How to Replace Backsplash Tile in Your Kitchen

Replacing your outdated or damaged kitchen backsplash tile can completely transform the look of your kitchen. With some planning, the right materials, and a bit of handiwork, you can install a fresh new backsplash tile that will make your kitchen look brand new. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to replace backsplash tile in your kitchen.

Assessing Your Current Backsplash

Before ripping out your old backsplash tile, take some time to assess its current state. This will help you determine the best method for removing it.

Consider the Tile Material

What material is your current backsplash tile made of? Common backsplash tile materials include:

  • Ceramic or porcelain – These are probably the most common. They are relatively easy to cut and install.
  • Glass – Glass tile can be tricky to cut and install. Removing it takes more care.
  • Metal or stone – Natural stone or metal tiles are harder to cut. Make sure you have the right tools.
  • Mosaic – Small mosaic tiles may need to be removed sheet by sheet.

Look for Signs of Damage

Inspect your backsplash tile carefully. Check for any cracked, broken, or missing tiles. This can determine how difficult removal may be. Severely damaged tile may come off in pieces.

Also look for signs of damage to the drywall behind the tile. Water damage or mold may mean you need to replace the drywall before installing new tile.

Consider How It Was Installed

Examine how the existing backsplash tile was installed. Thicker tiles with mortar beds are harder to remove than self-adhesive mesh sheets.

If tiles are drilled into the wall, this indicates a strong mortar or mastic was used. Expect more difficult removal.

Decide If You Want to Preserve Any Sections

Determine if you want to preserve any sections of your existing backsplash and only replace certain areas. This selective replacement is possible, but may be tricky to blend with new tile.

Completely removing and replacing the entire backsplash may give you the most seamless final result.

Gather Your Materials

Before starting demo on your backsplash, gather all the necessary materials to make the process smooth. Be sure to use safety gear like gloves and eye protection.

Tile Removal Tools

  • Hammer and chisel – For breaking up sections of tile or mortar
  • Grout scraper – To scrape out all old grout between tiles
  • Putty knife – Thin and flexible for prying off tiles
  • Pry bar – For heavier prying between tiles and drywall
  • Utility knife – For cutting mesh sheets or scraping residual thinset
  • Dust mask – For protecting lungs from airborne debris
  • Safety glasses – For protecting eyes from flying shards and debris

Cleanup Tools

  • Large garbage bags – For removing tile debris
  • Shop vacuum – For cleaning up small pieces and dust
  • Tarp or drop cloth – For protecting floors and counters
  • Dustpan and broom – For sweeping up debris

Additional Supplies

  • New tile and required installation materials
  • Drywall replacement boards, screws, spackle, etc.
  • Thinset mortar or adhesive
  • Grout
  • Grout sealer
  • Caulk
  • Paint or primer
  • Wood shims

Safely Removing the Old Backsplash Tile

With your materials ready, it’s time to start knocking down that old backsplash. Use patience and care during removal to avoid damaging your walls or cabinets.

Prepare the Workspace

Clear your counters and cover surfaces below the backsplash with a tarp. Have a shop vacuum ready to clean up debris and dust. Use drop cloths to protect floors too.

Cover nearby appliances or fixtures to prevent damage from flying shards. Remove items from walls or counters for easiest access.

Wear Protective Gear

Use safety goggles, gloves, long sleeves, and a dust mask anytime you are removing tile. Flying pieces and thick dust can irritate eyes and lungs.

Start Removing Whole Tiles

Begin removing tiles from the center and work outward. Use a pry bar wedged under the tiles to pop them off. Go slowly to prevent tearing off drywall or damaging surrounding tiles.

For stubborn tiles set in mortar, use a chisel and hammer to carefully chip away at the mortar behind them. Apply force gradually.

Clean Out All Grout Lines

Use a grout scraper or utility knife to dig out all the existing grout between tiles. Getting down to the bare surface will make prying off tiles easier.

Go slowly on grout to avoid scratching tiles you want to keep or damaging the wall. A Dremel rotary tool can help with grout removal in corners.

Remove Any Backing Mesh

If the tile has plastic mesh backing, use a utility knife to cut it into sections. Peel each section off carefully to avoid pulling off drywall or tearing the mesh.

Protect Walls and Cabinets

As you remove tile, protect walls and cabinet edges with wood shims to prevent damage. Use extra care around built-in appliances.

If drywall tears off, you may need to replace sections. Use painters tape for quick patches until you can properly refinish the wall.

