How to Remove Tile Countertop and Backsplash

Removing tile countertops and backsplashes can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be done successfully as a DIY project. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process step-by-step.

Safety Precautions When Removing Tile

When taking on any demolition project, safety should always be the top priority. Here are some key precautions to take when removing tile countertops and backsplashes:

Wear Protective Gear

  • Safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying debris
  • Dust mask to avoid inhaling tile dust
  • Earplugs to dampen noisy demolition
  • Knee pads if working on the floor
  • Gloves for hand protection

Clear the Work Area

  • Remove everything from countertops and surrounding area
  • Sweep and vacuum thoroughly to remove dust and debris
  • Cover nearby surfaces like floors and appliances with tarps or plastic sheeting

Turn Off Electricity and Water

  • Shut off power to any outlets near the tile work area
  • Turn off water supply valves for sink and other fixtures

Ventilate the Space

  • Open windows and use fans to keep air circulating
  • Ensure proper ventilation if using chemical tile removers

Work Safely

  • Take breaks to avoid fatigue
  • Bend knees and lift properly to avoid back strain
  • Keep first aid kit on hand in case of cuts or other minor injuries

Tools and Materials Needed

Removing tile requires having the right tools for the job. Here are the essential items you’ll need:

Tile Removal Tools

  • Hammer – for breaking tile and scraping thinset
  • Chisel and putty knife – for prying up tiles
  • Tile pry bar – long pry bar designed for removing tile
  • Grout saw – manual or power saw for cutting grout lines
  • Scrappers – for scraping away old adhesive and grout
  • Utility knife – for precision cutting and scraping

Power Tools (optional)

  • Circular saw – with diamond blade for cutting thick tiles
  • Oscillating multi-tool – for detail grout cutting
  • Rotary hammer drill – with chiseling function to break up tile
  • Belt sander – to smooth down uneven thinset


  • Tarps/drop cloths – for protecting floors and surfaces
  • Painter’s tape – for masking off edges and seams
  • Trash bags/buckets – for removing tile debris
  • Safety gear – goggles, masks, gloves, knee pads as needed

Chemicals (optional)

  • Tile remover solution – to soften mastic and make tiles easier to scrape
  • Cleaner/degreaser – for removing thinset and adhesive residue

Preparing for Tile Removal

Taking time to properly prepare will make the removal process faster and easier:

1. Empty Countertops and Clear Surrounding Area

Remove everything from the countertops, clearing a wide workspace around the area. Carefully clean the area by sweeping and vacuuming to remove any dust and debris.

2. Protect Surrounding Surfaces

Cover floors, cabinets, and appliances with tarps or plastic sheeting secured with painter’s tape. This will protect from flying debris and damage during demolition.

3. Turn Off Electricity and Shut Off Water

Locate the circuit breaker and turn off power to any outlets in the backsplash area to avoid electrocution. Shut off the water supply valves under the sink and at any other fixtures in the kitchen.

4. Score Grout Lines and Break Initial Tiles

Use a grout saw or oscillating tool to cut any existing grout lines surrounding the tiles. This will weaken the grout holding the tiles. Gently tap tiles from the corner or an edge to break them up for removal.

5. Apply Chemical Tile Remover (optional)

For tiles set in especially stubborn adhesives, applying a liquid tile remover solution can soften old mastic. Follow product directions closely. Ensure the area is well-ventilated.

6. Carefully Remove Fixtures or Accessories

Unscrew any soap dispensers, towel bars, or other accessories mounted to the tiles. Remove sink faucets and strainers if necessary.

Step-by-Step Process for Removal

Once fully prepped, you’re ready to start pulling up the tiles. Go slowly and work in sections for the most controlled removal.

1. Break Tiles into Smaller Pieces

Use a hammer and chisel to carefully break up the tile surface into smaller sections, working outward from already removed areas. Wear safety goggles and work carefully.

