How to Remove Tile Backsplash from Plaster Walls

Removing a tile backsplash from plaster walls can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be accomplished successfully. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to remove tile backsplash from plaster walls.

Assessing the Tile and Plaster

Before starting demolition, take time to assess the types of tiles, mortar, and plaster you are working with.

  • Tile material – Ceramic and porcelain tiles will need a different removal process than stone or glass tiles.
  • Mortar type – Cement-based mortar is more durable than organic mastic adhesives. Identify the type to choose the right solvent or removal method.
  • Plaster wall – Assess if the plaster is solid or brittle. Removing tiles from fragile plaster requires more care.
  • Backer board – Check if backer board was used underneath the tiles for support. This may make removal easier.

Understanding what materials you are dealing with will determine the safest and most effective approach to removing the backsplash without damaging the plaster.

Protect the Work Area

Tile removal can generate a lot of debris and dust. Here are some tips to contain the mess:

  • Cover nearby surfaces with plastic sheeting and masking tape. This includes the floor, countertops, stovetop, and any cabinets or appliances below the backsplash.
  • Wear safety goggles, a dust mask, and gloves to protect yourself. Long sleeves and pants are also recommended.
  • Have a shop vacuum ready to capture debris and dust as you work. Large garbage bags and a debris container will also be needed.
  • Turn off power at the circuit breaker to avoid any risks of electric shock while working near outlets, switches or an overhead light the backsplash may surround.

Properly protecting the surrounding area makes cleanup much easier when the project is complete.

Using Chemical Tile Removers

For ceramic or porcelain tile set in cement mortar, a chemical tile remover can help break the bond:

  • Apply a liberal amount of the remover directly onto the tiles and grout with a paintbrush. Let it sit for the time specified on the product directions.
  • The mortar will start bubbling and softening as the chemicals penetrate. Use safety glasses, gloves, and a mask to protect yourself.
  • Start chiseling tiles away using a masonry chisel and hammer where the mortar has softened. Continue applying more remover and chiseling until all tiles come free.
  • Be patient and work carefully to minimize damage to the plaster behind the tiles. Avoid digging into the plaster.

Chemical removers are very effective at breaking down cement mortar bonds for easier removal. Always follow directions closely and work in a well-ventilated area.

Using Heat for Removal

For stubborn tile mortar that resists chemicals, applying heat can help:

  • Using a heat gun, aim the nozzle at the tile and heat it for 30-60 seconds. This softens the mortar behind the tile.
  • Immediately use a putty knife or paint scraper to pry the heated tile off the wall while the mortar is still soft.
  • Repeat the heating and prying process until you’ve removed all the tiles successfully.
  • Take care not to overheat one area too long as this can scorch or burn the plaster. Work carefully.

The combination of heat and prying makes removal of stubborn tile mortar much easier. Work slowly and safely when heating tiles.

Removing Tiles From Brittle Plaster

If the plaster wall is very brittle or damaged:

  • It’s best to remove the tiles intact in whole sheets if possible. This reduces damage to the plaster.
  • Use an oscillating tool held flat against the grout lines to undercut and loosen the entire tile section.
  • Insert spacers then pry the whole sheet of tiles off gently with a pry bar once loosened.
  • Avoid hammering or chiseling which could chip away the plaster behind the tiles. Remove tiles intact.

Careful removal of full tile sheets preserves as much of the delicate plaster as possible. This approach takes more time but causes less plaster damage.

Cleaning and Preparing the Wall

Once tiles have been removed, there is still work to do:

  • Inspect the exposed plaster carefully. Repair any cracked or missing areas with new plaster. Let repairs dry completely.
  • Use a wire brush attachment on a drill to scrub off any remaining mortar or adhesive on the plaster.
  • Rinse the wall with clean water and let thoroughly dry. Spot prime any repairs.
  • The wall can now be primed completely before adding new backsplash tiles or alternative backsplash materials.

Proper cleanup and prep ensures the plaster wall will be ready for new backsplash installations once the tiles are removed.

Disposing of Tiles and Debris

Make sure to handle disposal properly:

  • Place all tiles, grout pieces, mortar, broken plaster, and other heavy debris into trash bags first before transferring to a dumpster.
  • If the tiles or mortar contain asbestos, follow hazardous material disposal regulations in your area.
  • Large tile sheets can be broken up with a hammer if needed to fit in bags or trash containers.
  • Vacuum dust and small debris. Clean the area thoroughly before declaring the job complete.

Proper cleanup and disposal of backsplash tile waste makes the removal process complete. Use care when handling hazardous asbestos-containing materials.


Removing backsplash tile from plaster can be successfully accomplished with the right preparations:

  • Assess tile material, mortar, and plaster before starting.
  • Protect the surrounding work area thoroughly.
  • Use chemical removers or heat to soften mortar bonds.
  • Remove tiles intact if plaster is very brittle.
  • Clean and prep the plaster correctly after tile removal.
  • Dispose of all tile debris fully and properly.

With patience and care, backsplash tiles can be removed from plaster walls without excessive damage, preparing the way for a fresh new backsplash look.