Backsplash tiles can transform the look of a kitchen or bathroom by adding a pop of color, texture, and personality. However, over time, tastes change and backsplash tiles may start to look outdated. When it’s time for a change, taking off existing backsplash tiles is a project many DIYers can handle with the right tools and techniques. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to take off backsplash tiles successfully.
Assessing the Backsplash
Before diving into tile removal, take time to fully assess the backsplash area. This will help you understand what tools and techniques will work best for the job. Consider the following:
Type of Tiles
- Ceramic, porcelain, or glass: The most common and easiest to remove. Score and pry up tiles one by one.
- Natural stone: Requires more care to remove without cracking. Use a chisel and hammer tapping method.
- Mosaics: Small, interconnected tiles set in sheets. Use a grout removal tool, then pry up sheets.
- Metal: Durable but can bend when prying. Use a razor to cut seams before prying.
- Are tiles set in a straight grid pattern or a more complex diagonal, herringbone or mosaic layout? A regular grid is simpler to remove.
- Is it a full backsplash or accent strips? Full backsplash requires removing all tiles.
- What is the size of tiles? Smaller tiles mean more grout lines to deal with.
- Is grout in good shape or cracked and crumbling? Very damaged grout breaks up easier.
- What color is the grout? Contrasting grout shows more when tiles are removed.
- What width are the grout lines? Thicker grout takes more effort to remove.
Condition of Tiles
- Are tiles firmly attached to substrate or already loosening? Loose tiles pop off quicker.
- Are tiles intact or cracked/broken? Damaged tiles remove easier but more care is needed.
- Is the backsplash on drywall or directly on studs? Drywall substrate is simpler for removal.
Removing Backsplash Tiles
With the backsplash fully assessed, it’s time to start removing the tiles. Follow these steps:
1. Prepare the Workspace
- Clear the area of items and cover surfaces with drop cloths. Tiling removal can get messy.
- Have a tray or buckets available to collect tile pieces and debris.
- Ensure adequate lighting to see all grout lines and tile edges.
- Turn off electricity to any outlets covered by tiles.
2. Remove Grout
- Use a grout removal tool or oscillating multi-tool to rake out all grout from between tiles.
- Work in sections, removing grout before prying up those tiles. Grout removal makes tiles easier to dislodge.
- For stubborn grout, break up with a hammer and chisel before raking out remains.
3. Start Prying Tiles
- Cut any caulk between the backsplash and countertops using a utility knife.
- Insert a pry bar into the edge of the first tile and twist to break adhesive’s grip.
- Place pry bar as close to grout lines as possible to utilize the empty space.
- Tap lightly with hammer if needed to completely dislodge the tile.
4. Remove Tiles Intact If Possible
- Try to remove tiles whole rather than breaking them to make clean-up easier.
- However, cracked, damaged, or stubborn tiles can be broken with hammer or pliers.
- For mosaics, remove sheets together then separate tiles later if saving any.
5. Clear Debris
- Use putty knife to scrape off any remaining adhesive after tile removal.
- Sweep up debris and vacuum dust with shop vac frequently.
- Deposit intact tiles or tile sheets into tray/buckets for easy clean up.
6. Inspect Substrate
- With all tiles removed, inspect the now-exposed substrate.
- If drywall is damaged, cut back damaged areas and repair.
- If adhesive residue remains, continue scraping or sanding it smooth.
- Check for any exposed wires and make repairs as needed.
Tips for Specific Tile Types
The technique for taking off backsplash tiles may vary slightly depending on the type of tile used. Here are some tips:
Ceramic and Porcelain Tile Removal
Ceramic and porcelain tiles are among the easiest to remove intact. Follow these tips when dealing with ceramic or porcelain:
- Score glazed tiles with glass cutter before prying to prevent glaze from chipping.
- Heavily textured tiles grip better—take care when starting to pry.
- Leverage the pry bar as close to grout lines or tile edges as possible for clean removal.
- Porcelain is very durable—be prepared to put muscle into prying them off.
Natural Stone Tile Removal
Natural stone tiles like marble, granite, or slate require finesse to remove without cracking:
- Use score and snap tile cutter to cut through stone veneer before prying up.
- For thin slate tiles, score and snap works better than prying up tiles.
- Use a hand chisel tapped gently with hammer to dislodge stone tiles.
- Take care not to strike chisel hard, which can crack stone. Twist rather than pry.
Mosaic Tile Removal
Removing mosaic sheets has its own unique approach:
- Use an oscillating multi-tool held flat to the sheet to cut into grout lines surrounding entire sheet.
