How to Remove Paint from Tile Backsplash

Painting over an existing tile backsplash can seem like a quick and easy way to update the look of your kitchen. However, when it comes time to remove that paint, you may find it’s not so simple. Paint adheres differently to tile than it does to drywall or wood. Attempting to strip it off using harsh chemicals can damage the grout and the tile itself. Fortunately, with some patience and the right techniques, you can get paint off tile successfully.

What Type of Paint Is On the Tile?

The first step is identifying what type of paint was used on the backsplash. This will determine which paint remover will work best. Here are some possibilities:

Latex Paint

Latex paint, also called acrylic paint, is water-based. It’s commonly used for walls and trims indoors. Latex dries to a matte finish and can be easily peeled or chipped off surfaces. However, when used on tile, the small grooves help it adhere more stubbornly.

A latex paint remover or rubbing alcohol may be effective for removing old latex paint from tile. Avoid alkaline strippers, since they can react with latex paint and make removal more difficult.

Enamel Paint

Enamel paint provides a glossy, durable finish. Original tile is often coated in enamel at the factory. Repainting with enamel will create a stronger bond than latex. Enamel can chip, but does not peel easily from grouted tile.

Use a stripper formulated for enamel to penetrate and lift this paint from tile. Be aware that enamel paint may require more applications of remover. Harsher solvents like acetone may also be necessary.

Epoxy Paint

Epoxy paint is extremely durable, used to create a thick, protective coating. On tile, epoxy paint essentially becomes one solid layer. Attempting to chip or peel epoxy paint can damage the tile underneath.

An aircraft paint remover is best to penetrate the epoxy resin. Several applications may be needed. The epoxy layer will soften and can then be scraped off. Avoid abrasive methods that will scratch tile.

Oil-Based Paint

Traditional oil-based paints create a glossy, sleek finish. On tile, oil paint is quite stubborn to remove. Solvents are necessary to break down the oil bonds.

Use a chemical paint stripper formulated for oil paint. Apply multiple heavy coats to fully penetrate the paint. The area should be well-ventilated since these strippers have strong fumes. The oil paint will ultimately bubble up and can be scraped away.

Prep the Tile Surface

Before starting to strip paint, prepare the tile backsplash surface:

  • Clear countertops and remove items from backsplash area. Scrape off any loose paint with a plastic putty knife.
  • Protect countertops, floors, and nearby surfaces with drop cloths. Cover any exposed food surfaces.
  • Wear safety gear – goggles, gloves, and a face mask rated for paint fumes. Work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Turn off range hood ventilation to avoid spreading fumes.

Thorough prep work helps create the safest and most controlled paint removal process.

Apply a Chemical Paint Remover

For tile, a liquid chemical paint remover is often the best option. This solvent-based product breaks down the paint bonds. Follow all directions carefully, as these products contain harsh ingredients like methylene chloride.

There are a few ways to apply a chemical paint stripper:

Paint Brush Application

Use a inexpensive natural bristle brush to liberally apply the paint remover. Completely coat the tiles, getting the liquid into the grout lines. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes so it can fully penetrate the paint. Reapply if needed.

Once bubbling and wrinkling begins, use a plastic putty knife to gently scrape off the softened paint. Use a nylon scrub brush to remove any remaining residue.

Multiple applications may be required to fully remove paint from tile pores. Remember to re-prep the surface between applications.

Spray Application

Chemical paint removers can also be sprayed on using a garden sprayer. This achieves an even coat and gets the solvent deep into the grout. Let it soak in for 15 minutes before scraping.

Spraying does create paint remover mist, so keep the area very well-ventilated. Cover any surfaces you don’t want stripped.

Thick Gel Application

For vertical or hard to reach tile areas, use a paint remover gel. The thick formula clings to surfaces and is ideal for backsplash walls. Apply a thick coat with a roller or brush. Let the gel work for 20-30 minutes before the paint finish bubbles up. Scrape off with a plastic putty knife.

