How to Remove Tile Kitchen Backsplash

Removing a tile backsplash in your kitchen can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it doesn’t have to be. Taking out a tile backsplash requires patience and care, but it’s doable as a DIY project. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to remove tile backsplash in your kitchen.

Assessing the Tile Backsplash

Before removing the tile, you’ll need to assess it to determine the best method for removal. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Type of tile: Ceramic and porcelain tiles can usually be removed intact. Natural stone tiles like marble, granite, and slate are more prone to cracking. Mosaic tiles are the most tedious to remove.
  • Type of backing: Tiles applied directly to drywall can be scored and pried off. Cement backerboard will require chiseling. Tiles on masonry walls need special care.
  • Grout lines: Narrow grout lines mean tiles are likely firmly attached. Wider grout lines usually indicate poorer adhesion.
  • Condition of tiles: Cracked, broken, or loose tiles will be easier to detach. Solidly bonded tiles require extra work.
  • Area to be removed: Small sections are simpler than removing entire walls of tile. Factor this into the time and effort required.

Thoroughly inspect the backsplash tiles, testing any loose ones and looking for problem areas. This will tell you what kind of removal process will be needed.

Gather the Right Tools

Removing tile backsplash requires having the proper tools on hand. Here are some essential items to gather:

  • Hammer and chisel: For breaking up tile and backerboard. A masonry chisel is best.
  • Grout saw or oscillating multi-tool: For slicing through grout lines and cutting backerboard.
  • Flat pry bar: Sliding between tile and wall to pop tiles off. Get 10-12 inch size.
  • Utility knife: Scoring and cutting away any remaining tile adhesive.
  • Eye protection: Goggles to prevent injury from debris when hammering and prying.
  • Knee pads: Cushioning when kneeling on hard flooring during removal.
  • Dust mask: Protecting from ceramic tile dust and particles. N95 quality rating or better.
  • Gloves: Leather gloves guard hands when handling broken tiles.

Having the right demolition tools makes removing tile backsplash much simpler and safer. Invest in quality ones made for the job.

Prep the Tile Surface

With your tools gathered, you can start prepping the tile for removal:

  • Sweep or vacuum the backsplash to remove any loose debris.
  • Use a utility knife to score through the grout lines surrounding each tile. Cut them about 1/8″ deep.
  • Apply painter’s tape along the edges bordering countertops, cabinets, and appliances. This protects surfaces from damage during removal.
  • Mist the tile lightly with water. This prevents excessive dust and helps separate adhesive.
  • Starting at the top, try prying off an edge tile with the flat bar. This tests how easily they’ll detach.
  • If tiles are firmly stuck, use a grout saw to cut through all grout lines again. Go 1/4″ deep if needed.

Proper prep work lets you assess tile adhesion, isolate each tile, and penetrate the grout joints. This makes the main task of removal much faster.

Removing Wall Tiles

With prep complete, it’s time to tackle removing the wall tile sheets or individual tiles. Here is the process:

Prying Off Whole Tile Sheets

If the tiles are mounted on drywall or cement backerboard, try removing full sheets first:

  • Wedge the flat pry bar into a top corner joint and gently lever it side to side.
  • Work downward, easing the sheet forward. Spray water behind to further lubricate.
  • Once freed, support the sheet as you lower it fully forward to prevent cracking tiles.
  • Use the pry bar to scrape off any remaining thinset adhesive left on the wall.

Removing intact tile sheets minimizes damage and cuts down on dust. But often the top rows or niche tiles will still need individual removal.

Popping Off Individual Tiles

For stubborn tiles firmly embedded in thinset adhesive:

  • Position the chisel 1-2 inches above the bottom grout line and gently tap it with the hammer.
  • Work sideways along the tile, chiseling behind the sheet surface. Continue until it detaches fully.
  • Switch to the pry bar, sliding it under the freed tile edge. Carefully pry outward and downward.
  • Check the back of each removed tile for any drywall or backing material stuck on. Scrape it off before proceeding.
  • For thinset that remains on the wall, go over it with the utility knife to cut through the upper surface layer.
  • Use the pry bar to scrape off and knock down residual thinset until you reach a smooth surface.

Taking tiles off individually requires patience but allows you to get behind each one for thorough adhesive removal.

Extra Tips for Problem Areas

Tackling tricky sections of tile may need extra steps:

  • For mosaic sheets, use the oscillating multi-tool. Carefully cut and pry underneath to free the sheet.
  • With natural stone, work slowly and evenly to prevent cracking, reheating stubborn adhesive spots with a heat gun as needed.
  • If tiles are set directly on masonry, plan on chiseling to get behind them and scraping/grinding the surface after.
  • Around receptacles and plumbing, use the multi-tool to delicately cut around them so tiles can be removed.

Alternative techniques let you remove tricky tiles while protecting the surrounding surfaces.