- Lift one corner of the cutout sheet and peel entire sheet off the wall.
- For stubborn areas, use grout rake tool to break apart grout so it releases sheets.
- Pry carefully on just corners of sheets to dislodge if needed.
Metal Tile Removal
Metal backsplash tiles require special care to avoid bending and warping:
- Use a fresh razor blade to cut through caulk and along grout lines before attempting prying.
- Try tapping tiles to dislodge with rubber mallet first before using pry bar.
- Twist pry bar gently—don’t over leverage it or metal can bend.
- Remove tiles as intact sheets if possible to prevent warping.
Preparing for New Backsplash
Once all tiles and adhesive have been fully removed, inspect the wall substrate closely. Any damaged drywall or uneven adhesive layers should be repaired to create a smooth surface for new tile application.
Follow these steps to prep for a fresh backsplash:
- Use TSP cleaner and stiff scrub brush to clean any remaining adhesive or residue on drywall.
- Rinse thoroughly and allow to fully dry before assessing further.
Make Drywall Repairs
- Cut out sections of damaged drywall and replace with new, secured drywall patches.
- Sand patches flush and smooth with surrounding drywall.
- If adhesive remains, continue scraping with putty knife or multi-tool.
- For stubborn adhesive, apply adhesive remover chemical and let sit before scraping.
- Sand down any uneven adhesive globs or ridges.
- Once the substrate is repaired and adhesive-free, apply an appropriate primer.
- For drywall, use drywall primer to prepare for new tile application.
Check for Level
- Use a long level to determine if substrate is plumb and flat.
- Look for any uneven spots greater than 1/8 inch that may need repair.
- Grind down any dried thinset ridges greater than 1/8 inch.
Once the surface is completely clean, smooth, and prepped, new backsplash tiles can be successfully applied. Removing old backsplash tiles is dirty work, but with the right approach, this DIY project can transform the look of a kitchen or bath.
Frequently Asked Questions About Removing Backsplash Tiles
Taking on a tile removal project for the first time can raise many questions. Here are helpful answers to some of the most common FAQs:
Do I Need to Remove All Grout Before Prying Tiles Off?
It is advisable to remove as much grout as possible prior to tile removal. Grout removal along most joints allows the tiles to come off cleaner. However, removing 100% of grout is not mandatory.
How Do I Soften Old Grout to Make It Easier to Remove Tiles?
Applying a DIY grout remover solution of equal vinegar and water or hydrogen peroxide and baking soda can soften and break down grout when let sit for 15-20 minutes. This makes raking and scraping out grout easier.
What Tools Work Best to Pry Tiles Off Wall?
A pry bar, putty knife, oscillating multi-tool, and hammer can all be used in combination to pry tiles off effectively. Using each tool carefully in the right spots prevents tile or wall damage.
Should I Wear Gloves and Eye Protection When Removing Tile?
Yes, thick work gloves and safety glasses are recommended. Tiles can have sharp edges and removing grout and adhesives creates debris and dust. Eye and hand protection is key.
What is the Easiest Way to Break Apart Ceramic Wall Tiles?
The best approach is to score glazed ceramic tiles first with a glass cutter. This prevents the glaze from dangerously splintering. Tiles can then be snapped cleanly along the score line with firm pressure or light taps of a hammer.
Can Backsplash Tiles Contain Asbestos?
Older tiles installed prior to 1980 have a chance of containing asbestos fibers. Have tiles tested before removing if concerned. Special precautions must be taken when removing asbestos tiles.
Should I Repair Drywall Before Installing New Backsplash Tiles?
Yes, any drywall damage from tile removal or adhesive scarring should be repaired and smooth before applying new tiles. This gives the new tiles the best surface possible for optimal adherence.
Is it Okay to Install New Tiles Over Old Tile Adhesive?
No, old adhesive should be fully removed down to the bare drywall or other substrate. New tiles must be installed over a smooth, clean, and even surface to avoid issues with the tile job failing prematurely.
Removing existing backsplash tiles provides an opportunity to give your kitchen or bathroom a fresh new look with an updated tile design. While the process involves careful demolition work, the project can be managed by many DIYers with the right planning and tools. Always take time to fully evaluate the tiles, remove grout properly, pry up tiles with care, and properly prep the substrate for new tiles. With some perseverance and these techniques, those outdated backsplash tiles can be ready for replacement with a surface you will love. Does your kitchen or bathroom backsplash need an upgrade? Now you have the knowledge to take those tiles down and get started creating the new look you’ve been dreaming about.