How to Remove Old Tile Backsplash

Removing an outdated or damaged tile backsplash can refresh the look of your kitchen or bathroom. While it’s a big project, with some planning and the right tools, you can remove old tile backsplash yourself. Here is a step-by-step guide to removing tile backsplash.

Assess the Tile and Wall

Before starting demo, assess the tile and wall to determine the best removal method.

Consider the following:

  • Tile material – Ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone. Porcelain and natural stone are more durable.
  • Tile size – Smaller tiles are easier to remove than large tiles.
  • Tile pattern – Grid patterns are simpler than diagonal, herringbone, or mosaic patterns.
  • Grout lines – Narrow grout lines mean tiles are adhered tightly together.
  • Substrate material – Drywall, cement board, or plaster. Cement board is most durable.
  • Condition of grout – Cracked or missing grout indicates tiles are loosely bonded.
  • Condition of wall – Cracks or soft areas indicate a damaged substrate.

Thoroughly inspecting the tiles and underlying wall will guide your removal technique. Durable porcelain or natural stone tightly bonded to cement board will be most challenging to remove.

Gather Demolition Supplies

Gather these recommended supplies before starting demo:

  • Safety gear – Goggles, N95 mask, ear protection, gloves
  • Drop cloths – Canvas tarps to cover floors and surfaces
  • Pry bar – Flat, flexible pry bar for levering tiles off
  • Chisel and hammer – For chipping away stubborn tiles
  • Putty knife – For scraping off old thinset and grout
  • Utility knife – For cutting mesh on cement board
  • Shop vac – For cleaning up tile pieces and dust

You may also need a oscillating multi-tool or rotary hammer if the tiles do not pry up easily. Having the right demolition tools close at hand will make the removal process faster.

Prepare the Workspace

Before starting demo, set up the workspace to keep the area clean and safe:

  • Remove everything from backsplash area including dishes, accessories, etc.
  • Cover countertops and floors with drop cloths.
  • Have a trash bin or bag nearby to discard tiles and debris.
  • Turn off electricity running to any outlets in the backsplash area.
  • Wear safety goggles, N95 mask, ear protection, and gloves.

Preparing the workspace takes a little time but will make the removal process safer and cleaner.

Remove Accessories from the Wall

If there are any accessories on the tile backsplash such as a soap dispenser, towel bar, or light fixture, detach these first:

  • Using a screwdriver, remove any screw-mounted accessories from the wall.
  • For glue-mounted items, carefully pry or twist them off the tile. You may need to slightly break tile around the edges.
  • Take care not to damage the accessories as you may want to reuse them later.
  • Set accessories aside in a safe place.
  • If necessary, use a cold chisel and hammer to chip away remaining tile bits.

Removing fixtures prevents damage and gives you full access to the tiles.

Score Grout Lines with Utility Knife

Before prying off tiles, use a sharp utility knife to score along the grout lines:

  • Set blade depth to just deeper than grout.
  • Hold knife at 45 degree angle and run along grout lines.
  • Apply firm pressure while scoring to cut through grout and thinset below.
  • Re-score any lines you missed.

Scoring the grout weakens the adhesion so tiles can be pried off easier. Be careful not to cut too deeply into wall.

Pry Off Tiles with Flat Pry Bar

After scoring grout, it’s time to start prying off tiles:

  • Wedge flat pry bar into corner of tile at 45 degree angle.
  • Firmly push bar in while twisting slightly to break tile free.
  • Once corner lifts, reposition bar to continue prying tile off.
  • Remove nails from cement board as you go using cat’s paw.
  • Discard removed tile pieces into trash.
  • Repeat process across all tiles, working in sections.

Take care when prying as tiles can break sharply. Wear gloves and goggles for protection.

Use Chisel and Hammer for Stubborn Tiles

For any stubborn tiles that won’t pry up, use a masonry chisel and hammer:

  • Position chisel blade in grout line near resistant tile.
  • Firmly strike chisel with hammer to break tile free from thinset.
  • Angle chisel slightly as you work around edges of tile.
  • Switch to pry bar once tile is loosened to fully remove it.
  • Tap down any raised edges with hammer.

Be cautious using the hammer and chisel to avoid damaging the wall. Let the tools do the work.

Remove Layers of Thinset and Backer

Once tiles are pried off, you need to remove remaining layers:

  • Use putty knife to scrape off top layer of old thinset adhesive.
  • Sand down and smooth any thick clumps of thinset.
  • If cement board backer is damaged, use utility knife to cut mesh.
  • Pry off cement board pieces with pry bar and hammer if needed.
  • Vacuum up all dust and debris as you go.

Removing old thinset and damaged backer boards will leave you with a clean surface for new tile.

Clean and Prepare Wall Surface

With tiles, grout, and adhesive layers removed, prep the wall:

  • Use putty knife to scrape off any remaining thinset or backing material.
  • Smooth uneven spots in wall with drywall joint compound if needed.
  • Sand smooth any filled areas once compound has dried.
  • Wipe off all dust from the wall surface.
  • Check for plumb and flatness using a level.
  • Fill any dents, cracks, or holes as needed with patching compound.