Gels often require 2-3 applications. Reapply to any stubborn spots of paint that won’t budge.

No matter the application method, wear gloves and eye protection when handling chemical paint removers. Never leave paint stripper to sit open for an extended period, since fumes are released.

Remove Epoxy Paint With Heat Guns

Epoxy paint forms an extremely tough, bonded layer over surfaces. On tile, high heat from a heat gun is an effective epoxy remover method.

Here are some tips for using heat guns on tile epoxy paint:

  • Wear a N95 face mask to avoid breathing paint and dust particles.
  • Set the heat gun temperature between 500-1000°F. Higher temperatures increase epoxy softening.
  • Keep the heat gun 6-8 inches from the tile to avoid cracking or damaging glazes.
  • Heat small sections for 1-2 minutes until epoxy bubbles and blisters. Immediately scrape away softened paint with a putty knife.
  • For wall epoxy paint, start heating from the top down to avoid drips hardening before removal.
  • Avoid heating natural stone tiles, which can scorch and discolor.
  • Never leave a hot heat gun unattended or let it overheat tiles.
  • Open windows and use fans to ventilate paint vapors.

Repeat heating and scraping until all epoxy paint is removed from the tile and grout lines. Avoid overheating sections to prevent damage to the tiles.

Remove Paint With Sandpaper

For small areas or paint touch-ups, sometimes manual sanding can work on tile. Use these tips for sanding paint off backsplash tile:

  • Always test sand gently on a small, inconspicuous area first. Older tiles may be thinner and prone to scratching.
  • For sanding walls, use a sanding block for even pressure across tiles.
  • Choose fine 120-220 grit sandpaper to avoid scraping up tiles.
  • Work in circles or side-to-side motions, not up and down scraping motions.
  • Rinse tiles and change sandpaper frequently to prevent clogging.
  • Don’t sand all the way down to the tile glaze. Stop when only paint residue remains.
  • Avoid sanding natural stone tiles which easily scuff and dull.

Finish by scrubbing tiles with a soft brush and all-purpose cleaner to remove sanding dust and residual paint. Sanding works best for thin layers of latex paint or paint touch ups vs thick coats. Take care not to damage tiles and grout lines in the process.

Steam Strip Paint Off Tiles

Using steam is an alternative chemical-free method to soften and remove paint from tile. Here’s how:

  • Purchase a multi-surface steamer or handheld garment steamer for smaller areas.
  • Fit with detail attachments to direct steam along backsplash.
  • Hold nozzle 2-4 inches from tiles to penetrate paint layers.
  • Slowly steam 6-8 inches areas for 5-7 minutes until paint blisters.
  • Scrape away bubbled up paint immediately with a plastic putty knife.
  • Wipe with wet microfiber cloths to remove any gluey residue.
  • Take care on grout lines, which can soften and deteriorate under prolonged steam.

Steam may not penetrate thicker paint coats. Avoid excess pressure, which can crack tile glazes. Test steam paint removal in hidden areas first.

Use Rubbing Alcohol on Latex Paint

For water-based latex paint, try rubbing alcohol as a mild and natural paint softener. Here’s how it works on backsplash tile:

  • Pour isopropyl rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle. Use 91% strength or higher.
  • Lightly spray over sections of latex painted tiles. Avoid spraying near open flames as fumes are flammable.
  • Let it soak 5-10 minutes so alcohol penetrates grout and tile crevices.
  • Scrub with a stiff nylon brush in circular motions. The latex paint finish will begin balling up.
  • Wipe cleaned areas with a damp microfiber towel. Apply more alcohol to stubborn spots.
  • Rinse the tile backsplash with clean water once finished and let dry.

Rubbing alcohol works similar to goo-be-gone cleaner by breaking down latex paint bonds. It may require several applications and scrubbing to fully lift paint from tile pores.

