How to Remove Tile Backsplash

A tile backsplash can be a beautiful addition to any kitchen or bathroom. However, there may come a time when you decide you want to remove or replace your existing backsplash. Removing a tile backsplash can be a big project, but it’s doable as a DIY project if you have the right tools and take the proper precautions. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to remove tile backsplashes.

Assessing Your Tile Backsplash

Before you start demolition, take some time to assess your existing backsplash situation:

  • What type of tiles are currently installed? Ceramic, porcelain, glass, stone? This will determine what tools you need for removal.
  • What size are the tiles? Small tiles like mosaics are more tedious to remove than larger subway-style tiles.
  • What is the tile mounted on? Cement board, drywall, plaster? This will dictate how difficult removal will be.
  • Is the tile in good shape overall or is it cracked, chipped, or broken in areas? Damaged tiles come off easier.
  • Do a visual inspection of any grout lines. Determine if the grout is in good shape or crumbling. Grout condition impacts removal.
  • How was the tile installed? With thinset mortar, mastic, grout? Knowing the installation method is key.
  • Is there anything behind the tile you want to preserve? Unspoiled drywall or paint may be worth saving.

Taking stock of what type of backsplash you have and its current state will allow you to plan all the necessary steps and supplies for taking it down successfully.

Gather the Right Tools

Removing tile backsplash is a demolition job, so you need the right tools for safely and efficiently taking down tile from the wall. Essential tools for tile removal include:

  • Goggles and masks – For protecting eyes and lungs from flying debris and dust. N95 masks are ideal.
  • Work gloves – For protecting hands from sharp edges on tiles and tools. Leather or rubber gloves work best.
  • Hammers – A claw hammer, sledgehammer, and rubber mallet are useful for breaking tile and tackling stubborn areas.
  • Cold chisels – To chip away at grout lines and cut through thinset mortar. Carbide tipped is extra durable.
  • Pry bars – Helpful for prying off tile once broken free. Get different sizes for leverage.
  • Putty knives or oscillating multi-tools – For scraping away old thinset, grout, and adhesive residues after tiles are removed.
  • Utility knives – Useful for slicing mesh on back of tile or cutting through mastics. Use heavy duty blades.
  • Knee pads – Protect knees from hard floors during extended tile removal. Get thick, rugged pads.
  • Paint scraper – Helps scrape off old caulk, thinset, and adhesives from walls after tile removal.
  • Shop vac – For ongoing cleanup of tile pieces, dust, and debris as you work.

Having the right demolition tools at your disposal will make tearing down an old backsplash significantly easier. Buy quality tools that will withstand extended tile removal work.

Prepping the Workspace

You’ll be making a lot of dust, debris, and mess when taking down a tile backsplash, so proper prep of your workspace is a must! Here are some tips for prepping the area:

  • Clear the demolition zone. Remove everything from counters, walls, and floors around the backsplash area.
  • Cover nearby surfaces. Tape down plastic sheeting over countertops, appliances, and floors.
  • Set up a cleanup station. Have a shop vac plugged in and ready to go. Designate debris collection bins.
  • Plan an exit strategy. Have a direct path cleared to take trash out as you demolish.
  • Turn off electricity. Shut off power to any outlets in the splash zone to avoid getting shocked.
  • Protect nearby rooms. Close doors and use plastic to contain mess in work area.
  • Gear up. Wear goggles, mask, gloves, ear protection and clothes that can get dirty.
  • Photograph before & after. Document the backsplash before demolition so you know how to replace tiles properly.

Taking time to carefully prep your workspace makes the removal process smoother and contains the chaos of demolition.

Removing Grout and Caulk

Before you can start smashing tiles off the wall, any existing grout lines and caulk need to be taken out first. Here is how to remove grout and caulk:

Removing Grout

  • Use a carbide tipped grout saw or oscillating multi-tool to slice into grout lines and break up grout.
  • Chisel out loose grout carefully with a hand chisel and hammer. Use eye protection.
  • For any remaining grout, use a rigid putty knife or scraper to scour grout residue off the wall down to bare surface.

Removing Caulk

  • Slice through caulk sealant with a utility knife. Try to cut in-between caulk and tile.
  • Pull up as much caulk as possible by hand, rolling it up like tape.
  • Use a stiff putty knife to scrape any remaining caulk off the countertops or walls.
  • For tough caulk, spray with solvents like mineral spirits and let sit before scraping.

