How to Remove Tile Backsplash in Kitchen

Installing a tile backsplash in your kitchen can provide an attractive, durable, and easy-to-clean accent wall. However, tile can also be difficult and labour-intensive to remove if you later choose to remodel or update your kitchen. Removing a tile backsplash requires patience and the right tools, but it can be accomplished as a DIY project. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to remove tile backsplashes in the kitchen.

Gather the Necessary Materials and Tools

Removing tile backsplash requires having the proper equipment before starting demo. Be sure you have the following materials on hand:

  • Safety gear – This includes safety goggles, dust mask, ear protection, knee pads, and work gloves. Tile demo can create a lot of debris and noise, so protect yourself.
  • Drop cloths – Canvas drop cloths will protect your floors and countertops from debris and dust. Cover all surfaces below the backsplash.
  • Tile removal tools – Use a pry bar, putty knives, and hammers to help pry off tiles and chisel away adhesive. Carbide-tipped scraper blades can also help.
  • Power tools (optional) – A rotary hammer drill with chisel and scraper attachments makes quicker work of removing tile and adhesive. An oscillating multi-tool also helps.
  • Trash bags and buckets – Have plenty of bags and buckets ready to collect tile pieces and debris as you work.
  • Shop vacuum – A wet/dry vac is useful for collecting dust and debris as you demolish the tile.
  • Adhesive remover – Chemical adhesive remover helps soften and dissolve the tile mortar once tiles are removed.
  • Grout removal tool – A specialty grout removal blade/saw helps cut out grout between tiles.
  • Pry bar – A pry bar gives extra leverage when prying off tile pieces.
  • Putty knives – Use putty knives to help chisel under tiles and scrape away adhesive.
  • Safety razor – Score grout lines with a safety razor before removing tiles.

Getting all the necessary equipment together before starting the work will make the process faster and easier.

Prepare the Workspace

Before beginning demo on the tile backsplash, you’ll need to prep the kitchen workspace:

  • Remove everything from the backsplash area, including dishes, appliances, décor, etc. Clear all counters below it.
  • Disconnect electrical – Turn off power to any outlets, switches or lights on the backsplash wall before removing tile.
  • Protect surfaces – Cover floors, countertops, and cabinets with drop cloths. Mask off adjacent walls.
  • Set up trash receptacles – Place buckets or bins nearby to collect debris. Have trash bags ready.
  • Vacuum the tiles – Use a shop vac to clean dust and dirt off the backsplash tiles first.
  • Cover vents/returns – Mask off any HVAC vents or returns located on the backsplash wall.
  • Have water accessible – You’ll need water to clean up dust and debris as you work.

Prepping the backsplash area properly before demolition helps contain the mess and protects your kitchen.

Remove Outlets, Switches, Etc

If the backsplash wall contains any outlets, switches, sconces, under-cabinet lighting, or anything else that’s wired/mounted into the tile, these need to be taken out first before removing the tile itself.

Here are the steps for removing electrical components:

  • Turn off breaker/fuse supplying power to the backsplash electrical.
  • Carefully cut away any caulk or grout sealing the box/fixture into the tile using a utility knife.
  • Unscrew mounting screws to remove fixture or outlet/switch cover from the box.
  • Disconnect all wiring connections.
  • Loosen the screws holding the box to the wall and pull the entire box out.
  • Patch over the open box space with cardboard temporarily.

This allows you to access and remove the tile behind the mounting box once demolition begins. Dismantling electrical components first also prevents damage to wires or the components themselves during tile removal.

Score all Grout Lines with a Utility Knife

Before prying off any full tiles, take a utility knife and score all the grout lines surrounding each tile. This step involves:

  • Set the utility knife blade depth to the thickness of the grout.
  • Holding the knife perpendicular to the wall, cut diagonally through the grout on all sides of each tile.
  • Trace the entire perimeter of every tile to slice through the grout.