Dispose of Debris Safely

Place all tile pieces and debris directly into garbage bags. Be careful carrying shattered tiles – double bag for safety.

Vacuum dust and smaller bits. Never sweep debris – this stirs up hazardous silica dust particles that you should not inhale.

Inspect and Finish Wall Surface

Once all tile is removed, inspect the wall thoroughly. Look for any damage that needs repairing before you can install the new backsplash.

Use a damp sponge to wipe off dust or remaining debris. Allow the wall to fully dry before moving on to the next steps.

Preparing Your Wall for New Tile

With the old backsplash removed, now you need to prep and repair the wall as needed before installing replacement tile. Proper prep creates the best surface for a long-lasting backsplash.

Replace Any Damaged Drywall

If areas of drywall were damaged during removal, cut out and replace those sections completely. Use new drywall boards and screws to patch and refinish.

Make sure replacement areas are flush with existing drywall before moving on.

Check for Hidden Damage

Inspect for any water damage or mold behind the tiles. This may have been hidden before. Any compromised areas must be remediated before tiling.

Look for dark or softened drywall, peeling paint, or actual mold growth. These areas will need replacement.

Smooth and Sand Surface

Use sandpaper or a sanding sponge to smooth the wall surface. Sand out any gouges, scratches, bumps, or irregularities for best tile adhesion.

Avoid over-sanding, which can damage drywall face paper. Wipe with a damp sponge when done.

Wash With TSP Substitute

Mix up an eco-friendly TSP substitute and wash the entire backsplash area to remove any remaining residue. This cleans and deglosses the surface for tile bonding.

Rinse thoroughly and let the wall dry completely before moving on.

Skim Coat With Thinset

Apply a thin layer of thinset mortar to the entire backsplash surface using a trowel. This “skim coat” fills any remaining imperfections for a perfectly smooth finish.

Let the thinset fully cure overnight before installing new tile. Lightly sand any bumps before tiling.

Prime and Paint

For best results, apply 1-2 coats of quality primer over the walls once prepped, followed by topcoating with paint.

Use a paint designed for high-moisture areas. Allow paint to fully cure for 1-2 days before tiling.

Choosing Your New Backsplash Tile

With your wall prepped, now comes the fun part – selecting stunning new tile for your kitchen backsplash! Keep the following in mind when choosing:


Porcelain, ceramic, or natural stone are most common. Each has different properties. Porcelain is dense, water-resistant, and durable.

Glass tile makes a gorgeous backsplash but requires special cutting tools. Metals like tin or stainless can give an industrial vibe.

Consider your kitchen’s overall look and style when selecting material.


Choose a color, pattern, and texture that complements your cabinets, countertops, appliances, and overall kitchen decor.

A multi-colored mosaic can look vibrant and eclectic. Large format subway tiles create a classic, clean look.

Pick a finish that fits the kitchen’s style – glossy, matte, textured, or etched.


Prices per square foot can range from $5 per square foot on the very low end, to $50+ for higher end tile. More durable or natural materials are generally more expensive.

Factor in total square footage needed in addition to per tile prices. Create a project budget before purchasing.

Tile Size/Shape

Standard sizes are 4 x 4 inch squares or 3 x 6 inch subway tiles, but many more shapes exist.

Larger tiles can create a more seamless look. Smaller mosaics have more grout lines. Balance size with the overall scale of your kitchen.

Amount Needed

Measure your backsplash area’s square footage using height x width. Buy 10-15% extra to account for tile cuts and potential breakage.

Standard backsplashes use 4-6 tiles vertically stacked. Adjust your tile purchase for actual height.

DIY Install Ability

Consider your own skill level and tools. Basic ceramic or porcelain tiles in squares or simple patterns are generally easiest for DIY installation.

Intricate designs, natural stone, large format tiles, or mosaics may benefit from hiring a professional tile installer.

Gather Your Installation Supplies

In addition to the tile itself, you will need a variety of supplies for proper installation. Having everything on hand makes the process much smoother.

Mortar and Grout

Choose the right mortar based on tile material – thinset for ceramic/porcelain or mastic for stone. Acrylic additives improve adhesion.

Match grout color to your tile. Epoxy grout is best for heavy use kitchen areas.


