How to Remove Large Tile Backsplash

Removing a large tile backsplash can be a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be accomplished successfully. A tile backsplash helps protect the walls from splashes and stains in a kitchen or bathroom. Over time, you may want to update the look by removing the old backsplash and installing a new one. Large tile is durable but removing it requires patience and care to avoid damaging the drywall behind it. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process of removing a large tile backsplash safely and efficiently.

What You’ll Need

Removing a tile backsplash is a messy job that requires specific tools to protect yourself and your home. Before starting demolition, gather the following supplies:

  • Safety gear – Protective eyewear, dust mask, gloves, knee pads, ear protection
  • Drop cloths – Canvas tarps to cover floors and furnishings
  • Pry bar – A long sturdy pry bar to remove tiles
  • Hammer – A small sledgehammer or rubber mallet
  • Putty knife – For scraping off leftover thinset and grout
  • Utility knife – For cutting mesh backing and stubborn areas
  • Bucket – For collecting tile pieces and debris
  • Tile nippers – Special pliers for breaking tiles into smaller sections
  • Shop vacuum – For ongoing cleanup while working
  • Spray bottle – Filled with water to control dust
  • Mesh tape – For repairing drywall seams later
  • Drywall joint compound – To skim coat over damaged areas
  • Paint – Matching paint to cover repairs

Gather all necessary tools and safety equipment before starting to make the process faster and easier. The right preparation will create a clean workspace and prevent injury.

Protect Surrounding Areas

Before demolishing the first tile, take time to protect the work area from damage. Carefully move freestanding furniture away from the backsplash. Protect floors with canvas drop cloths and secure them with painter’s tape. Cover countertops and appliances with additional canvas. Be sure to unplug electrical outlets positioned behind the backsplash. Empty base cabinets and line them with drop cloths as well. The goal is to cordon off the backsplash area so no debris falls onto surrounding surfaces. Masking off adjacent areas is tedious but essential to prevent costly damage.

Wear Protective Equipment

Removing tile generates a significant amount of dust and flying debris. Wear safety goggles, N95 dust mask, work gloves, ear plugs, and knee pads at all times during demolition. Closed toe shoes are also a must when handling heavy materials. Review all safety gear to ensure it fits properly before starting work. Take regular breaks to prevent overexertion and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Having the right protective equipment keeps you safe and makes the removal process easier. Don’t neglect any piece of safety equipment during this potentially hazardous work.

Use Proper Demolition Techniques

With prep work and safety measures in place, it’s time to start removing tiles. Always use controlled demolition techniques to avoid damaging walls behind the backsplash. Work methodically and avoid striking too hard with the hammer. Here are the proper step-by-step methods for safe and effective tile removal:

Pry Off Any Loose Tiles

First, use a long pry bar to pop off any already cracked or damaged tiles. Insert the pry bar into the grout line behind the tile and gently twist until it releases. Try not to crack surrounding tiles at this stage. Carefully lower removed tiles into a bucket to prevent broken shards.

Score All Grout Lines

Use a utility knife to score through all grout lines surrounding each tile. Only cut deep enough to go through the grout, not the drywall behind it. Scoring grout weakens the tile bonds for easier removal.

Tap Tiles to Loosen

With grout lines scored, use light tapping motions to begin breaking the tiles free. Use a small sledgehammer or rubber mallet to gently rap the flat end of a pry bar placed against tiles. Apply force gradually to loosen the pieces while minimizing wall damage behind.

Pry Tiles Off Heavily Scored Areas

Once tiles start cracking and lifting, pry them off with steady pressure. Focus on areas with heavy scoring or missing grout for easiest removal access. Try to remove larger sections instead of individual small pieces. Work horizontally across rows and avoid leaving a single tile standing alone.

Use Tile Nippers for Stubborn Spots

For tightly adhered areas, use sturdy tile nippers to break tiles into smaller sections before prying off. Position nippers along grout lines or cracks then squeeze the handles to break apart tiles. Twist or rock the nippers if needed to fracture tiles completely. Remove busted pieces and continue tapping surrounding tiles.

Remove Mesh Backing

Many backsplashes have plastic mesh sheets behind them. Use a utility knife to cut away any remaining mesh backing after removing all tiles. Try to take off mesh sheeting in whole sections for easier cleanup.

Clean Surface Debris

With tiles demolished, use a putty knife to scrape off all old thinset adhesive and grout residue. Getting the surface as clean as possible prevents problems with uneven wall finishing later. Be sure to carefully sweep and vacuum up all debris before moving on.

Repair Damaged Drywall

Unfortunately, some level of drywall damage is inevitable when removing a tile backsplash. Don’t panic if you notice torn paper, gouges, or missing chunks of drywall behind the demolished tile. These issues are all repairable with the right joint compound and drywall finishing techniques. Here’s how to tackle common backsplash drywall repairs:

Sand Rough Areas

Use 100-150 grit sandpaper to smooth any raised edges or uneven torn paper around damaged drywall areas. Feather out rough texture so repairs will be flush. Wipe away all drywall dust after sanding before proceeding.

