How to Take Off Backsplash Without Damaging Drywall

Removing a backsplash without damaging the drywall behind it can seem daunting, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be done! Taking the time to properly prepare and using care when prying off tiles will help preserve the integrity of the drywall.

Gather the Proper Tools

Taking on a backsplash removal project requires gathering a few key tools ahead of time. Having these tools on hand will make the process much easier:

  • Pry bar – A pry bar is essential for working the backsplash tiles off the wall. Opt for one with a flattened end to avoid puncturing the drywall.
  • Hammer – A hammer allows you to tap the pry bar behind tiles to loosen the adhesive. Use light tapping motions to avoid damaging the wall.
  • Utility knife – For areas where tiles are heavily adhered, using a utility knife to score along the edges can help weaken the bond.
  • Heat gun – Heating up the adhesive behind tiles with a heat gun can make them easier to dislodge. Take care not to scorch the drywall.
  • Goggles and gloves – Wearing goggles will protect your eyes from debris. Gloves help grip tools and protect your hands.
  • Drywall patching compound – Use drywall compound to patch any small holes or gouges in the drywall after tile removal.
  • Sandpaper – To smooth patched drywall areas, you’ll need various grits of sandpaper. Start with coarse and finish with fine.

Gathering these supplies ahead of time will make your backsplash removal much simpler. Take stock of what you already have and purchase any additional items you need.

Prepare the Workspace

Before beginning demolition, you’ll want to prep the area surrounding the backsplash. Taking time to prepare will allow the project to run more efficiently. Tips for getting the workspace ready include:

  • Clear countertops and remove anything breakable from nearby walls. Debris may fly when prying off tiles.
  • Cover countertops, floors, and appliances with drop cloths. This protects surfaces from dust and fallen tiles.
  • Have a shop vacuum ready to periodically clean up debris. This helps keep the workspace clean.
  • Cover outlets and light switches with painters tape. This prevents dust and debris from entering.
  • Have a garbage can or wheelbarrow nearby to discard broken tiles. Easy access speeds up debris removal.
  • Set up adequate lighting. Good visibility ensures you can see what you’re doing while removing tiles.

Proper preparation takes a bit of time upfront but avoids delays and frustrations later. Do a sweep of the room to ensure you’ve protected surfaces and cleared clutter before starting demo.

Check for Hidden Electrical

One key step before beginning to pry off backsplash tiles is checking for any hidden electrical that could get damaged. Here are some tips for locating wires:

  • Examine areas around outlets and switches. Wires may be hidden behind nearby tiles.
  • Check for junction boxes, conduit, or electrical panels that tiles may be covering up.
  • Use a non-contact voltage tester to scan for live wires behind tiles. Detected electricity indicates hidden wiring.
  • Look for clues like outlet spacing or switches that don’t control anything—this may indicate covered junction boxes.
  • Consult original plans for the room if available. These may show wire runs.
  • Turn off the power and remove outlet/switch covers to inspect if necessary.

Taking the time to thoroughly check for potential electrical and turning off power to that area ensures you don’t damage wires during removal. Safety should always come first when planning demolition.

Work Top to Bottom

Once preparation is complete, it’s time to get to tile removal. When prying off backsplash, it’s best to work methodically from top to bottom. There are a few benefits to this approach:

  • Debris falls down, so starting at the top prevents fallen tiles from breaking lower ones.
  • Working top to bottom lets gravity assist in dislodging tiles as you progress.
  • The bottom edge where backsplash meets countertops has extra corner adhesive, so saving it for last allows maximum time for that adhesive to heat and soften.

So begin at the top corner of the backsplash and work across and downwards row by row. This logical sequence makes the removal process smoother. Don’t skip around or tackle lower tiles first.

