Removing an old backsplash can update the look of your kitchen or bathroom. With some time and effort, you can remove ceramic, metal, or stone backsplash yourself. Carefully taking down the old backsplash prevents damage to walls so you can install new tile or another backsplash material.
Assessing the Backsplash
Before removing the backsplash, examine it closely. Note which materials were used and how the tiles or sheets were installed.
Common backsplash materials include:
- Ceramic or porcelain tile
- Metal like tin or stainless steel
- Stone such as marble, granite, or slate
- Glass tiles
- Painted drywall
Knowing the type of backsplash you have allows you to plan proper removal techniques. Ceramic tile set in mortar, for example, requires different tools than a stainless steel backsplash screwed to the wall.
Pay attention to how the existing backsplash was installed. Look for:
- Mortar or adhesive between tiles or sheets
- Grout between tile joints
- Screws attaching metal backsplash sheets to the wall
- Backsplash set on plastic spacers for a gap between the countertop and tiles
The installation method also determines which tools you need for removal.
Inspect the backsplash for any damage or deteriorated areas. Make note of:
- Missing, cracked, or broken tiles
- Sections of grout or caulk that are missing or failing
- Rust or holes on metal backsplash
- Stains or etching on stone backsplash
- Signs of water damage behind backsplash
Any damage to the backsplash influences how you remove it. Severely damaged sections may fall apart easily while sturdy areas require muscle and prying tools. Also repair any water damage or mold before installing new backsplash.
Gather Backsplash Removal Supplies
Removing a backsplash without damaging the wall requires having the right tools. Gather these supplies before starting demo:
- Work gloves to protect your hands from sharp edges
- Safety glasses to prevent eye injuries
- Dust mask to avoid inhaling particulates
- Ear protection like plugs to dampen tile breaking noise
- Flat pry bar for leverage and lifting tiles
- Hammer for breaking tiles and tapping chisel
- Chisel for slicing grout joints or prying tiles
- Putty knife for scraping off old adhesive and grout
- Utility knife for cutting caulk beads or felt spacers
- Sponges and buckets of water for wiping debris
- Rags, paper towels, or sponge mop for cleanup
- Tile adhesive remover for eliminating leftover glue
- Grout remover for scraping out hardened grout
- Featherboard or wood wedges to protect walls if prying tiles off
- Spackle or drywall mud for minor wall repairs
- Drop cloths to cover counters, appliances, and floors
Tip: Don’t use a screwdriver or power tools like a rotary hammer. Manual prying reduces wall damage.
Protect Surrounding Surfaces
The backsplash removal process can kick up lots of dust, debris, and dirt. Avoid extra cleanup by protecting nearby surfaces:
- Tape drop cloths over countertops and appliances.
- Clear out items below the backsplash.
- Drape plastic sheets over cabinets and floors.
- Seal doorways with plastic sheeting to contain mess.
Covering surfaces also prevents scratching from tools and falling tile pieces. It allows you to focus efforts on backsplash removal.
Prepare the Backsplash Area
With protected surroundings, you can start prepping the backsplash for removal:
Clear Backsplash Surface
Remove any items attached to the backsplash itself:
- Take down wall-mounted utensil racks, cutting boards, or shelves.
- Detach any wiring for undercabinet lighting or electrical outlets.
- Extract screws, anchors, or silicone adhesive used to adhere items.
Clearing the backsplash prevents items from impeding prying tools or falling.
Inspect and Repair Wall Behind Backsplash
Examine the drywall or plaster behind the backsplash. Look for:
- Water stains or damage from leaks
- Sections of compromised wall material
- Mold or mildew growth
Repair any wall damage to provide a smooth surface for the new backsplash. Let patching compounds fully cure before re-tiling.
Score Grout Lines
Use a utility knife to slice through existing grout joints surrounding each tile. Don’t try cutting all grout at once. Working in sections makes tiles easier to dislodge.
Cut Caulk Bead
If the backsplash was sealed to the countertop with caulk, slide a utility knife along this joint to sever the caulk bead. Trim any other perimeter caulk beads along ceiling joints or around outlets.
Scoring grout and caulk lets you break tiles and sheets loose with less force. It also reduces damage to the surrounding wall.
Remove Backsplash Tile by Tile
With prep work done, it’s time to carefully take down tile by tile or sheet by sheet. Follow these steps:
Start in an Upper Corner
Begin tile removal in the least visible spot like an upper corner. This allows you to get the hang of the demolition techniques without potentially ruining tiles in focal areas.
Wedge Tool Behind Tile
Slip the flat pry bar or chisel centrally under the first tile. For metal backsplash, you can also use a putty knife. Protect the wall by placing a wood wedge or featherboard between the tool and drywall.