Proper prep prevents issues like uneven tile placement later on.

What to Do with Removed Tiles and Debris

As you demolish the tile backsplash, you’ll accumulate a lot of waste material. Here’s how to handle it:

  • Deposit broken tiles, grout pieces, thinset, and debris directly into trash bags.
  • Place any intact tiles you plan to reuse or salvage into a separate container.
  • Dispose of cement board pieces and any fibrous material properly.
  • Remove all dust and smaller particles with shop vac.
  • Empty shop vac contents into trash receptacle frequently.
  • Seal trash bags and dispose according to local regulations.
  • Rent dumpster if amount of debris is very large.

Proper cleanup and disposal prevents making a bigger mess. Safety first when handling demolition materials.

Tips for Removing Tile Backsplash

Follow these tips to safely and efficiently remove old, outdated tile:

  • Turn off electricity and water supply before starting demo.
  • Wear protective eyewear and masks to prevent dust inhalation.
  • Have all necessary demolition tools on hand before you start.
  • Work methodically in sections for easier cleanup.
  • Let tools do the work – don’t force tiles off by hand.
  • Pry tiles gently to avoid cracking them. They can break sharply.
  • Dispose of debris as you go to keep area clean.
  • Fill any wall holes or cracks prior to installing new tile.
  • Consider salvaging intact tiles for other projects or reuse.

Remain patient and cautious to get the job done properly.

Hiring a Professional to Remove Tile

Removing tile backsplash yourself can be physically demanding. For larger projects, consider hiring a demolition pro:

  • They have commercial-grade tools to remove tile faster and easier.
  • Professionals can haul away large amounts of heavy debris.
  • Experts can properly remediate any wall damage underneath.
  • May be required for asbestos tile or extensive repairs.
  • Creates less dust and mess in your home.

While pricier, professionals can remove old tile quickly with less hassle. Get references to find a qualified demolition contractor in your area.

Safety Tips for Removing Tile

Tile demolition can be hazardous if proper precautions aren’t taken:

  • Wear OSHA-approved eye protection and filtered mask.
  • Use ear plugs or muffs when hammering tiles.
  • Work carefully when handling sharp tiles and tools.
  • Prevent debris piles that can lead to slips or trips.
  • Properly dispose of broken tiles, grout, and thinset.
  • Turn off electricity and water supply to area.
  • Get professional asbestos testing done before removing vintage tile.
  • Open windows and use fans to keep air circulating.
  • Stop work if you feel tired, sore, or short of breath.

Working safely should be your top concern on all demolition projects.

What to Consider When Replacing Tile

Once your old backsplash tile is removed, exciting design options open up for the new space.

Material Choices:

  • Ceramic or porcelain tile
  • Natural stone tile
  • Glass mosaic tile
  • Metal tile
  • Peel-and-stick backsplash panels

Style Ideas:

  • Subway tile
  • Herringbone pattern
  • Geometric design
  • Accent strip
  • Mixing colors and textures
  • Continuing counter finishes

Functional Tips:

  • Select durable, moisture-resistant material
  • Use smaller grout lines for easier cleaning
  • Incorporate open shelving for display
  • Install at greater height for more protection
  • Include decorative trim or mosaic accents

Removing the old backsplash is hard work, but the results will revitalize your space. Have fun selecting materials and designing your new backsplash installation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions about removing tile backsplash:

How long does it take to remove tile backsplash?

Removing a tile backsplash typically takes 2-3 days for a DIYer. Working carefully by hand, expect to get 8-10 sq ft removed per hour. Professionals with power tools can demolish it significantly faster.

What is the easiest way to remove tile?

Scoring grout lines with a utility knife then using a pry bar is the easiest method. Soaking tiles in water or chemical stripper can help loosen adhesion too. Power tools like oscillating multi-tools speed up cutting through grout and tile layers.

Can I put new tile over existing tile backsplash?

It’s not recommended to install new tile over old due to unevenness and weight. Removing the old tile allows inspection and repair of the underlying wall too. Thin panels like backsplash stickers can go over existing tile.

Is removing tile backsplash a DIY job?

With some demolition know-how and proper tools, a weekend DIYer can tackle a tile backsplash removal. It’s hard work but can be a cost saving DIY project. Know when it’s time to call a pro for more extensive jobs.

What tools do I need to remove tile?

A utility knife, pry bar, putty knife, chisel and hammer, shop vac, safety gear and drop cloths are the essential tools. For stubborn tile, an oscillating multi-tool helps vibrate and cut tiles loose.

How do you remove thinset from walls?

Use a putty knife or chisel to scrape off old thinset adhesive after tiles are pried off. For thicker layer buildup, use a wire brush attachment on a power drill or angle grinder to remove thinset down to the bare wall surface.


Removing an outdated tile backsplash takes work but brings your kitchen or bath into the current era. Carefully assess the tiles, have proper demo gear ready, and use safe practices throughout the process. Removing tile is physically demanding but worthwhile to give your space a fresh new look. With some strategic demolition and lots of cleanup, the removal process will restore your wall surface and allow for exciting new backsplash design possibilities.