Apply Heat to Loosen Adhesive

Many backsplash tiles are adhered with a thick layer of mastic. Heating this adhesive before prying makes the tiles easier to remove intact. Here are some tips for heating:

  • Use a heat gun to warm tiles and adhesive. Move it slowly and evenly across the area to condition the mastic.
  • Only heat for brief intervals to avoid burning the drywall behind tiles.
  • Concentrate heat on the bottom tile edges where adhesive is thickest.
  • Alternate between warming tiles and carefully prying with the flat bar.
  • A hair dryer can be used on low settings if no heat gun is available.

Heating as you go helps soften the mastic so tiles release easier with less force. Take care not to scorch the drywall while applying heat.

Pry Tiles Off Carefully

With the adhesive warmed, you can begin prying off tiles. Work slowly and methodically for best results:

  • Wedge pry bar into grout lines to avoid hitting tiles directly. Twist gently to wedge it behind each tile.
  • Start prying near the upper corners of tiles and work downwards. Tiles should pop off row by row.
  • Apply light, steady pressure rather than brute force. Jerking sharply is more likely to damage drywall.
  • If tiles resist removal, reheat the area and try again. Forced prying can gouge the wall.
  • Periodically tap pry bar with hammer to help dislodge stubborn tiles. Again, a light touch prevents damage.
  • Scoop up fallen tile pieces quickly to keep the workspace clean.

With care and patience, the tiles should pry off while leaving the drywall underneath largely intact. Avoid hacking at tiles harshly with the pry bar.

Scrape Off Adhesive Residue

Once all tiles are removed, scrape off any remaining adhesive still stuck to the wall:

  • Use a damp sponge to wet and soften dried mastic. This allows it to release more easily.
  • Try scraping in different directions with a plastic putty knife to see what works best. Thick layers may take some effort to remove.
  • For thin haze, wipe walls with mineral spirits, then rinse. This helps dissolve residue.
  • Limit sanding, as it’s easy to damage drywall using too much force. Instead, focus on manual scraping.
  • Avoid wire brushes, as they can snag and tear delicate drywall paper facing.

Thoroughly cleaning off all traces of adhesive ensures walls are ready for new backsplash tiles to adhere properly.

Patch Damaged Areas

Despite best efforts, some minor drywall damage may still occur when removing backsplash tiles. Small holes and gouges are easily patched:

  • Wipe away dust then fill any nicks and scrapes with lightweight drywall compound. Allow compound to dry completely.
  • For smooth results, sand hardened compound using various grit sandpaper, finishing with fine 220-grit.
  • Feather out edges of patched areas to blend seamlessly into surrounding drywall.
  • Spot prime repairs with drywall primer before painting or applying new backsplash.

Patch kits allow you to match compound texture and finish to the existing drywall. Take your time sanding patches for an invisible repair.

Tips for Tricky Areas

Certain backsplash locations can prove tricky when trying to remove tiles without wall damage. Here are some tips:

  • Around receptacles – Turn off power and remove outlets/switches before prying tiles in these areas. Watch for hidden wires.
  • Inside corners – Use a small pry bar and work slowly to avoid gouging drywall at interior corners.
  • Behind appliances – Disconnect and pull out freestanding appliances to access the tiles behind them fully.
  • Around plumbing – Leave tiles around plumbing fixtures for last to avoid damaging pipes or supply lines. Work carefully.
  • Thick mastic – For tiles set in layers of adhesive, heat the wall substantially before attempting prying.

Remaining patient and using care around potentially problematic areas allows you to remove tiles successfully.

Hire a Pro for Asbestos Tiles

Important safety note – If dealing with vintage tile that may contain asbestos, do NOT attempt removal yourself. Asbestos particles pose a serious health hazard if inhaled. In these cases, hire a professional asbestos abatement company to remove and dispose of tiles safely.

Dispose of Debris Properly

Don’t forget about proper debris disposal once your backsplash demolition is complete:

  • Wear a dust mask when collecting and loading tile pieces into trash bags. This prevents inhaling fine particulates.
  • Clean the area thoroughly with water and vacuum again before disposal to limit dust spread.
  • Seal trash bags containing tiles and scrape residue completely prior to removing from the workspace.
  • Research local regulations for potential hazardous waste disposal requirements depending on tile age.