  • Notched trowel for spreading mortar
  • Tile spacers and levelers
  • Mixing buckets
  • Grout float and grout sponge
  • Tile cutter for scoring and snapping
  • Tile nippers and grinder for clean cuts
  • Safety gear – gloves, goggles, mask

Additional Needs

  • Primer and specialty glues if using glass tile
  • Backerboard may be needed for heavy stone tile
  • Caulk in matching grout color
  • Sealant for grout and natural stone

Step-by-Step Installation Guide

Once you have all your tiles, tools, and materials ready, it’s time for the fun part – installing your beautiful new backsplash! Follow these key steps:

Step 1 – Plan Layout

Dry lay a few rows of tile on the counter to determine the optimal layout before installing. This helps avoid thin slivers or gaps at the edges.

Decide if you want the tiles centered on the backsplash or aligned to one side. Mark the wall at specific height increments with pencil.

Step 2 – Mix Mortar

Mix a batch of thinset mortar, mastic, or adhesive according to package directions. Only mix what you can use in 30 minutes.

Let it slake for 10 minutes, then remix before spreading. Consistent mixing results in proper adhesion.

Step 3 – Apply Mortar

Use a notched trowel held at a 45 degree angle to spread mortar evenly on the wall surface.

Apply only as much as you can tile over within 30 minutes. Consistency in depth is important.

Step 4 – Install Tiles

Following your pre-marked guide lines, press tiles firmly into place in the mortar, spacing evenly. Use tile spacers between each to maintain equal grout line width.

Work in small sections. Level as you go and check alignment every few rows using a level and measuring tape.

Step 5 – Cut Edges and Accents

Measure and mark tiles to cut for edges and around outlets or appliances. Score with cutter then snap tile. Use nippers for notches or grinder for fine tuning.

Cut accent tiles like listello, mosaics, etc as needed. Dry lay these pieces first.

Step 6 – Grout Tile Joints

Let mortar fully cure for 24-48 hours. Mix grout and apply over all tile joints using a grout float. Push into gaps to pack fully. Go slowly.

Clean excess grout off tile faces with a damp sponge in circular motions. Rinse sponge frequently.

Step 7 – Seal and Finish

Once grout has dried fully, apply grout sealer following product directions. Use caulk in any larger joints or gaps if needed.

If desired, finish corners or edges with bullnose, trim, or other accent tiles.

That’s it – stand back and admire your gorgeous new backsplash installation!

FAQs About Backsplash Tile Replacement

Still have some questions about replacing your kitchen backsplash tile? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What tile materials can I install myself as a DIYer?

Porcelain, ceramic, and mosaic sheets are the best DIY choices. They use thinset mortar for straightforward adhesion. Natural stone or large format tiles are trickier.

What tools will I need for a DIY backsplash install?

At minimum, you need a tile cutter, measuring tape, trowels, tile spacers, grout float, mixing bucket, caulk, and safety gear. Other useful tools include a tile saw, tile nippers, hammer and chisel, etc.

How long does a tile backsplash installation take?

The demolition of old tile can take 1-3 days. Prepping the wall also requires 1-3 days. For the installation process of new tile, budget 2-5 days for a typical 10-15 square foot backsplash area. Working in small sections allows mortar to fully cure as you go.

What’s the best way to remove old backsplash tile?

Carefully pry off each tile by wedging a putty knife or pry bar underneath. Tap gently with a hammer if needed. Take time to dig out all old grout first. Use a utility knife for mesh backing. Go slowly to avoid wall damage.

Does new tile have to match the old backsplash height exactly?

Not necessarily. You can remove and replace only a portion of the existing backsplash. Standard backsplash height is 4-6 rows of tile, or about 4-6 feet. Measure what looks best for your design.

How do I prep walls after removing old backsplash tile?

Inspect for damage, make any repairs, then thoroughly clean and sand the entire surface. Apply a skim coat of thinset, prime, and paint. This creates the smoothest, most uniform surface for good tile bond.

Can I install backsplash tile directly over existing tile?

This is not advisable. The multiple layers of mortar or uneven surfaces will not allow a secure bond. Removing the old tile completely is the best practice.

How long should I wait before grouting new backsplash tile?

Let thinset mortar fully cure for at least 24-48 hours before applying grout between tiles. This allows the tile to adhere properly. Grout earlier could compromise the bond.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it – with careful planning, prep, and attention to detail, you can achieve a stunning new backsplash tile installation that will upgrade both the look and function of your kitchen. Theinformation provided above aims to make the process as smooth as possible. Just take it slow and steady. Before you know it, you’ll have a kitchen backsplash space you can’t stop admiring!