Scoring the grout ahead of time allows the tiles to pop off easier. It also lets you remove the grout simultaneously as you pry off the tile pieces. This avoids having to chisel out all the grout separately after tile removal.

Tip: Change out the utility knife blade often since cutting through grout will dull it quickly. Have plenty of spare blades ready.

Start Removing Tiles

With prep work complete, you can start dismantling the tile backsplash itself. Begin by prying off perimeter tiles first before working inward:

Remove Perimeter Tiles

  • Using a pry bar and hammer, start prying off tiles around the outer edges of the backsplash.
  • Position the pry bar under the tile edge and tap it with the hammer to pop the tile up.
  • Work your way around the sides, top, and bottom edges removing border tiles first.

Removing perimeter tiles first gives you an open area to begin behind the wall surface.

Work in Sections

  • Once border tiles are removed, begin taking tiles off in small sections working inward.
  • Remove tiles in 2-3 square foot sections at a time to control debris.
  • Use the pry bar, hammer, putty knives, and scraper blades to pry up tiles and chisel under edges.
  • Simultaneously scrape/chip away the grout between tiles as they come up.
  • Discard removed tile pieces and grout shards as you work.

By taking small sections at a time, the demolition is more controlled vs removing all tiles at once across a large surface.

Tip: Wear knee pads to protect your knees when tile demolition is low to the ground.

Remove Adhered Tiles Carefully

  • Any tiles firmly adhered with mortar will take more work to pry up.
  • Use the hammer to tap a putty knife or chisel under the adhered edges to gradually free the tile.
  • For stubborn spots, use a rotary hammer on low setting to chip the tile free.
  • Take care not to damage the drywall or plaster behind the tile.

Go slowly with well-adhered tiles to avoid wall damage and unnecessary repairs later.

Dispose of Debris Frequently

  • Keep a shop vac, buckets, and trash bags nearby to contain debris.
  • Frequently stop work to dispose of tile pieces and adhesive shards properly.
  • A full clean up later is much easier if demolition mess is contained as you go.

Don’t allow debris piles to accumulate, which leads to a bigger clean-up job afterwards.

Continue this process, working in sections across the entire backsplash surface until all tile and grout is removed down to the bare wall material.

Using Power Tools to Remove Tile

For large tile removal projects, using power tools like an oscillating multi-tool or hammer drill can drastically speed up the work. Here are some tips:

Oscillating Multi-Tool

  • Fit an oscillating multi-tool with a rigid scraper or chisel blade.
  • Run the blade along grout lines to vibrate away grout and cut adhesive.
  • Allows cleanly prying up full tiles rather than breaking pieces.

Rotary Hammer Drill

  • Use a hammer drill on “hammer” setting with a chisel point bit or scraper attachment.
  • Helps chip away stubborn tile pieces and thick adhesive layers.
  • Allows quickly drilling out remaining grout pieces.
  • Set drill to “low” mode to avoid damaging walls.

Power tools remove tile and adhesive much faster but require caution to avoid wall damage. Always use the proper blade or bit attachments designed for the material being removed.

Remove Adhesive Residue from Wall

Once all tile and grout pieces are taken down to the bare wall, there will still be a layer of tile mortar adhesive stuck to the drywall or plaster. Removing the adhesive involves:

  • First scrape/sand off any thick globs with a putty knife or chisel.
  • Then apply an adhesive remover solution and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
  • Gently scrub the adhesive layer with a nylon brush or pad.
  • Some layers may need repeat applications of remover and scrubbing.
  • Avoid damage to the wall surface underneath.
  • Thoroughly rinse the wall with clean water when done.

Adhesive removers contain harsh solvents. Wear gloves and safety glasses and always follow directions closely. Removing adhesive takes time but prevents issues applying new backsplash materials later.