Fill Gouges and Holes

For small holes or gouges under 3 inches wide, apply a thin layer joint compound with a putty knife to fill them. Let dry completely then sand again if needed to smooth.

Patch Larger Missing Sections

For sections with missing drywall larger than 3 inches, cut backpaper around the hole into a square shape. Cut a new piece of 1/4″ drywall to fit and secure with drywall screws. Cover seams with joint tape and apply 3 coats of compound, letting dry between coats. Sand smooth when fully cured.

Skim Coat Damaged Areas

Once repairs are finished, do a final thin skim coat of joint compound over the entire backsplash area to blend. Glide joint compound over the surface in smooth even strokes. Let the skim coat dry fully, then sand any ridges or bumps down. The skim coat hides imperfections for a smooth finish.

Be sure to use painter’s tape and a drop cloth to protect countertops, floors, and cabinets from compound drips when repairing drywall. Take time with finishing work to get the smoothest possible surface for installing the new backsplash.

Clean and Prepare for New Backsplash

Once drywall repairs are complete, the final step is cleaning the area and prepping for a new backsplash. Here are a few last tips for finishing the job:

  • Remove all dust with tack cloths then vacuum thoroughly
  • Fill any pits, cracks, or pinholes with spackle and sand smooth
  • Wash the backsplash area with TSP substitute cleaner
  • Do not seal before installing new tile
  • Ensure the surface is perfectly smooth and clean before applying thinset for the new backsplash

With the old tile removed and drywall restored, the backsplash area will be ready for your new tile design. Removing a tile backsplash takes patience and physical effort, but the sense of accomplishment is worth it. Follow these tips to safely demolish tile without destroying your walls in the process. Protecting your home during demolition prevents having to repair costly damage. With the right preparation and tools, you can take on the challenge of removing a large tile backsplash successfully.

Frequently Asked Questions About Removing Large Tile Backsplash

Removing a tile backsplash in your home can be a big project, especially when dealing with larger format tiles. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about safely and effectively removing large backsplash tiles:

What tools do I need to remove large tile backsplash?

You’ll need a pry bar, hammer/mallet, putty knives, utility knife, safety gear, buckets, and a shop vacuum at minimum. Specialized tools like tile nippers and oscillating cutters also make quicker work of prying off stubborn tiles.

How do I avoid damaging drywall underneath the tile?

Work slowly and carefully, scoring all grout lines before attempting to pry tiles off. Use light tapping motions instead of forceful hammering. Pry tiles in sections versus wrestling off one whole row. Damage happens but can be repaired with joint compound and drywall finishing techniques.

Should I try to remove tiles whole or break them up first?

Aim to remove larger sections of tile rather than individual pieces. Use tile nippers to fracture stuck tiles into smaller segments if needed before prying off. Be sure to wear eye protection when breaking apart tile sections.

What’s the easiest way to remove stubborn thinset adhesive?

Letting tile remain in warm water for 15-30 minutes softens mortar for scraper removal. You can also carefully use an oscillating multi-tool to carve away thinset. Just be cautious not to gouge into drywall beneath.

Can I put new tile over an existing backsplash?

It’s possible but not recommended. The old tile needs to be well bonded and flat enough to apply new tile over. A fresh start by removing old backsplash completely is best for proper thinset adhesion.

How long does it take to remove an average backsplash?

Plan on the demolition process taking 8-12 hours for the average kitchen backsplash of 30-50 square feet. Removing large format subway tiles often takes more time versus small mosaics. Work patience and safely.

Should I repair drywall before or after removing countertops?

Repair drywall damage from backsplash removal before countertops come off. This allows you to tape off countertops and protects them from compound drips and scuffs during the repair process.

What’s the easiest backsplash to remove?

Mosaic sheets and smaller tile sizes come off quickest and easiest. Large format tiles 12″ x 24″ or bigger require the most time and care to pry up without damaging underlying drywall.

How do I dispose of old tile backsplash pieces?

Check with your local waste management about proper disposal. Some may allow you to discard with regular trash pickup if broken into small pieces and bags are under 50 pounds. Or you can transport larger sections to the dump yourself.


Removing a tile backsplash takes time and physical effort but is very manageable with the proper tools and techniques. Always wear safety equipment and work carefully to avoid injury or damage behind the tile. Score grout lines before prying, use tile nippers on stuck spots, and take out tiles in sections. Repair any drywall damage smoothly for a flush surface to apply the new backsplash. With patience and care, you can demolish an existing backsplash without destroying your walls in the process. Follow these tips to ensure safe and successful tile removal results.