How to Take Down Backsplash Tile

Removing a backsplash tile can be a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be accomplished successfully. Taking the time to properly prepare and using caution while working will help ensure the job gets done efficiently and safely. We will walk through the complete process, from assessing the project to cleaning up when finished, providing tips to make taking down backsplash tile an achievable DIY project.

Things You’ll Need

Taking down tile backsplash requires gathering the proper equipment before starting. Having the right tools on hand will make the demolition go smoother and prevent potential damage. Here are the necessary items to have available:

  • Safety gear – This includes goggles, dust mask, ear protection and gloves to protect yourself throughout the removal process. Tile shards and dust particles will be flying, so covering up is crucial.
  • Hammer or mini sledge – A regular claw hammer or small sledgehammer will be useful for breaking up tile and knocking it off the wall. Choose one with some weight to it.
  • Cold chisel – The cold chisel is tapped with the hammer to help dislodge entire tiles or break them up into smaller sections. Get one with an angled head to reach under tile.
  • Pry bar – A sturdy pry bar is needed to pull off remaining tile pieces still stuck to the wall with adhesive. It provides necessary leverage for stubborn areas.
  • Utility knife – For areas where tile needs to be scored or cut, a sharp utility knife will be indispensable. It allows precise cuts prior to prying.
  • Tile remover shovel – This handy tool has a curved end to get behind tile and scrape or lever it off efficiently. The shovel edge slides nicely under tiles.
  • Paint scraper – In addition to the shovel, a paint scraper can also help with scraping off old thinset or tile adhesive still on the wall after tile removal.
  • Drop cloth – Laying a drop cloth down will make cleanup of fallen tile pieces and debris much easier. The plastic sheet contains the mess.
  • Trash bags/bucket – Have a trash bag or bucket ready to collect and contain the broken up tile pieces and prevent them from scattering everywhere.
  • Tile adhesive remover – Special remover solutions help eliminate stubborn thinset adhesive still stuck on the wall after the tile comes down.
  • Wet sponge – Gently wiping with a wet sponge helps get rid of tile adhesive residue. Have a bucket of water and sponge ready.
  • Replacement tile – Once the old tile is removed, have the new tile on hand to install and complete the backsplash refresh.

Safety Tips

When demolishing tile, safety should always be the top concern. Follow these tips to avoid injury and protect yourself while taking down backsplash:

  • Wear eye protection, dust mask and gloves at all times when breaking up tile. Flying debris is dangerous to eyes and lungs.
  • Use proper body mechanics when swinging a hammer or pry bar. Keep knees bent, feet planted and let the tools do the work.
  • Take care when handling broken tile shards. The edges can be extremely sharp and cause deep cuts.
  • Work carefully around electrical outlets in the backsplash area. Turn off circuit breakers to be safe if necessary.
  • Don’t stand directly underneath the area being demolished. Stand off to the side in case large pieces suddenly break free.
  • Go slowly when needed. Don’t rush and risk slipping with a tool or hurting your wrist from repeated hammer swings.
  • Take breaks to prevent fatigue. Tired muscles lead to poor form and increase the chances of an injury occurring.
  • Keep a first aid kit nearby in case of cuts. Stop any bleeding right away and cover wounds to prevent infection.
  • Wear ear protection when hammering continuously. The repeated tile-breaking motions can damage hearing over time.

Preparing the Work Area

Prior to starting demo on the backsplash tile, properly setting up the workspace will make the removal process smoother. Follow these tips to get the area prepared:

  • Clear countertops or anything underneath the backsplash area to avoid damage from falling tile pieces.
  • Cover nearby surfaces like countertops or floors with a drop cloth to protect from debris.
  • Have a trash bag or bucket ready to collect broken tile shards and prevent scattering.
  • Sweep the area clean of any dirt and debris that could get caught in the demolition mess.
  • Turn off electricity running to any outlets in the backsplash space for safety if necessary.
  • Cover or unplug appliances like the range hood that are below the tile work area.
  • Have all necessary tools ready and accessible before starting work. Grup them together in the workspace.
  • Make sure there is adequate ventilation, lighting and room to maneuver while working.
  • Turn off any faucets or water supply to fixtures surrounded by the tile backsplash.
  • Remove anything still attached to the wall like towel bars or cutting boards within the backsplash area.
  • Pick a time to demolish the tile when no one else is home to avoid bystanders in the workspace.
  • Wear appropriate clothing that covers arms and legs to protect from debris and tools.

How to RemoveTile Backsplash

Once the workspace is fully prepped and safety gear is on, it’s time to start taking down that outdated or damaged tile backsplash. Here is the complete process broken down step-by-step:

Step 1 – Score Grout Lines

The first step is scoring along the grout lines between tiles using a utility knife. Take care to cut just deep enough to penetrate the grout and not damage the drywall behind it. Scoring allows a clean break right along joint edges.

  • Work top to bottom in a grid, scoring all joint lines both vertically and horizontally.
  • Hold the knife at a 45 degree angle and apply firm, even pressure while dragging the tip across each grout seam.
  • Go over lines multiple times to ensure the knife cuts fully through the grout down to the bottom edge.
  • Be careful not to slice too deeply or twist the blade. Control the cuts to avoid wall damage.
  • Wipe away any debris/dust with a wet sponge as you score to keep lines clearly visible.