Clean and Dispose of Debris

Once all tile and adhesive is removed, a thorough clean up of the entire workspace is needed:

  • First remove any floor coverings and vacuum up all dust and debris.
  • Take down plastic sheeting and masking materials.
  • Vacuum out cabinets and counter surfaces below the backsplash.
  • Use soapy water to wash the backsplash area and other surfaces.
  • Properly dispose of all demo debris – seal it in bags and boxes to transport.
  • Make a second pass across all surfaces to ensure the kitchen is free of any residue.
  • Reinstall any outlets, switches, fixtures, etc that were removed initially.

Leaving behind demo dust or debris leads to problems later on install. Take time to completely clean the entire kitchen before moving on with the backsplash project.

Alternative: Covering Over Existing Tile

Instead of demolishing the tile completely, some options exist for covering over the old backsplash instead:

  • Backsplash panels – PVC, FRP, or beadboard panels adhere over existing tile for a fresh look.
  • Skim coat plaster – Skim coating the tile creates a fresh plaster wall surface.
  • 1/4” drywall – Glue drywall right over the old tile with construction adhesive.
  • Shiplap boards – Adhere shiplap planks horizontally over the backsplash tile.

Covering over old backsplash tile is cheaper and easier than removing it. But it does involve some wall thickness build-up. Consider if surrounding surfaces like countertops and cabinets can accommodate extra depth before utilizing this technique.

Tips for Easier Tile Removal

Here are some additional pointers to make removing a tile backsplash easier:

  • Always demolish tile walls before removing countertops – provides more working room.
  • Wait at least 24 hours after grouting before attempting to remove newly tiled areas.
  • Heat tiles with a heat gun first to soften adhesive before prying up.
  • Use painter’s tape around perimeter tiles to avoid chipping the surrounding surfaces.
  • Wear knee pads and cushioned work gloves to prevent soreness during extended demo.
  • Take frequent breaks to avoid fatigue and work safely. Tile removal is demanding work.
  • Play loud music – it helps drown out noisy demolition for more enjoyable work.

Follow these tips and tricks to keep frustration low and work efficiently while removing a tile backsplash.

FAQ About Removing Tile Backsplash

Here are some frequently asked questions about removing kitchen tile backsplash:

How long does it take to remove a tile backsplash?

On average, it takes 2-4 hours for one person to remove a standard 10 sq. ft. backsplash area. Larger or heavily tiled backsplashes can take 1-2 days.

What is the easiest way to remove kitchen backsplash tile?

Scoring all grout lines first before prying tiles off is the easiest method. It allows removing grout and tile simultaneously. Power tools like an oscillating multi-tool also make fast work of grout and adhesive.

Can you remove tile backsplash without damaging drywall?

Yes, with care it’s possible to demolish backsplash tile without drywall damage. Avoid hammering directly on the drywall. Carefully pry and scrape tiles off. Any adhesive residue still stuck to the wall can be removed with chemical removers.

What tool is best for removing tile backsplash?

A carbide-tipped grout removal blade makes cleanly cutting grout lines easier. For prying up tile pieces, a pry bar and putty knife set works well. Rotary hammers or oscillating tools speed up removal for bigger jobs.

How do you remove adhesive after taking down tile backsplash?

Scraping and sanding helps remove some thick adhesive globs after tile removal. But chemical adhesive removers are best for dissolving and scrubbing away the remaining thin residue layer from the wall.

Can you put new tile over existing backsplash?

It’s not recommended. Existing tile must be removed first for proper adhesion and flatness of new tile. Covering over old backsplash tile with panels or boards is an easier option.


Removing a kitchen backsplash tiled with ceramic, porcelain, or stone tile is a big project but can be tackled DIY with the proper tools and techniques. Carefully scoring grout lines prior to prying tiles off allows demolishing the tile and grout simultaneously. Go slowly, working in sections across the surface to control debris. Be sure to take safety precautions against dust and eye injuries. Dispose of debris frequently to avoid a big clean up later. Follow up by scrubbing off any remaining adhesive residue so walls are ready for new backsplash materials to be installed. With some perseverance and patience, homeowners can successfully remove a tile backsplash without damaging their kitchen.