How to Remove Tile Backsplash Without Damaging Cabinets

Removing a tile backsplash without damaging the cabinets below can seem daunting, but with proper planning and the right tools, it is very achievable. Here are some tips on how to safely remove tile backsplash and protect your cabinets during the process.

Assess the Tile and Adhesive

The first step is to look at the type of tile and adhesive used. This will determine the level of difficulty and the best techniques for removal.

  • Ceramic or porcelain tile: Usually installed with thinset mortar which requires scraping and chipping to remove. A hammer and chisel can be used. Go slowly to avoid damaging walls.
  • Peel-and-stick tile: Easier to remove but adhesive may take some effort to scrape off entirely. Use a putty knife or paint scraper. Heat guns can soften adhesive.
  • Mastic adhesive: Older adhesive that is brittle. Easier to chip off but may leave residue. Use razor blades or putty knives.

Protect the Cabinets

Covering cabinets prior to removal prevents damage from falling tile and debris.

  • Use rosin paper, painters tape, or self-adhesive plastic to cover cabinet fronts, especially along the countertop edge.
  • Remove cabinet doors and drawers if possible and keep safely stored away from the work area.
  • Stuff rags or cardboard between cabinets to prevent debris accumulation inside cabinets.
  • Drape plastic sheeting from countertops to floor to keep dust contained.

Prepare Tools for Safe Tile Removal

Having the proper tools on hand will make the process safer and easier.

  • Hammer and chisels: Use a masonry chisel for ceramic tile and a carpentry chisel for peel-and-stick. Tap gently to avoid gouging.
  • Putty knives or paint scrapers: Useful for scraping off stubborn adhesives. Heat guns help soften mastic.
  • Gloves: Wear thick work gloves to protect hands from sharp debris.
  • Safety glasses: Wear eye protection when chiseling or scraping tiles.
  • Dust masks: Reduce inhaled dust particles since the process generates debris and dust.
  • Pry bar: Helpful for removing stubborn tiles or tiles on harder surfaces like plaster.

Start Removing Tiles

With preparations complete, it’s time to start taking down the tile backsplash. Follow these tips for smooth removal:

  • Work in small sections, removing tiles carefully from the top down rather than all at once.
  • For peel-and-stick tiles, heat with a hairdryer or heat gun to soften adhesive and slowly peel off.
  • Ceramic tiles will require more chiseling and prying to break the mortar bond. Tap gently to pop tiles off.
  • Use putty knives or oscillating tools to scrape off old thinset or mastic entirely after tile removal.
  • Vacuum frequently to clear away debris and dust. This makes the area easier to work in.
  • Work slowly and carefully. Don’t rush and risk damaging cabinets with tools.
  • Wear knee pads if working for prolonged periods to reduce strain.

Avoid Damage to Cabinets

Take steps to prevent harming cabinets during and after the tile removal process.

  • Keep chisels, putty knives, and razor blades at an angle to prevent gouging into cabinet surfaces.
  • Wipe any thinset, mastic, or debris off cabinets immediately to avoid staining or buildup.
  • Ensure any exposed cabinet surfaces are covered with plastic until you are ready for cleanup.
  • Check for any loose or protruding tacks, staples, or nails after tile removal and hammer them down.
  • Do not attempt to remove adhesives or prep the area for new backsplash until cabinets are fully protected again.

Clean Up and Dispose of Debris

A thorough cleanup makes way for your new backsplash installation.

  • Pull up plastic sheeting and rags protecting cabinets and countertops. Wipe down all surfaces.
  • Vacuum up any remaining dust, debris, or adhesive residue.
  • If necessary, use a putty knife or oscillating tool to scrape off any remaining thinset or mastic.
  • Dispose of tile pieces and debris appropriately. Most can go in your regular trash.
  • A final wipe-down with mineral spirits removes sticker residue and leaves the area clean for new tile.

With care and the proper tools, it is possible to remove backsplash tile without incurring any cabinet damage. Take it slowly, use protective coverings, and keep the work area clean for best results. The effort will pay off when your beautiful new backsplash is installed.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you remove stubborn thinset mortar from cabinets?

Gently scrape off excess mortar with a plastic putty knife to avoid gouging the wood. Wipe the surface clean with a damp rag. For remaining dried mortar, soften with water and scrape off gently. Avoid using sharp metal tools.

What about the drywall behind the tile?

Drywall can become damaged during tile removal. Plan to rehang new drywall if necessary for an optimal backsplash surface. Use spackle and sanding to smooth any gouges after tile removal.

What’s the easiest way to remove backsplash tile?

Peel-and-stick tile is the easiest to remove intact. Simply heat the tiles and adhesive to soften, then slowly peel off. Use putty knives for any leftover adhesive. Traditional mortared tile requires more work to chisel off.

How do I get thinset mortar off glass tiles?

Glass tiles are prone to cracking if mortar isn’t softened. Gently heat the surface with a heat gun or hairdryer and slowly scrape off mortar using plastic putty knives or wood chisels to avoid damaging the glass.

Is it better to remove tile backsplash or install over it?

It’s generally better to remove an existing backsplash first for a smooth, professional result. Mortar and grout lines will still show through new tile installed over an old backsplash. Removing the tile allows inspection and repair of the wall underneath too.


Removing tile backsplashes while keeping cabinets unharmed requires careful prep work, the right tools, and a slow, methodical approach. But with adequate protection of surrounding surfaces and a little elbow grease, you can safely remove existing backsplash tile without incurring any damage. Take your time and don’t rush the process. Thorough cleanup afterwards makes way for a smooth installation of your new, gorgeous backsplash.