Slowly Pry Tile Off Wall
Apply slow, steady force to pry the tile outward from the wall. Abrupt force can damage the tile or wall. Work the tool around all sides to free the tile.
Clear Debris and Repeat
As you remove each tile, sweep away any fallen pieces before moving to the next tile. Check the wall for any remaining mortar or adhesive and scrape off.
Work Methodically in Sections
Take down tiles systematically in 3-4 square foot sections. Don’t try removing all tiles at once. Sticking to small areas makes the job neater and easier.
Tip: Start prying tiles at the top and upper edges of the backsplash area. Gravity helps remove lower course tiles as you progress.
Eliminate Leftover Mortar and Adhesive
With the bulk of tile or sheet backsplash removed, you still need to clean the wall surface thoroughly:
Scrape Off Old Mortar
Use a putty knife or chisel to gently scrape any thick mortar deposits off the wall down to bare drywall or plaster. Avoid gouging into the wall surface.
Remove Lingering Adhesive
Apply adhesive remover to eliminte any leftover tile glue on the wall. Let the chemical soak for 5-10 minutes before scrubbing off.
Clear Out Grout from Joints
A grout removal tool, putty knife, or chisel can clean out lingering hardened grout between tile joint spaces. Use a scraping motion to eliminate residue.
Sand Away Minor Bumps
Use 100-grit sandpaper to smooth any remaining bumps or uneven areas on the wall surface. Avoid over-sanding, which can damage the integrity of drywall or plaster.
The goal is to provide a clean, even surface for the new backsplash installation.
Make Any Necessary Wall Repairs
Before installing the new backsplash, repair any wall damage that was under the previous tiles:
Fill Holes and Gouges
Use spackle or drywall compound to patch small holes left from tile nails or screws. Fill any nicks, gouges, and indentations caused during prying.
Address Water Damage
Cut out and replace any sections of compromised wall material due to leaks or moisture damage. Let patching compounds dry fully.
Smooth Uneven Areas
Skim coat or use joint compound to level any uneven spots for a flat surface. Take care to feather out edges of patches.
Prime Repaired Areas
Seal patched areas with primer before applying new backsplash. This helps prevent cracks as wall compounds cure.
Making repairs results in a pristine wall surface for your new backsplash installation.
Clean and Prepare the Area
With the old backsplash removed, perform final cleaning and prep:
Clean the Wall
Scrub down the entire wall surface with a nylon scouring pad and soapy water to eliminate dust, debris, and chemical residue. Rinse thoroughly.
Apply fresh caulk along the joint between the countertop/cabinets and the cleared wall area. This seals gaps.
Remove Drop Cloths
Take down any protective drop cloths used on countertops, appliances, and floors. Wipe up any dust, dirt, or debris.
Dry Out Wall
Allow several days for the wall area to fully dry out before applying primer and new backsplash materials.
Thorough cleaning and drying provides an ideal blank slate for your new backsplash.
Tips for Safe and Successful Removal
Removing an old backsplash takes patience but DIYers can tackle this project. Follow these tips:
- Work slowly with the proper prying tools to avoid excessive wall damage behind tiles.
- Wear safety glasses, gloves, and a mask to protect yourself from debris.
- Start tile prying in inconspicuous corners and upper areas first.
- Take down backsplash sections systematically rather than all at once.
- Protect nearby surfaces like countertops with drop cloths to contain mess.
- Use tile adhesive remover to eliminate leftover glue residue on the wall.
- Make any necessary wall repairs for water damage or gouges.
- Allow the wall several days to dry thoroughly before applying a new backsplash.
With care and the right techniques, you can remove existing backsplash successfully.
Prepping Walls for a New Backsplash
Once you take down the old backsplash, properly prepare walls for the new tiles or sheets:
Scrub away all debris, residue, and dust for a clean slate. Rinse thoroughly.
Fix any damage, gouges, cracks, or water stains for an even surface.
Dry Out Walls
Allow several days for walls to fully dry after washing. Ensure there is no hidden moisture.
Use primer specially formulated for tile underlayment to seal surfaces.
Install Cement Board
For ceramic or stone tile, attach 1/2” cement board with thinset mortar as a sturdy subsurface.
Mark Tile Layout
Map out planned tile layout using a chalk line to keep your rows straight.
Prepping provides the ideal smooth, dry, stable surface for a long-lasting backsplash.
How to Remove Specific Backsplash Materials
Technique for taking down backsplash tiles varies slightly depending on the material:
Ceramic or Porcelain Tile
Score grout lines with a utility knife before prying tiles off the mortar. Use a pry bar inserted behind tiles to break them free.
Protect walls with a featherboard as you pry off metal sheets by getting behind them with a putty knife. Unscrew sheets if necessary.
Score grout first and start prying from the corner. Take care not to crack more delicate natural stone tiles as you work them off.
