Taking off old kitchen backsplash tiles can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it doesn’t have to be. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to remove existing backsplash tiles in your kitchen and get ready for a new backsplash installation.
Assessing the Backsplash
Before starting demolition, take some time to examine the existing backsplash. This will help you understand how it was installed and determine the best way to take it down. Some key things to assess:
- Type of tiles – Ceramic, stone, glass, etc. Ceramic will be the easiest to remove. Stone and glass will take more care.
- Grout lines – Are the grout lines uniform or uneven? Even grout lines usually indicate a professional installation.
- Tile edges – Are the tile edges smooth or uneven? Jagged edges usually mean amateur installation.
- Layout pattern – Is the backsplash set in a straight grid or more creative pattern? Simpler grid layouts come off easier.
- What’s behind it – Is there a layer of cement board or was it applied directly to drywall? Cement board will be sturdier.
- Condition of grout – Has the grout started crumbling or is it still firmly in place? Crumbly grout detaches easier.
Taking notes on these factors will allow you to plan the material and time required for removal.
Gather the Right Tools
Removing backsplash tiles requires some specialized tools you may not have on hand. Here are some important ones to gather:
- Flat pry bar – A long, slim pry bar is ideal for working into grout lines and prying off tiles.
- Tile chisel – A carbide-tipped chisel will cut through tough grout and tile edges.
- Grout rake – This multi-pronged tool is designed to scrape out grout.
- Eye protection – Always wear protective eyewear when chiseling.
- Knee pads – Kneeling on a hard floor for an extended time can take a toll. Get knee pads.
- Face mask – A basic disposable face mask will protect from dust inhalation.
- Hammer – A hammer can help break apart stubborn tiles. Use a rubber mallet to avoid marks.
- Utility knife – Useful for scraping off old tile adhesive or problem spots.
Having the right specialized tools makes tile removal much easier. Invest in quality tools that will last through future tile jobs.
Prepare the Workspace
Before starting demo, set up the workspace to minimize mess and protect surrounding surfaces:
- Clear countertops of everything removable – appliances, dishes, etc.
- Cover countertops and appliances with drop cloths.
- Cover the floor around the workspace with drop cloths.
- Have a shop vac ready to capture debris and dust.
- Open windows and use exhaust fans to ventilate the area.
- Turn off overhead lighting and use task lighting focused only on the backsplash.
- Cover nearby walls with plastic sheeting to protect from dust.
- Have a step ladder handy to reach the full height of the backsplash.
Taking the time to properly set up the workspace will save clean up effort later.
Start Removing Tiles
With your tools gathered and workspace prepped, it’s time to start tackling the tiles:
1. Score all grout lines
Use the carbide-tipped chisel to score along all grout lines. Don’t try to fully dig out the grout yet – just scoring it will weaken the adhesion.
2. Choose a starting point
Select a bottom corner or edge piece to pry off first. Upper tiles will come down easier once you’ve freed up the lower row.
3. Work the pry bar behind the tile
Slip the pry bar into a grout line and gently twist it back and forth to wedge behind the tile.
4. Apply steady force
When wedge behind the tile, apply steady pressure with the pry bar until the tile pops off. Caution – tiles can shatter when pried. Wear eye protection.
5. Remove surrounding tiles
Once you’ve removed the first tile, systematic work outward from there removing surrounding tiles.
6. Clear all broken pieces
Frequently stop to gather broken tile pieces and dust with the shop vac. Keep the workspace clean.
7. Scrape off old adhesive
Use the grout rake, utility knife, or chisel to scrape any remaining old tile adhesive off the wall.
Working methodically from one area to the next is the key to efficiently removing kitchen backsplash tiles.
Clean and Prep the Wall
After clearing off all the demo debris, properly clean and prep the wall for new tile:
- Use the shop vac to remove every speck of debris from the wall and floor.
- Wipe the wall down with a damp sponge to clean off dust and residue.
- Fill any gouges or irregularities in the wall with spackle compound and let dry completely.
- Sand any bumps smooth. Wipe away dust.
- Apply painter’s tape around the perimeter edges for a clean finish line.
- Prime the wall and allow to dry fully.
Taking the time to properly clean and prep ensures your new backsplash tiles or alternative backsplash will have a smooth surface to adhere to.
Removing old tile has some inherent safety hazards. Keep these tips in mind:
- Wear eye protection, gloves, knee pads, and a face mask at all times.
- Work carefully when prying tiles off to avoid shattering them.
- Use drop cloths to contain debris and protect surfaces.
- Change into old clothes and shoes to avoid getting dust and debris on your nice items.
- Keep a first aid kit on hand in case of cuts from sharp tiles.
- Work carefully from a sturdy ladder if reaching higher areas.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby when using any power tools for demo.
- Disconnect electrical power when working around outlets, lights, or appliances.
Staying safe should be your top concern during any demolition project. Take your time and exercise caution.
Hiring a Professional
Removing kitchen backsplash tile is a very doable DIY project if armed with the right tools and techniques. However, if the task seems too large or daunting, don’t hesitate to hire a professional. Experienced contractors will have specialty tools to make the job much faster and cleaner. They can also properly dispose of demolition waste. The cost of hiring a pro is probably comparable to renting equipment and buying supplies yourself.
Avoid Common Mistakes
When taking on a DIY backsplash removal, avoid these common pitfalls:
- Trying to pry off tiles without scoring the grout first. Always score!
- Using the wrong tools that can damage the wall rather than remove tiles.
- Leaving debris behind rather than thoroughly cleaning the wall afterward.
- Failing to prep the wall for new tile installation.
- Working in an unventilated area and inhaling dust and particles.
- Working unsafely by not using protective gear or securing ladders properly.
- Attempting to remove stone or glass backsplashes, which require more care than ceramic tile.
A little planning and care goes a long way toward a successful backsplash demolition project. Take it slow and make safety a priority.
How long does it take to remove a kitchen backsplash?
It typically takes 2-4 hours for a DIYer to remove and prep a standard 8×4 foot backsplash area. Experienced pros can do it in 1-2 hours.
What’s the easiest way to get grout off tiles?
Scoring all grout lines with a carbide-tipped grout saw before prying tiles off weakens the grout for easy removal. Avoid hitting grout lines with a hammer which can shatter tiles.
Can I put new tile directly over old backsplash?
It’s not recommended. Old tile should be removed to create a smooth, even surface for proper adhesion of new tiles. Irregular surfaces lead to weak spots in new installations.
Is it cheaper to remove tile or drywall entirely?
Removing individual tiles is cheaper than replacing whole sections of drywall. However, if the drywall is damaged during removal, full replacement may be required anyway.
What should I do with old backsplash tiles after removal?
Check if they contain asbestos. If they are asbestos-free, the tiles can go in normal waste disposal. Asbestos tiles require hazardous material handling.
Upgrading kitchen backsplashes is a great way to refresh the look of your space. With the right planning and tools, removing existing backsplash tile is an achievable DIY project. Focus on safe practices and proper prep to ensure success. Or hire a pro tile removal service if the scope seems too extensive. With some diligent demolition work, you’ll have your backsplash ready for a stylish new look.