How to Remove Tile from Backsplash

Removing tile from a backsplash can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it doesn’t have to be. Taking the time to properly prepare and safely remove the tile will help ensure the job goes smoothly. We’ll walk you through the entire process step-by-step, from gathering supplies to cleaning up when finished, to help make renovating your backsplash as simple as possible.

Gather the Proper Supplies

Before starting any tile removal project, it is crucial to have the appropriate tools and materials on hand. Attempting to pry off tile without the proper equipment can result in broken tiles, damaged walls, and frustration.

Here is a list of recommended supplies:

  • Safety gear – Glasses, gloves, dust mask
  • Pry bar – A sturdy, flat pry bar is perfect for working the tiles off the wall.
  • Hammer – Useful for breaking apart stubborn tiles.
  • Putty knife – Helps pry up corner and edge tiles.
  • Utility knife – Cuts through any mesh backing or adhesives.
  • Trash bags – For removing debris and discarded tiles.
  • Shop vacuum – Cleans up tile pieces and dust during and after removal.

It is also a good idea to have spare towels, a bucket of water, and cleaners available for wiping down the walls after tile removal. Gathering all necessary supplies ahead of time will allow the project to run efficiently from start to finish.

Protect Surrounding Areas

Before starting demo on the backsplash tile, it is important to properly cover and protect any nearby surfaces and items. This includes counters, appliances, floors, and any belongings in the surrounding workspace.

Suggested protection steps include:

  • Clear countertops and stow away any dishes or glassware. Remove appliances if possible.
  • Cover countertops with cardboard or plywood to prevent damage from fallen tiles and tools.
  • Sweep and mop the floors and lay down drop cloths to catch debris.
  • Use painter’s tape and plastic sheeting to mask off adjacent walls or cabinets.
  • Relocate any decor, plants, rugs, etc away from the backsplash workspace.

Taking time to safeguard the rest of the kitchen will save clean-up time later and prevent unnecessary damages.

Prepare the Tile Surface

To help make prying off each tile easier, preparing the surface is an important first step. This involves cleaning the tiles and softening any existing adhesives or thinset mortar:

Clean Tiles

Use a stiff scrub brush and degreasing cleaner to thoroughly wash the backsplash tiles and grout. This will remove any dirt, grease, or oils that could inhibit adhesion. Rinse thoroughly after cleaning.

Soften Adhesives

Spread a layer of water over the tiles and allow it to soak in for 5-10 minutes. This moisture will help soften the existing mastic or thinset behind the tile. For stubborn adhesives, heat can also be applied with a heat gun to loosen the bond.

Remove Grout

It is easiest to remove tiles if the grout lines are cleared out first. Use a sharp utility knife or oscillating tool to scrape and dig out old grout surrounding each tile. Avoid scratching the wall surface beneath the grout.

Now the tiles should be ready to start prying off the wall one by one.

Removing the Tiles

With prep work completed, it’s time to begin carefully prying the tiles off the backsplash. Focus on one tile at a time, working in sections across the backsplash.

Pry from Bottom Edge

Start by inserting the flat pry bar into the bottom corner of a tile and gently twist. Apply slow, steady pressure until the tile pops free.

Work Side to Side

Continue down the row, removing one entire course of tile across before moving up to the next row. This side-to-side approach prevents damage to tiles above.

Use Hammer if Needed

For stubborn tiles that won’t pry free, use light taps from a hammer and putty knife to help dislodge them from the wall.

Cut Mesh Backing

If the tiles have an adhered mesh backing, use a utility knife to cut it away for easier removal.

Remove Adhesive

As tiles are pried off, use the pry bar to scrape off any remaining mastic or thinset mortar stuck to the wall. Getting this adhesive residue off now makes cleanup easier later.

Work Slowly & Carefully

Rushing the process can lead to broken tile shards and torn wall surfaces. Take it slow to avoid unnecessary damage and accidents.

Continue working methodically across the entire backsplash until all tile and adhesive is removed from the wall.

Clean Up the Walls

Once all tile is taken down, some cleanup and preparation is needed before new tile can be installed.

Remove Adhesive Residue

Use a putty knife, scraper, or oscillating tool to remove any remaining thinset mortar or adhesive from the wall surface. Avoid gouging too deeply into the wall during scraping.

Clean & Sand the Surface

Wipe down the walls with a damp sponge and degreasing cleaner. This removes dust, debris, and any leftover film. Lightly sanding may also be needed if the wall is heavily textured.

Wash With TSP

For the best results, use a TSP substitute cleaner and scrub brush to etch and prepare the walls for new tile. Let the wall dry completely after this step.

Make Any Repairs

Inspect the exposed wall surface and make any necessary repairs before tiling. Fill holes, smooth uneven areas, and address any underlying issues to ensure a solid foundation.