Step 2 – Chip Off Grout

After scoring is complete, use the hammer and cold chisel together to knock out and chip away grout between tiles:

  • Position the chisel tip in the joint seam and use the claw hammer to tap it lightly along the line.
  • Tap patiently working down the entire scored edge to shatter and break up the grout.
  • Check progress frequently. Go over stubborn areas again with the scoring knife if needed.
  • Remove all loose grout pieces with the tile shovel and dispose in a trash bag as you go.
  • Repeat the chipping process on all scored seams until tile sections are completely separated from each other.

Step 3 – Break Up Tiles

With the grout fully chiseled out, the next step is breaking up the freed tiles into smaller pieces for removal. This is done with the hammer and chisel:

  • Starting in a bottom corner, position the chisel on a tile edge and strike firmly with the hammer.
  • Give each strike controlled force and aim near the tile corners and edges to break it into sections.
  • Turn larger pieces on their side to continue fracturing until the tile is broken down small enough for removal.
  • Maintain proper body position when swinging the hammer. Keep feet planted and knees bent.
  • Check behind periodically for damage. Add a wood block against the wall if needed to prevent chisel impact.
  • Break all tiles into palm-sized pieces or smaller. Discard shards immediately into a trash bag.

Step 4 – Remove Adhesive Backing

With the tile broken up, it’s time to deal with the adhesive backing left on the wall. This is done using the pry bar:

  • Wedge the flat bar tip under the remains of a tile and gently pry it off the wall.
  • Start prying in a lower corner and work up for gravity’s help dropping pieces down.
  • Keep the pry bar tip tight to the wall to avoid excessive damage to the drywall underneath.
  • For stubborn areas, use the scoring knife to re-cut any intact adhesive spots before prying again.
  • Remove large sections and work piece-by-piece until all tile remnants are pried off completely.
  • Avoid hacking or scraping motions and pull firmly in a controlled manner.
  • Dispose of the adhesive backing debris immediately into a trash bag as you detach it.

Step 5 – Remove Adhesive Residue

At this point, the bulk of tile should be removed, but there will still be a layer of thinset adhesive clinging to the wall:

  • Use the paint scraper to gently scrape off any easily removable residue.
  • Try a chemical adhesive remover applied lightly to stubborn areas as per product instructions.
  • Allow the remover to sit for the directed duration before scraping again.
  • Apply pressure with the scraper at a low 30 degree angle to avoid damaging the drywall.
  • For leftover residue, go over areas repeatedly with a wet sponge, changing rinse water frequently.
  • Work in sections until all adhesive is either scraped off or wiped clean from the wall’s surface.

Step 6 – Clean and Inspect Surface

With the backsplash demo complete, now it’s time for final clean up:

  • Give the whole area a wipedown with clean water and a sponge to remove lingering dust and debris stuck to the wall or surrounding surfaces.
  • Check for any wall damage like gouges, holes, lifted paper or cracks. Repair any issues prior to installing new tile.
  • Allow the wall time to completely dry out before applying new backsplash tile.
  • Dispose of any broken tile pieces, leftover residue and other demo debris.
  • Remove the drop cloth and vacuum up dust or particles from the rest of the workspace.
  • Clean tools thoroughly before storing them away to remove adhesive buildup or dirt.

The wall is now prepped and ready for a fresh set of backsplash tile to be installed. Enjoy your updated kitchen!

FAQs About Removing Backsplash Tile

Taking on a backsplash tile demolition brings up many questions for a DIYer doing this for the first time. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:

How do you tell if backsplash tile contains asbestos?

Backsplash tile installed prior to the 1980s has a higher likelihood of containing asbestos fibers. Contact a testing lab to take a sample piece for official testing if concerned. Asbestos requires special abatement.

What is the easiest way to remove backsplash tile?

Scoring grout lines with a utility knife first allows the tiles to be broken up easier. Combined with a hammer and chisel to break tiles into pieces, the removal process goes quicker.

How do I remove tile adhesive from drywall?

Scraping with a paint scraper takes care of adhesive that comes off easily. For residue that persists, use a chemical adhesive remover applied lightly to dissolve the bonds before scraping again.

What tools do I need to remove kitchen backsplash tile?

A basic toolkit would include a hammer, utility knife, cold chisel, pry bar, paint scraper, and tile shovel. Safety gear like goggles, gloves and a mask are also a must.

How do you prep a wall for new backsplash tile?

The wall surface under the demolition tile must be fully cleaned and dried out before installing new tile. Repair any damaged drywall areas. Prime if needed for better adhesion.

Can I put new tile over existing backsplash?

It is possible but not recommended. The extra layer of tile could cause bulging off the wall over time. It’s best to remove the old tile completely before installing the new.

What is the easiest backsplash to install?

Sheet backsplashes like a single sheet of metal or plastic are simplest for DIY installation. Peel and stick tile squares also go up with relative ease compared to traditional tiles.

How much does it cost to replace kitchen backsplash?

For professional installation, expect to pay $20-50 per square foot including labor and materials. DIY backsplash replacement costs $5-20 per square foot just for new tile or panels.

Should you seal backsplash tile?

It’s a good idea to seal natural stone tiles like marble or travertine to prevent staining and deterioration. Ceramic and glass tiles don’t require sealing.


Removing backsplash tile may seem intimidating, but as shown it can absolutely be tackled successfully as a DIY project. Careful preparation and having the proper tools are a must for protecting yourself and your kitchen. Follow the techniques described above and work slowly and safely. Remember to properly dispose of all tile debris. With some perseverance and patience, that outdated or damaged tile backsplash can come down in a day. Before you know it, your walls will be prepped and ready for a fresh set of tile to give your kitchen an updated new look.