2. Cut Remaining Grout Lines with Grout Saw

Use a manual or power grout saw to cut any remaining grout lines surrounding tiles. Go slowly to avoid damaging countertop underneath.

3. Pry Up Tiles with Putty Knife and Pry Bar

Insert the putty knife or pry bar underneath broken tile pieces and gently pry up and out. Apply force slowly to avoid damaging the subsurface.

4. Use Hammer and Chisel to Scrape Thinset

Once tiles are removed, use a hammer and wide chisel to chip and scrape away the flooring adhesive or thinset underneath tiles.

5. Smooth and Clean Subsurface with Scraper and Degreaser

Use a floor scrapper to smooth down any remaining thinset lumps or ridges. Wipe area with degreaser and rags to remove sticky residue.

6. Make Precise Cuts Around Fixtures with Utility Knife

For areas around sinks, faucets, and other obstacles, make preciseFinish cuts using a sharp utility knife. Remove any remaining grout or caulk with knife.

7. Dispose of Debris Safely

Carefully gather all tile pieces and debris into trash bags, buckets, or a covered wheelbarrow. Transport and dispose of at the proper waste management facility.

Preparing Surface for New Tile

Once existing tile is removed, the subsurface must be prepped before new tile can be installed:

  • Inspect subsurface for any hidden damage and make repairs
  • Smooth and level out any uneven thinset with a belt sander or grinder
  • Clean thoroughly removing all adhesive residue, grease, and dust
  • Fill any chips, cracks, or holes with patching compound
  • Apply tile primer sealer to ready the surface for new tile

Tips for Easier Tile Removal

  • Work in small sections, fully removing tiles before moving to the next area
  • Let chemical removers sit for the recommended time before scraping
  • Wear knee pads and work from a kneeling position to save your back
  • Take breaks often to avoid hand and wrist fatigue
  • Apply painter’s tape “skid guards” on tools to prevent scratching surfaces
  • Have a wet/dry vac on hand to quickly contain dust and debris
  • Use a pry bar with long handle or extender for better leverage

Common Questions and Answers

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about removing tile countertops and backsplashes:

How long does it take to remove tile from a countertop or backsplash?

Depending on the tile size and condition, it typically takes 2-4 hours for an average sized countertop of 25-30 sq. ft. Large backsplash areas can add 1-2 hours.

What is the easiest way to remove tile?

Scoring grout lines with an oscillating tool and then carefully prying up tiles with a pry bar or putty knife is the easiest method. Using a chemical remover solution can also help weaken adhesion.

Can I use a hammer and chisel to remove tile?

Yes, a hammer and chisel can be very effective for breaking up tile and chipping away thinset. Use a wide chisel and work slowly to avoid damaging the subsurface. Wear eye protection.

What is the best tool for removing floor tile?

A manual tile pry bar is ideal for floor tile removal. It provides maximum leverage for lifting even large ceramic or porcelain tiles.

How do I remove thinset mortar after tile removal?

Use a hammer and chisel to chip away large chunks. For smoother scraping, a floor scrapper or belt sander can remove remaining thinset residue.

Can I install new tile over existing backsplash tile?

It is not recommended. Existing tile should be removed to allow proper adhesion of new tile. Irregular surfaces can also cause grout line spacing issues.

What should I know before tiling over existing tile?

The subsurface must be smooth, cleaned completely, and prepared with tile primer. Existing tile grout lines will likely show through the new tile. Extra care must be taken to achieve flatness.

How do I prepare countertops for new tile after removing old?

Inspect for subsurface damage, fill holes/cracks, sand down uneven areas, clean off all adhesive residue, then apply tile primer sealer before installation.


Removing existing tile countertops and backsplashes takes time and physical effort, but can be an achievable DIY project. Focus on working safely with the proper tools and preparation. Always wear protective gear when demolishing. Go slowly when prying up tiles to avoid damaging the underlying surface. With some perseverance and elbow grease, you can tear out old tile and get your space ready for a fresh new tiled surface.