping, there may be some adhesive residue left behind. Using sandpaper helps eliminatethe last of the dried glue for optimal results.

For the smoothest outcome, begin sanding with a medium grit around 150. Rub the sandpaper over the areas with remaining adhesive using firm pressure. Check periodically to see if the glue has been removed from the surface.

Once most residue has been sanded away, switch to a fine grit sandpaper (220-320) for the final pass. The fine sanding will smooth the wall surface and eliminate glue in crevices. Take precautions not to excessively roughen or damage the backsplash area.

Thoroughly vacuum up all the adhesive dust when finished sanding. The wall should now be prepared and adhesive-free for new tile installation.

Clean and Prep the Surface

As the final step in removing old backsplash glue, you need to properly clean and prep the surface:

  • Wash with TSP substitute cleaner to remove grease and soap residue
  • Rinse thoroughly and allow area to dry fully
  • Fix any gouges or damage to drywall with joint compound
  • Prime repaired drywall and unpainted cementboard
  • Apply leveling coats if needed to smooth the surface

The wall should now be in ideal condition for your new backsplash tile project.

Tips for Removing Difficult Backsplash Glue

Not all adhesive will easily scrape off, even with the proper softening and tools. Here are some tips for getting rid of the most stubborn glue residue:

Heat Gun

For thinset mortar, use a heat gun to warm it up before scraping. Apply heat evenly until the adhesive softens up. Avoid holding it too long in one spot which can damage drywall.

Chemical Strippers

Harsh chemicals like adhesive remover, xylene, or methylene chloride can help dissolve glue when other methods fail. Use proper ventilation, gloves, and eye protection with these caustic products.

Replace Drywall

If the adhesive has soaked deeply into drywall or cementboard, it may be impossible to remove completely. At that point, it may be easier to replace that section of wallboard rather than struggle with glue residue.

Mechanical Removal

Tools like oscillating multi-tools, circular saws, or rotary grinders adapted with scraping blades can mechanically remove adhesive. This is often used by pros for quick removal or commercial projects. Use extreme caution not to damage walls.

With some time and effort, even the toughest glue can be eliminated from backsplashes. Patience and the proper process will allow you to successfully recycle your wall space.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the easiest way to remove old tile adhesive?

The easiest method is to soften the adhesive first with hot water, vinegar, or chemical removers. This allows the glue to release from the surface so it can be more effectively scraped off. Using the proper tools like putty knives, plastic scrapers, and sandpaper can then remove the residue.

What should I avoid when trying to remove old backsplash glue?

Avoid using excessive force or sharp tools which could damage the walls. Prevent irritation to eyes and skin by wearing gloves and safety glasses when using chemicals. Don’t use abrasive materials that could scratch surfaces like steel wool or grinders. Work carefully to avoid harming the existing backsplash.

What should I do if there are multiple layers of backsplash adhesive?

Take the time to remove each layer individually following the process. Start with the top layer, fully eliminating it before moving to the next level down. Repeated hot water, chemical removers, scraping, and sanding will be required to completely remove all layers of old adhesive.

What tools do professionals use to remove adhesive from backsplashes?

Pros often rely on oscillating multi-tools or handheld scrapers with interchangeable blades. These motorized tools make fast work of backsplash adhesive removal. Rotary grinding accessories may also be used but require caution not to damage walls. Many pros also utilize chemical strippers to dissolve difficult glues.

Is there an eco-friendly way to remove tile adhesive?

Yes, for a more natural removal process avoid harsh chemical strippers. Instead rely on hot water, vinegar, liquid dish soap or eco-solvent adhesive removers. Pair this with plastic scrapers and sandpaper instead of motorized grinding tools. This green method takes more elbow grease but avoids dangerous chemicals.


Removing old glue from backsplash areas takes effort but is completely doable. With the proper process and products, you can eliminate adhesive from tile, cementboard and drywall surfaces. Identify the specific type of glue then soften it using hot water, vinegar, removers or steam. Scraping and sanding will take care of the bulk. Finish by cleaning and prepping so the space is ready for new backsplash tiles. Now you can update your kitchen or bath with a fresh tile look.