Following safety protocols prevents environmental and health hazards during cleanup. Remove all demolition debris promptly and responsibly.

Preparing Walls for New Backsplash

Once tiles are removed and drywall repairs completed, preparing the walls for a new backsplash install involves:

  • Fill any remaining small voids with drywall compound and sand smooth.
  • Wash the walls with TSP cleaner to remove grease and residue. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Allow walls to fully dry then lightly sand with fine-grit sandpaper to help adhesion.
  • Prime walls with a tile bonding primer compatible with your new tile and mastic choices.

With the walls prepped properly, applying the new backsplash tile will be a smooth and successful process. The hard work removing the original tiling pays off!

Frequently Asked Questions About Removing Backsplash

Removing existing backsplash tile without damaging drywall underneath is achievable with the right approach. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about this process:

What tools do I need to remove backsplash?

Having the proper tools on hand makes backsplash removal much easier. The essentials include a pry bar, hammer, utility knife, heat gun or hair dryer, goggles, and gloves. Drywall patching compound, sandpaper, and a shop vac are also very helpful.

How do I avoid cracking tiles when removing backsplash?

Work slowly and methodically when prying off tiles. Wedge the pry bar carefully into grout lines and twist to avoid hitting tiles directly. Apply steady, light pressure rather than brute force. Cracking can also be avoided by heating tiles periodically with a heat gun to soften adhesive.

What’s the easiest way to remove stubborn tiles?

For tiles that resist removal, a heat gun is very effective for softening the adhesive underneath. Concentrate heat evenly across tiles, then alternate between heating and gentle prying. The tiles should release once the mastic softens. Avoid prying too forcefully.

How can I remove backsplash without damaging drywall?

Careful prying is key to avoid gouging or puncturing drywall. Use a pry bar with a flattened end and apply only light pressure. Heat tiles periodically and avoid hammering or aggressively hacking tiles off. Work top to bottom and pry tiles off in rows for controlled removal.

What’s the best way to get rid of old mastic?

Scraping removes heavy adhesive residue, then use a damp sponge and mineral spirits to dissolve remaining haze. Limit sanding, as it’s easy to damage drywall. Avoid wire brushes. Thoroughly cleaning adhesive allows for proper adhesion of new backsplash tiles.

How do I prep walls after removing old backsplash?

Fill any gouges with drywall compound, then sand smooth. Wash walls to remove grease and dirt. Lightly sand walls prior to priming for better adhesion. Apply a tile bonding primer compatible with your new tile and adhesive. Careful prep ensures successful new tile installation.

How do I remove backsplash around electrical boxes?

Around outlets, switches, and junction boxes, turn off power prior to prying tiles loose. Remove covers to inspect for wires before prying. Use extra care to avoid nicking wires hidden behind tiles. Consider calling an electrician if wiring is tricky to access. Safety comes first.

What’s the best way to demolish tiles around plumbing?

Tiles around faucets, supply lines, and drains often have excessive adhesive. Leave plumbing areas for last. Heat tiles thoroughly to soften mastic before gently prying tiles up. Avoid using forceful leverage that could damage pipes or connections. Work slowly.

Can I remove backsplash myself or do I need a pro?

With care, patience, and the right tools, you can tackle removing backsplash tile successfully as a DIY project in most cases. However for asbestos tile, hire certified professionals for safe abatement. Consider pros too for challenging electrical, plumbing, or plaster walls requiring specialized skills.


Removing backsplash doesn’t need to be an intimidating demolition project. Understanding how to detach tiles without damaging drywall simply requires vigilance and the proper techniques. Keys points include heating tiles to loosen adhesive, prying carefully, patching flaws, and prepping for new tile installation. Exercising caution and following safety best practices allows even first-timers to take on a backsplash removal successfully. With adequate preparation and diligent work, those outdated tiles can come down while keeping walls intact.