How to Replace a Backsplash Tile


Replacing a damaged or outdated backsplash tile in your kitchen or bathroom can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and a bit of time, it’s quite manageable as a DIY project. A tiled backsplash serves both decorative and functional purposes, protecting the walls from moisture and potential damage. Over time, the grout between tiles can deteriorate or stain, making the whole backsplash appear worn and dated. Replacing just a single damaged tile or a whole backsplash can give your kitchen or bath a fresh new look.

In this detailed guide, we’ll walk you through the entire process of replacing a backsplash tile step-by-step. We’ll cover how to remove your existing tile, prepare the surface, cut and install the new tile, regrout, and finally seal and polish your new backsplash. With proper planning and care, you can achieve stunning results and learn a useful new skill in the process. So let’s get started on revitalizing your backsplash!

Assess the Tile and Damage

Before starting demo work, take time to assess the current condition of your backsplash tile and identify any underlying issues.

  • Examine the grout lines around the damaged tile. Is the grout just stained or actually crumbling away? Stained grout indicates a need for regrouting, while missing grout means deeper issues may be present behind the tile.
  • Look for cracks, chips, missing pieces, or loose tiles throughout the backsplash, not just in one spot. Damage confined to a single tile is fairly simple to remedy. Multiple damaged tiles likely signify problems with the wall surface, moisture exposure, or original installation.
  • Try gently tapping on tiles to check for a hollow sound, which could mean the tile is no longer properly bonded to the wall. Solid adhesion is important for the new tile.
  • Inspect the area beneath the backsplash for signs of water damage like swollen cabinets, peeling paint or wallpaper, or mold growth. These issues should be addressed prior to retiling.

Identifying the root cause of damage helps you plan appropriate repairs beyond just tile replacement.

Gather Your Materials

Replacing a backsplash tile requires certain specialty tools and materials. Gather supplies before starting the project to have everything on hand.

Tools Needed:

  • Safety glasses and gloves
  • Flat pry bar
  • Hammer
  • Grout saw or oscillating multi-tool
  • Tile cutter (manual or electric wet saw)
  • Trowel
  • Grout float
  • Grout sponge
  • Mixing bucket
  • Sealant applicator (paintbrush or sponge)

Additional Supplies:

  • New tile and grout that matches existing
  • Thinset mortar adhesive
  • Grout sealant
  • Painter’s tape
  • Drop cloths

Purchase extra tile to account for potential breakage during cutting. Also get any ancillary materials like tile trim pieces, caulk, or metal tile edging if needed. Having all tools and supplies on hand before starting reduces delays and frustration.

Protect Surrounding Areas

The process of removing and replacing tile can get messy, so properly covering and protecting nearby surfaces is a key preparatory step.

  • Clear countertops and remove anything on walls around the backsplash area.
  • Cover countertops with rosin paper or old sheets to protect from debris and splashing thinset mortar. Tape down the paper edges.
  • Mask off wall areas above the backsplash with painter’s tape to keep those surfaces clean when grouting.
  • Use drop cloths or plastic sheeting to cover the floor around the full workspace.
  • Remove any decorative items, sconces, shelves or hangings from the backsplash area before work begins.

Taking time to shield nearby surfaces means less cleanup hassle and prevents accidental damage in the workspace.

Remove the Existing Tile

With preparations complete, it’s time to carefully remove the damaged tile and any surrounding tiles to access the area.

  • Using a flat pry bar and hammer, gently pry the damaged tile off the wall. Start at the bottom edge and work upward.
  • Continue prying off additional tiles working outward from the damaged one so you have a large enough open area to install the new tile.
  • Use a grout saw or oscillating multi-tool to cut through any stubborn grout still attaching intact tiles you need removed.
  • Remove all debris and old grout from the open area so the wall surface is completely exposed.
  • Inspect the now exposed wall for any signs of damage or underlying problems behind the original tile. Address any issues to ensure a sound base for new tile.
  • Take care not to damage the surrounding tiles. Remove only what is necessary to access and replace the damaged section.

Work slowly and carefully when prying tiles off to avoid damaging the drywall or plaster wall underneath.

Prep the Area for New Tile

Once the necessary tiles are removed, prep the exposed wall area for replacement tiles.

  • Make any repairs needed to the wall surface like patching holes, smoothing uneven areas, or sealing cracks. The wall should be as even as possible.
  • Use painter’s tape to define straight edges around the opening to guide the shape of the new tile section.
  • Lightly sand the edges of existing tiles around the opening so the new and old tiles are flush and even.
  • Clean the exposed wall thoroughly to remove any old thinset, grout residue, or loose material. Rinse well and allow to fully dry.

Proper prep helps ensure the new tile bonds tightly and withstands moisture over time. Take time to correctly address any underlying issues behind the tile.

Cut the New Tile

With the opening prepped, dry fit the new tile to find the right fit before cutting.