Glass tiles require extra care to prevent shattering. Heat them with a hair dryer first to soften adhesive before gently prying them up.
Use a wallpaper steamer to melt the layers of paint and loosen the drywall covering. Then scrape off with a putty knife.
Backsplash materials like wallpaper may require chemical strippers to remove multiple layers.
Can I Put New Tile or Backsplash Over Old?
It is possible to install a new backsplash right over an existing one, but this is often not advisable.
- Prevents demolition and wall repair work.
- Allows you to leave existing backsplash intact.
- Is less expensive than removing and replacing.
- Makes your wall build-out thicker.
- Tiles can crack under uneven weight.
- Old grout lines may be visible.
- Moisture issues can develop.
- Prevents inspecting wall condition.
Covering over a backsplash usually does not produce quality results in the long term. Taking time to remove the old backsplash properly preps for success.
When to Call a Professional
Some backsplash removal projects are best left to the experts. Seek professional help for:
Tile containing asbestos or lead requires abatement by a certified professional to avoid health hazards.
Large stone slabs used as a backsplash can be extremely heavy and may require extra demolition equipment.
If the backsplash incorporates complex built-in lighting, outlets, or switch boxes, hire an electrician to disconnect.
Questionable Wall Condition
Significant moisture damage, mold, or rotted wall material should be handled by a restoration contractor or pro carpenter.
Rely on professional assistance for complex backsplash scenarios, hazardous materials, or issues beyond DIY abilities.
Cost to Remove Existing Backsplash
Hiring a contractor to take out your old backsplash costs:
- Ceramic or porcelain tile: $3-$5 per sq.ft.
-Natural stone tile: $5-$8 per sq.ft.
-Stainless steel sheets: $3-$4 per sq.ft.
Simple DIY removal may cost only $40-$100 for tools. Complex jobs with hazardous materials or wall repairs cost $200 and beyond.
You can save substantially by doing this demolition project yourself. Just make safety and proper technique your priorities.
Common Questions About Backsplash Removal
Does Backsplash Have to Be Removed Before Tiling?
It is best practice to take off the old backsplash completely before installing new tile. Removing it provides an even, smooth wall surface for proper thinset mortar adhesion. Covering over an existing backsplash with new tile often leads to failure.
How Do I Soften Old Tile Adhesive?
Heat softens many tile adhesives to make scraping easier. Use a hair dryer, heat gun, or tile removal heat plate to warm adhesive before scraping with a putty knife. Chemical removers also loosen many adhesives. Apply per product directions.
What Is the Easiest Way to Remove Backsplash Tile?
Scoring grout lines with a utility knife allows tiles to release cleanly. Prying off tiles gradually in sections is easier than taking down the entire backsplash at once. Use wedges to protect walls from pry bar damage. For stubborn tiles, heat or chemical removers help soften adhesive.
Can I Put New Backsplash Over Paint?
Preparing walls properly is key for backsplash success. Layers of paint on drywall are not stable enough for most tile. Removing paint down to bare drywall provides the right subsurface for thinset mortar adhesion. In some cases, cement board can be applied over paint.
Disposing and Recycling Old Backsplash
Once removed, dispose of the old backsplash materials properly:
Take to Landfill
Broken tile and debris can typically go to your regular local landfill. Some stone may be reused for landscaping projects.
Many metal recycling centers accept metal backsplash sheets and trim scraps. This keeps them out of landfills.
Salvage Intact Tiles
Consider saving intact tiles to use for small repair jobs or mosaic projects. Any vintage or rare tiles can sell online.
Donate Leftover Supplies
Some building supply reuse stores accept leftover supplies like partial boxes of tile. Call local outlets.
Discard damaged tiles but try to recycle, donate, or salvage clean materials.
Hiring a Backsplash Removal Contractor
To hire a professional backsplash removal company:
- Get at least 3 quotes to compare pricing.
- Ask if they remove and dispose of debris for you.
- Verify they have experience with your type of backsplash.
- Check reviews and look for licensed, insured contractors.
- Ask what prep work they do for new tile installation.
- Get the removal work warranty policy details.
Hire tilers experienced in demolition work for ideal backsplash removal. They can advise on any repairs needed.
Removing an outdated backsplash provides a fresh slate for an updated tile installation. Carefully prying off ceramic, metal, or stone tile prevents excess damage to underlying walls. Prepping the cleared surface with repairs and primer results in a smooth, even canvas for applying new backsplash materials.
While backsplash demolition takes time, safety precautions make this do-it-yourself project manageable for many homeowners. The proper tools and techniques allow you to remove existing backsplash and dispose of it responsibly. Follow good preparation practices and your new backsplash is sure to meet your expectations for a long-lasting, problem-free installation.