Clearing Off Remaining Adhesive

Once the bulk of the tiles are removed, you’ll still need to eliminate any leftover thinset adhesive sticking to the wall:

  • Do an initial pass scraping with the pry bar and knocking down high spots with the hammer.
  • For smooth drywall, skim coat the remnants with a thin layer of joint compound using a drywall knife. Let dry and sand smooth.
  • On cement backerboard, adhesive may penetrate deeper. Scrape thoroughly, then use an electric sander or grinder to smooth and level the surface.
  • With masonry, use an abrasive disc on an angle grinder to carefully grind off remaining thinset. Keep the grinder moving to avoid digging into the brick or block.

Leaving any adhesive behind will create an uneven base for new backsplash tiles. Do whatever it takes to get each surface bare and prepped for the next step.

Disposing and Cleaning Up

As a final set of steps:

  • Sweep up all tile pieces, chunks of adhesive, and tile dust. Contain them in trash bags for disposal.
  • Vacuum the full area including inside window and door tracks to remove lingering dust and debris.
  • Using a damp microfiber cloth, wipe down the uncovered backsplash area and all surrounding countertops, cabinets, and walls.
  • If needed, use denatured alcohol or other solvent on a cloth to remove any remaining grout haze.
  • Discard debris properly based on hazardous waste disposal guidelines in your municipality.

Thoroughly cleaning the workspace keeps the mess contained and prepares the backsplash area for your new tile project.

With some perseverance and these removal tips, tackling a tile backsplash demolition project is very doable. Just focus on working carefully as you free the tiles and clear the surface. Soon you’ll have a smooth blank canvas awaiting your new backsplash design.

Preparing for New Tile

Once you’ve removed the old backsplash tile, there are some important steps to take before installing the replacement:

Evaluate and Repair the Wall Surface

  • Inspect the uncovered wall and address any flaws. Deep gouges in drywall will need spackling and sanding.
  • Cement board may need skim coating with thinset to smooth. Masonry can be ground down or plastered as required.
  • Check for hidden damage like moisture issues, mold, or wall weaknesses. Repair these before proceeding.

Deep Clean the Area

  • Clean the backsplash area with TSP substitute cleaner and rinse well. This removes grease, soap residue, and any remaining old grout haze.
  • Scrub cracks and corners with a brush to dislodge all debris. Flush thoroughly and let dry.

Apply Primer/Sealer

  • To improve adhesion, prime drywall and cement board with a grip coat product.
  • For existing painted surfaces, sand and wipe down before priming.
  • Use specialty sealers/primers made for masonry surfaces like brick or concrete.

Proper prep removes contaminants, strengthens the surface, and promotes better thinset bonding when you retile.

Plan Tile Layout and Purchases

  • Measure the backsplash area and make a layout plan for the new tile purchased. Account for allowances needed around edges and fixtures.
  • Buy all tiles, thinset, grout, and tools needed for the project based on your design. Renting a tile cutter can save time and hassle.
  • Read package directions carefully and prepare the tile backsplash surface as recommended.

With the wall prepped and supplies in hand, installing the new backsplash tile will go smoothly and efficiently.

FAQs About Removing Tile Backsplash

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about taking out existing kitchen backsplash tile:

How long does it take to remove a tile backsplash?

Removal time depends on the size of the backsplash, tile type, and method of application. As an estimate, it takes around 2-4 hours for an average 10 square foot ceramic tile backsplash. Mosaic sheets will be more tedious. Have patience and allocate ample time.

Can I pry off backsplash tiles and re-use them?

Only if they are intact porcelain, ceramic, or natural stone tiles that you can fully detach without breaking. Test one before attempting to preserve and reuse. Any cracked, damaged, or thin tiles should be discarded.

What’s the safest way to detach tiles from cement backerboard?

Use an oscillating multi-tool to slice through the grout lines surrounding each tile. Then carefully pry/pop the tile fronts off and chisel behind the remnants to avoid cracking the board underneath. Take your time.

How do I get rid of old mastic or thinset adhesive?

Removing all adhesive is crucial before retiling. Scrape thoroughly with a pry bar, then sand smooth or grind down stubborn spots. Harsh chemicals may be needed for old cutback mastic – ensure the room is well-ventilated.

Should I hire a contractor to remove backsplash tile?

If you have demolition experience and the right tools, it can certainly be a DIY project. But for large removals or tricky situations like wire lath plaster or asbestos mastic, hiring a professional may save headaches. Assess your confidence level.


Removing existing kitchen backsplash tile takes elbow grease but very doable for motivated DIYers. Follow safety precautions and properly prep the surface afterward for your new tile. Take it slow and steady. With the right approach and tools, you can transform your outdated or damaged backsplash into a stunning new focal point. Careful tile removal is the first step toward a backsplash makeover success.