Remove Paint with Baking Soda Paste

For gentle paint removal, try making a baking soda paste. Here’s how:

  • Mix 2 parts baking soda with 1 part water in a bowl until a thick paste forms.
  • Spread paste over painted tiles using a silicone scraping tool or dry paintbrush.
  • Let the paste sit for 15-30 minutes to penetrate the paint.
  • Scrub tiles in a circular motion with a soft scrub brush or sponge.
  • Wipe off paste with damp microfiber cloths. Rinse any residue away with clean water.

The abrasive texture of baking soda combined with water creates a mild scrubbing solution. It can help lift latex paint without harsh chemicals. Repeat applications may be needed for thicker paint coats.

Clean and Restore Painted Grout Lines

Removing paint from the grout lines between tiles is often the most challenging part. Here are some ways to remove paint from grout:

Pressure Wash Grout Lines

Adjust a pressure washer to a narrow low-pressure setting. Spray along grout lines to blast out paint residues without damaging tiles.

Use a Grout Saw Blade

Attach a grout removal saw blade to an oscillating multi-tool. Carefully scrape out painted grout without scratching tile. Vacuum up debris.

Repaint Grout Lines

If grout is deteriorating or tiles are loose, consider using an epoxy-based grout paint. Brush over the old grout lines in a matching color to revitalize.

Re-Grout Sections

Cut out paint-filled grout with a grout removal tool. Re-grout sections with new unsanded caulk in a coordinating color. Smooth and seal grout lines.

Focus on thoroughly cleaning grout lines so no paint remains. This helps prevent hazy residues on tiles and ensures your backsplash looks revitalized.

Rinse Tiles and Finish Paint Removal

Once paint is removed from the backsplash tile and grout, complete the process with these final steps:

  • Use a tile scrub brush and degreasing dish soap to remove all residues from tile and grout pores.
  • Mix 1/2 cup white vinegar per gallon of warm water for a natural cleaning rinse.
  • Wipe down the entire surface with clean water and microfiber cloths to remove any cleaner residue.
  • Let the backsplash dry fully before sealing, painting, or applying any new finish.
  • Open windows and use fans to air out any remaining paint or chemical odors overnight.

Taking time to properly clean and dry tiles prevents hazy residues or fish-eye effects if retiling the backsplash. Remove all sources of paint smells before using the kitchen again.


Can I use a metal scraper or steel wool to remove paint from tile?

Avoid using any metal tools to scrape paint from tile. The grout lines and unglazed areas are very delicate and scratch easily. Only use plastic, wood, or nylon scrapers.

Will bleach remove paint from ceramic tile?

Bleach is too harsh for use on tile and can actually react with latex or enamel paint and make removal more difficult. Avoid using it to strip paint. Always spot test cleaners in an inconspicuous area first.

What chemicals dissolve epoxy paint?

Solvents like acetone, methyl acetate, or MEK (methyl ethyl ketone) help break down and dissolve thick epoxy paint layers. Always check product safety on flammable solvents and use with extreme caution on tile surfaces.

Can I use a pressure washer to remove paint from natural stone?

Take care when using pressure washers on natural stone tiles like marble, granite, or travertine. The high pressure water stream can etch soft stones. Use lowest pressure possible and test first.

How do I soften paint drips and thick areas on tile?

For peeling up paint drips or thickly brushed areas, soften the paint using a heat gun first. Apply heat 1-2 minutes until bubbling, then gently scrape away paint before it re-hardens. Chemical gels also help soften thick paint spots.


Removing paint from tile backsplash brings challenges, due to the texture and pores that allow paint to adhere strongly. With some patience and the proper solvents, you can successfully strip paint and restore tile. Always carefully follow product instructions and test removal methods in small hidden spots first.

Proper preparation, like protecting surfaces and ventilating the area, prevents damage during the paint removal process. Focus on cleaning grout lines thoroughly as well. With time and care, you can eliminate all traces of paint from a tile backsplash without harming the underlying finish.