Removing a tile backsplash in your bathroom can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be done successfully as a DIY project. A tile backsplash helps protect the walls from moisture and splashes, but over time the grout can get grimy and the tiles themselves may crack or come loose. Knowing how to remove and replace bathroom tile backsplash allows you to refresh the look of your bathroom efficiently.
Assess the Tile Backsplash
Before beginning demo, thoroughly examine the current backsplash tile. Make note of the following:
- Tile material – Ceramic, porcelain, glass, stone? Different materials require different removal techniques.
- Grout lines – Are the grout lines still intact or crumbling? Intact grout is easier to remove.
- Tile size – Small tiles mean more grout lines to remove. Larger tiles may be more stubborn to pry off.
- Tile pattern – Is it a simple grid or more complex pattern? Complex patterns are harder to match when replacing.
- Hidden areas – Is there tile behind the vanity, toilet, etc? These spots take more effort to access.
- Backing material – Drywall, cement board, plaster? The backing impacts removal method.
- Purpose for removing – Are you doing a full remodel or just swapping out the tile? This determines how aggressive you must be in removal.
Knowing the tile material, pattern, backing, hidden areas, and purpose will prepare you for the safest, most efficient removal process.
Gather Necessary Removal Tools
Removing tile backsplash is a dusty, labor-intensive process. Having the proper tools makes the demolition go faster and safer. Essential tools include:
- Safety gear – Goggles, N95 mask, ear protection, gloves
- Hammer – A 3-lb sledgehammer can break apart tiles. Use a rubber mallet for cement board.
- Cold chisel – Helps crack tiles and scrape off grout when struck with hammer.
- Putty knife or Paint scraper – For scraping off remaining grout residue.
- Pry bar – Wedges under tiles to pop them off of backing. Use a flat pry bar for best leverage.
- Utility knife – Slices through grout lines and backing material.
- Multi-tool oscillating knife – Great for precise cuts between tiles and around fixtures.
- Tile nippers – Nips away protruding edges of broken tiles.
- Shop vacuum – Removes tile debris as you work to keep area clean.
- Knee pads, back brace – Protects against strain from extended kneeling, bending, hammering.
With this arsenal of tools on hand, you can tackle prying up tiles, scraping away old grout, and cleaning the area thoroughly.
Prepare the Space
Before swinging a hammer, prep the bathroom to minimize dust and damage:
- Remove all detachable items – towel bars, soap dishes, etc. Bag toiletries and valuables to keep clean.
- Cover doorway with plastic sheeting to contain debris. Open window for ventilation.
- Lay drop cloths over vanity, toilet, tub. Mask off areas not being demolished.
- Turn off electricity and water to backsplash area.
- Have a debris receptacle like a wheelbarrow nearby to frequently empty tile shards.
- Play music! Tile removal is noisy and rhythmic. Take advantage and rock out to make the labor go by quicker!
Prepping the space properly makes the process cleaner and safer for you and your bathroom.
Remove Existing Grout
With prep complete, start by attacking the grout between tiles. Removing the grout first gives the tiles room to pop off the backing.
Use the cold chisel and hammer to chip away at grout lines. Hold chisel at a 45° angle and strike firmly but not too aggressively. Go slowly to avoid cracking tiles prematurely.
Once grout is chiseled out, use the putty knife to scrape any remaining residue off the backing material. Rinse the chisel and knife periodically so grout buildup doesn’t gum them up.
Have the shop vac handy to suck up dust and debris as you work. Frequently dump the contents into your receptacle outside.
With grout cleared between tiles, you’re ready to carefully pry them off.
Pry Off Tiles
Tile removal technique depends on your backing material:
Use the utility knife to cut through the paper-faced drywall around perimeter tiles. Cutting exposes the tile edges for the pry bar to grab.
Wedge pry bar into cut grout lines and gain leverage against a freed tile edge. Apply steady force until the tile pops off.
Lift off tiles in manageable sections – a quarter of the backsplash at a time. Remove protruding drywall paper and smooth the edges for new tile installation.
Cement Board Backing
Cement board is very durable, so tiles don’t release easily. Use the hammer and chisel to break tiles into pieces for removal.
Aim hammer blows to crack the tile without damaging the cement board underneath. Strike forcefully but precisely.
Once cracked, use chisel to fully break tile into fragments. Remove pieces and use putty knife to scrape off remaining thinset mortar adhesive.
For stubborn thinset residue, try a muratic acid etching solution. Apply with care and rinse thoroughly.
Plaster/Painted Drywall Backing
Cut through paint around tiles with the utility knife then pry off with flat bar. Tile should release from plaster easily.
Scrape off old thinset, then sand plaster to expose fresh surface for new tile application. Avoid gouging too deeply.
Regardless of backing, thoroughly removing all adhesive residue ensures the new backsplash tiles adhere properly.
Dispose of Tiles and Debris
As you work across the backsplash area, regularly dump accumulated tile pieces and dust into your receptacle.
When finished, bag all debris, seal tightly, and transport to a dumpster or waste facility. Ceramic tile shards can safely go to a landfill.
Dispose of debris responsibly, and protect yourself and others from loose sharp edges. Wear gloves when handling broken tiles.
After hauling away the rubble, inspect the stripped backsplash. Make any final smoothing or patching before the new gorgeous backsplash goes up!
What tools do I need to remove tile backsplash?
Essential tools are a hammer, cold chisel, pry bar, putty knife, utility knife, oscillating multi-tool, tile nippers, safety gear, and shop vacuum. Have a receptacle nearby for collecting debris.
How do I remove grout from tile backsplash?
Use a cold chisel and hammer to chip out old grout lines. Hold chisel at 45° angle and tap firmly. Follow with putty knife to scrape off residue. Vacuum up dust frequently.
Should I remove backsplash tile all at once?
It’s best to take it down in sections – about a quarter of the backsplash area at a time. This prevents debris overload and allows you to smooth edges and prime backing material as you go.
What’s the easiest way to remove tile from drywall?
Cut through the drywall paper around perimeter tiles with a utility knife. This allows your pry bar to wedge under tile edges and pop them off easily. Smooth any ragged drywall edges.
How do I get thinset mortar off a cement board backsplash?
Removing stubborn thinset requires aggressively chiseling tiles, then scraping residue with a putty knife. Try muratic acid for extra cleaning power. Rinse thoroughly after etching.
Can I put new tile backsplash directly over old?
It’s not recommended. Old tile prevents proper adhesive bonding. Plus, weight increases over time, risking the new tiles eventually falling off the old ones.
What do I do with old tile backsplash pieces after removal?
Carefully bag all debris, sealing it securely. Transport to dumpster or waste management facility for safe disposal. Wear gloves when handling broken tiles to avoid cuts.
Removing tile backsplash in the bathroom can revitalize the whole space with a fresh new look. With proper tools, safety precautions, and technique, the demolition process can be straightforward and hassle-free. Always wear protective gear and work in contained, ventilated areas. Focus on chiseling grout, prying off tiles, and thoroughly cleaning adhesive residue before installing replacement tiles. Be sure to properly discard rubble to avoid loose debris hazards. Follow these tips, and that dated bathroom backsplash will be down in no time!