How to Remove Tile from Kitchen Backsplash

Removing tile from your kitchen backsplash can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it doesn’t have to be. Here is a step-by-step guide to help make the process as smooth as possible.

Assessing the Tile and Wall Material

The first step is to look closely at the type of tile and what it’s adhered to.

Types of Tile

  • Ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone tiles are the most common. They can usually be removed without too much trouble.
  • Glass tiles are more delicate and prone to breaking during removal. Extra care must be taken.
  • Metal or highly polished tiles can be difficult to pry up without damaging the underlying wall surface.

What’s Behind the Tile?

  • Drywall is the easiest surface to remove tile from. The paper facing can tear during removal, but this is purely cosmetic.
  • Plaster walls are sturdier but can still be scraped and chipped during the removal process.
  • Tile adhered directly to wood, concrete, or brick is the most challenging. The tile is likely strongly bonded and will take some effort to remove.

Gather the Proper Tools

Removing tile properly requires having the right tools for the job. The basic toolkit consists of:

  • Safety glasses and gloves
  • Hammer or mallet
  • Chisel and putty knife
  • Pry bar
  • Utility knife
  • Rags and bucket of water
  • Grout removal tool
  • Spackle or drywall mud
  • Sandpaper

A Fein multimaster oscillating power tool is also extremely useful. It can meticulously cut through grout and adhesive with less risk of damaging the underlying surface. Renting this specialty tool for 1-2 days is recommended if you have a large area to remove tile from.

Prep the Area

Take some preparatory steps before tackling tile removal:

  • Clear the countertops and remove anything breakable from the backsplash area.
  • Protect the countertops, stove, and floors by covering them with rosin paper or plastic sheeting.
  • Have a shop vacuum handy to manage dust and debris as you work.
  • Turn off electricity running to outlets near the backsplash.
  • Fill a spray bottle with water to keep tiles and the wall damp. This prevents dust and helps separate adhesives.

Remove Grout Between Tiles

Use a grout removal tool, utility knife, or oscillating tool to clean out all existing grout between the tiles. Removing the grout first allows tiles to come off easier.

Be systematic and work in small sections. Cutting/scraping out all grout lines horizontally first, then come back and do the vertical lines. Rinse with water occasionally to clear away grout dust.

Carefully Pry Off Whole Tiles

With the grout removed, it’s time to start prying off whole tiles. Take it slow and focus on one tile at a time.

  • Insert the pry bar or chisel edge just under the bottom corner of a tile. Gently tap with a hammer or mallet to wedge it underneath.
  • Slowly work the pry bar around all sides, catching the edges of the tile. Continue tapping lightly to loosen the bond.
  • Once loosened, wedge the tile up and off of the wall. Deposit removed tiles directly into a bucket or bag to control debris.
  • For stubborn tiles, use controlled force and pry up from multiple sides. Mist with water to help separate old adhesives.
  • Take care with glass tiles by loosely scoring their surface with a utility knife before prying up. This prevents the glass from shattering.

Scrape Off Adhesive and Level Wall

After tile removal, scrape off any remaining thinset mortar or adhesive from the wall using a putty knife or chisel. Try to get it as smooth as possible.

  • Apply pressure at a 45 degree angle to avoid excessive gouging of the drywall or plaster.
  • For really stubborn spots, use a paint scraper or the oscillating multimaster.
  • Wipe the wall down with a wet rag afterwards to clean it.

Once adhesive is removed, spackle any gouges or irregular spots to level out the surface. Allow spackle to dry completely, then sand until smooth. The wall is now ready to be repainted or retiled.

Alternative Removal for Difficult Tile

Removing tile from wood, concrete, or masonry can sometimes be too difficult to pry off without damaging the surface. Here are two alternate removal methods:

Heat Gun Method

  • Use a heat gun to warm tiles and soften the adhesive underneath.
  • Concentrate heat on one tile at a time and use a paint scraper to peel it off once hot.
  • Be careful not to scorch or discolor the wall’s surface underneath.

Chemical Tile Stripper Method

  • Apply a thick layer of chemical tile stripper evenly to the tiles. Follow product directions.
  • Allow the stripper to sit for its specified dwell time to penetrate and break down the adhesive.
  • Use a putty knife to gently scrape off tiles once the adhesive has softened.
  • Neutralize and clean residue according to the stripper’s instructions.

Both of these methods make it easier to remove stubborn tile without ruining the underlying surface.

Finish Up and Re-tile

To complete the project:

  • Dispose of all debris safely. Broken tiles may need to go in a separate bag to prevent cuts.
  • Wipe down the entire area to remove dust and residue before painting or re-tiling.
  • Allow wall surface to dry completely before applying primer and paint or new tile.
  • Make any final wall repairs needed before adding new backsplash tile.

With some perseverance and the right techniques, those outdated tiles can come down and be replaced with a fresh new backsplash design. Just take things slow and careful to avoid unwanted damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

It typically takes 1-2 days for an average sized backsplash. Working methodically to pry tiles and scrape adhesive takes time. Rushing risks damaging the wall.

What’s the easiest way to remove bathroom or kitchen wall tile?

Using a Fein oscillating multimaster tool is the easiest DIY method. It quickly cuts through grout and adhesive with precision control. Chisels and pry bars take more physical effort but can also be effective if used carefully.

Can I use a hair dryer instead of a heat gun to loosen tile?

It’s not recommended. While less expensive, a hair dryer lacks the concentrated high heat output needed to adequately soften thick tile adhesives. Opt for renting a commercial grade heat gun.

How do you remove thinset mortar from walls?

Scraping and sanding works for smoothing and thinning old layers of thinset. For really stubborn spots, use an angle grinder fitted with a scraping blade. Wear eye protection and a dust mask when scraping mortar.

Should backsplash be removed before new countertops?

It’s generally easier to install new countertops first, then remove and replace the existing backsplash tile. This prevents damaging new countertop surfaces during the tile removal process.


Removing existing backsplash tile takes time and care, but with the proper tools and techniques, it can be accomplished successfully as a DIY project. Always wear safety gear, work in small sections, and take care not to gouge the underlying wall surface. With some perseverance, you’ll have that outdated tile down and be ready for a fresh new backsplash design in no time.