  • Arrange the tile on the countertop to match the pattern and orientation of the surrounding tiles. Mark each tile’s position with painter’s tape on the backside.
  • Using a straightedge and pencil, mark cutting lines on the tile surface. For corner pieces, use a tile nipper for gentle rounding or smoothing.
  • Carefully score and snap each tile along the marked lines using a manual tile cutter. Use an electric wet saw for more precise cuts.
  • Test fit each cut tile in position and make minor adjustments until everything aligns with the edges of the opening.

Cutting tile takes precision but becomes easier with practice. Have extra tiles on hand in case any break during cutting.

Mix and Apply Thinset Mortar

With the tiles cut, mix up a batch of thinset adhesive mortar to attach the new tile section.

  • Prepare the thinset mix per package directions, using an appropriate latex-modified thinset for wall applications.
  • Use a trowel to spread a layer of thinset on the exposed wall area where tile will be placed. Apply additional mortar to the tile backs using the trowel’s notched edge.
  • Set each new tile in the open area, twisting and pressing firmly to ensure full adhesive contact and proper alignment.
  • Use painter’s tape triangles in the corners as spacers between tiles to maintain consistent grout line spacing.
  • Allow the thinset to cure fully for 24-48 hours before grouting.

Adequate thinset coverage and proper technique ensures maximum adhesion strength and a lasting bond.

Re-Grout the New Tile

After allowing the thinset to fully cure, it’s time to re-grout the new tile section and finish the job.

  • Prepare grout mix per package instructions. Use sanded grout for wider joints, unsanded for thinner grout lines. Match existing grout color.
  • Force grout firmly into joints using a grout float or squeegee. Hold the float at 45° angle and pack tightly.
  • Wipe off excess grout with a damp sponge. Rinse the sponge and wring out thoroughly as you work to smooth the joints.
  • Once the grout has slightly set up, about 20 minutes, rub a clean, damp sponge diagonally across the tiles to clean the surface and shape the joints.
  • Remove painter’s tape from the edges and any spacers from tile joints once grouting is complete.

Let the grout cure fully over 24-48 hours. Avoid wetting or heavy use for at least three days.

Seal and Polish the Grout

As a final step, apply a penetrating grout sealant to protect the re-grouted area and complete the renewal.

  • Allow new grout to cure fully for 3-7 days before sealing. Test absorption by spritzing water on the tile. If it penetrations, the grout is ready for sealant.
  • Prepare sealant product as directed and apply carefully to only the grout lines using a small paintbrush. Avoid contact with the tile faces.
  • Wipe up any excess sealant and polish the tiles using a clean, soft cloth.

Sealing the grout prevents staining and makes routine cleaning much simpler going forward. Your patience will pay off when you see how the finished results give a fresh facelift to your kitchen or bath!

Frequently Asked Questions

What tools do I need to replace a backsplash tile?

You’ll need safety gear like gloves and goggles, a pry bar, hammer, grout saw, tile cutter, trowels, grout float, sponges, and a mixing bucket. An oscillating multi-tool with grout blade is also very useful.

How do I remove existing backsplash tile?

Use a pry bar and hammer to gently pry up the damaged tile, working from the bottom corner. Continue outward to remove additional tiles and access the area. Use a grout saw or multi-tool to cut through stubborn grout.

How do I prep the wall for new tile?

Repair any wall damage, smooth uneven areas, fill holes and seal cracks. Tape off clean edges, sand surrounding tiles, and thoroughly clean the exposed wall area before retiling. Proper prep ensures good adhesion.

What thinset mortar should I use?

Use a polymer-modified, latex-Portland cement thinset suitable for wall use. Avoid organic mastic adhesives. Mix to a smooth, toothpaste-like consistency per product instructions.

Can I use sanded grout on a backsplash?

Yes, sanded grout is recommended for tiles with wider grout joints 1/8” or larger. Unsanded grout is best for thinner joints under 1/8”. Match existing grout color and texture.

How long should I wait to grout after installing new tile?

Allow thinset adhesive to fully cure for 24-48 hours before applying grout. This prevents the tiles from shifting and ensures proper bonding strength.

Replacing a single backsplash tile or doing an entire backsplash renewal may seem intimidating, but breaking the project down into manageable steps makes it very approachable. With the right materials, patience, and techniques, you can achieve beautiful results and increase the value of your kitchen or bath.


Updating a backsplash can provide a fresh facelift for your kitchen or bathroom. By following this guide to carefully remove, prepare, retile, regrout and seal, you can successfully replace a damaged backsplash tile on your own as a DIY project. While it takes time, patience and care, the skills you learn will enable you to tackle more extensive backsplash projects in the future.

With proper safety precautions, tools and materials, you can replace a backsplash tile in a way that leaves your walls protected and your new tile installation looking like a professional job. Just work slowly and methodically through each step. The finished results will revitalize the look of your space for years to come.