Thoroughly prepping the wall now makes application of the new backsplash tile much easier.

Dispose of Debris Properly

As a final step, it is important to properly contain and dispose of the backsplash tile debris.

Wear Protective Gear

When handling broken tile pieces and demolition dust, be sure to wear gloves, safety goggles, and a dust mask for safe cleanup.

Contain Debris

Carefully sweep up all tile shards, fragments, and adhesive residue. A shop vacuum with a HEPA filter is great for cleaning up fine dust.

Bag it Up

Place all tile demolition waste into sealable trash bags for disposal. This prevents loose debris from scattering and makes transport easier.

Check Local Regulations

Many municipalities require demolition waste like broken tile to be disposed of separately from regular trash. Verify local requirements for proper tile disposal methods.

Schedule a Pickup or Drop-Off

Arrange for a special debris pickup or delivery to your nearest waste management facility or recycling center. Most will have procedures for handling construction and demolition waste.

Safely containing, transporting, and disposing of tile debris is a critical part of the removal process. Handling hazardous demolition waste improperly can result in fines or violations.

Tips for Easier Tile Removal

Removing tile doesn’t have to be a painful process if done correctly. Here are some extra pointers to help the project go smoothly:

  • Turn off power – Prevent accidents by shutting off electricity and outlets nearby.
  • Wear knee pads – Kneeling on hard tile can quickly become uncomfortable without protection.
  • Watch for wires – Take care not to damage any electrical wiring behind walls during removal.
  • Use eye and ear protection – Flying debris and noisy demolition warrant safety precautions.
  • Work in ventilated area – Dust masks and proper ventilation help minimize inhaling tile dust.
  • Go slow and steady – Rushing increases the chances of damaging the wall or breaking tiles.
  • Score glazed tiles before prying – Scoring the glazed tile surface will prevent shattering.
  • Have a garbage chute set up – This lets you quickly dispose of debris without leaving the work area.
  • Take breaks – Tile removal can be taxing. Take regular breaks to avoid fatigue and mistakes.

Careful prep, the right tools, and safety precautions are all key to hassle-free tile removal from any backsplash.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many homeowners have additional questions when prepping for a backsplash tile removal project. Here are answers to some of the most common inquiries:

What is the easiest way to remove backsplash tile?

The easiest removal method involves slowly prying each tile off the wall one-by-one using a flat pry bar. Work side-to-side across rows, starting from the bottom. This controlled approach prevents damage.

How do you soften tile mastic?

Heating the adhesive with a heat gun or applying moisture before prying can soften mastic. Spread water over tiles and let soak 5-10 minutes before trying to pry off. Avoid excessive heat.

What tools do I need to remove kitchen backsplash tile?

A pry bar, putty knife, hammer, utility knife, gloves, dust mask, eye protection, trash bags, and a shop vac are essential tools for tile removal. Have spare rags and cleaning supplies available too.

How do I remove thinset mortar from walls?

Scraping with a putty knife or oscillating multi-tool works for removing thinset adhesive residue after tiles are taken down. Avoid gouging too deeply into the wall surface.

Can I put new tile over existing backsplash?

It is not recommended. Existing tile must be removed to expose the wall and ensure proper adhesion of new tile. Covering over old tile often leads to failure.

Is it cheaper to remove or replace backsplash?

If the backsplash is in good shape, replacement tile is often cheaper than a full tear-out. But removing broken or outdated tile allows fresh wall prep and a smooth install of new tile.

How much does it cost to remove tile backsplash?

Professional removal costs $2-$6 per square foot on average. DIY removal saves on labor fees but requires purchasing/renting tools. Proper disposal also has added costs.

What do I do after removing old backsplash tile?

After removal, clean the wall surface thoroughly, make any necessary repairs, apply fresh adhesive mortar, and ensure the area is prepped and ready for installation of the new backsplash tile.

Carefully removing your existing backsplash tile is an important first step to achieving the fresh tile look you want. Let us know if you have any other questions!


Removing old or outdated tile from your kitchen backsplash can seem like a big project, but it can be made much more manageable by following these key steps:

  • Gather the necessary supplies – pry bar, hammer, putty knife, etc. Safety gear is a must.
  • Protect surfaces near the workspace to prevent unnecessary damage.
  • Prepare the tiles for removal by clearing grout lines and softening adhesive.
  • Slowly pry tiles off the wall one-by-one using controlled force.
  • Clean and sand the wall surface once bare to prepare for new tile.
  • Dispose of broken tile debris properly based on local regulations.

Armed with the right tools and techniques, you can tackle a backsplash tile removal project with confidence. Taking your time to remove tile carefully will help the new installation go smoothly. Just follow our step-by-step guidance for a demolition process that’s both safe and effective.