Thoroughly removing all grout and caulk gives you a smooth surface to pry tiles off of next.

Taking Down Tile

Once prep work is done, it’s time for the big task – sledgehammer time! Here are some tips for demolishing tile:

  • Wear eye, hand, and body protection – things will get messy!
  • Start hammering from the top down so debris falls downward.
  • Use a cold chisel and hammer to chip a line into a grout joint between tiles.
  • Place chisel where tiles meet, then forcefully strike chisel to shear off a tile.
  • Switch to a pry bar once tile is loose and pry entire tiles off at a time.
  • For floors, an air chisel hammer works great to pulverize adhesive and free tiles.
  • Take it slow! Try not to damage the underlying surface.
  • immediately dispose of debris after tiles are removed.
  • Watch out for wires behind tiles and don’t strike electrical boxes.

Systematically demolishing from the top down is the safest method. Completely remove one section of tiles before moving below.

Cleaning and Reparing Walls

Once all tile is taken down, inspect the backsplash area and prepare it for new tile:

  • Vacuum all dust, bits of mortar, and debris from the wall. Be thorough.
  • Scrape away any remaining thinset mortar or adhesive with a putty knife.
  • Use a damp sponge to wash the walls and remove all residue and film.
  • Make any necessary repairs to damaged drywall before applying new tile.
  • Sand and smooth any rough spots on drywall to create an even surface.
  • Wipe clean with a dry cloth. Disinfect if desired. Let dry completely.
  • Prime walls with a specialty primer if the surface is powdery or unstable.

Proper cleanup and repair ensures your backsplash wall is stable, smooth, and ready for a fresh backsplash.

Disposing of Demo Debris

Don’t let piles of tile rubble sit around! Here is how to dispose of backsplash debris:

  • Wear gloves and protective eyewear when handling trash.
  • Place tile pieces in sturdy boxes or buckets to avoid spillage.
  • Vacuum up all dust and small debris into a shop vac.
  • Wrap any broken glass tile in newspaper before boxing up.
  • Load boxes into a pickup truck or trailer to transport.
  • Unload debris boxes directly into a dumpster or at the dump.
  • Rent a dumpster if disposing of a very large quantity of tiles.
  • Recycle intact tiles if they are still in good shape. Many facilities accept tile.
  • Disinfect trash cans or buckets that held broken tiles before reusing.

Proper debris disposal keeps your worksite clean and safe. Follow local regulations for construction waste disposal.

FAQ About Removing Tile Backsplash

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about taking down tile backsplash:

What is the easiest way to remove backsplash tile?

Scoring grout lines with an oscillating multi-tool and then prying up full tiles works best. Take it slow to avoid damaging walls.

How do you remove backsplash adhesive?

Scraping with a putty knife works for mastic adhesive. For thinset mortar, use a chisel or pneumatic scraper. Solvents can help soften tough adhesives.

What tools do I need to remove kitchen tile?

At minimum, you need a cold chisel, hammer, pry bar, buckets, gloves, goggles, and a vacuum. Other helpful tools are a multi-tool, putty knives, and a sledgehammer.

How do you remove tile backsplash without damaging drywall?

Go slowly, use eye protection, and be careful not to pound too hard. Use a pry bar instead of a hammer when possible. Repair any drywall damage before retiling.

Can I put new tile over existing backsplash?

It’s not recommended. Old tile must be removed to achieve proper adhesion. Also, existing grout lines will show through the new tile.

How much does it cost to remove tile backsplash?

If hiring a contractor, labor costs range from $200 – $500 depending on the size of the area and accessibility. DIY costs about $100 – $200 just for tools and supplies.

Can I sell old tile backsplash?

Possibly! Vintage or discontinued tile can sometimes be sold on resale sites. But most modern mass-produced tile has little resale value.


Removing an outdated or damaged tile backsplash takes time and elbow grease, but with the proper tools and safety precautions it can absolutely be a DIY project. Carefully prep your workspace, demo from the top down, properly dispose of debris, and repair walls to get your backsplash area ready for stunning new tile. Just take it slow and don’t damage what’s behind the tile if planning to retile soon after. With some hard work, you’ll have that eye-catching new backsplash design installed in no time!