How to Take Off Old Backsplash Tiles

Removing old backsplash tiles can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be done efficiently and successfully. Taking the time to properly prepare and using care when prying off the tiles will make the job go smoothly. Follow these steps for how to take off old backsplash tiles in your kitchen or bathroom.

Assessing the Backsplash and Gathering Supplies

Before starting demo on the backsplash, take time to assess what type of tiles are currently installed and how they were affixed to the wall.

  • Ceramic or porcelain – These tiles are typically set in mastic or thinset and come off fairly easily.
  • Glass, marble, or stone – Fragile materials like these may take more care and patience to remove intact.
  • Large format tiles – Oversized tiles can be heavier and harder to pry off without breaking.
  • Multiple layers – Sometimes backsplashes have been tiled over older layers, which requires removing both.

Once you know what type of tiles are present, gather the proper tools and supplies:

  • Safety gear – gloves, eye protection, mask
  • Pry bar or putty knives
  • Hammer
  • Scraper
  • Bucket for tile pieces
  • Trash bags
  • Shopping bag or towel – for protecting counters
  • Drop cloths
  • Utility knife
  • Grout saw or oscillating tool (for stubborn tiles)
  • Sponge and towel
  • Tile adhesive solvent (if needed)

Prepping the backsplash area before starting removal will make the process smoother.

Preparing the Backsplash Area

Proper prep before demolition is crucial for efficient tile removal. Follow these steps:

  • Clear the countertops – Remove everything from counters and shelves near the backsplash. Pack away any dishes or decor.
  • Protect surfaces – Cover counters, range, and cabinets with drop cloths. Place a bag or towel over edges of countertops.
  • Remove fittings – Detach any soap dispensers, mirrors, med cabinets or shelves from the backsplash area.
  • Clean tiles – Use a cleaning solution or tile prep solvent to remove any grease or residue.
  • Score grout lines (optional) – Use a utility knife to score along grout lines. This helps break the grout seal.
  • Turn off electricity – Shut off power to any outlets located behind the backsplash.
  • Photograph layout – Take photos of the tile layout and placement of outlets for reference later.

With the area cleared and prepped, you can start taking those old tiles off the wall.

Removing Whole Tiles

Begin tile removal by prying off any intact tiles possible. Follow these steps:

  • Start in a corner – Begin removal at an upper corner if possible for best leverage.
  • Wedge pry bar under tile – Carefully wedge the straight end of a pry bar under the edge of a tile.
  • Give it light taps – Use a hammer to gently tap the pry bar further under the tile. Apply upward force.
  • Lever tile off – Use the pry bar as a lever, avoid jerking or twisting motions.
  • Work evenly – Pry tiles off methodically in a controlled way. Don’t remove tiles unevenly.
  • Check for layers – If there is another layer underneath, repeat process until you reach the wall.
  • Watch for wires – Take care not to damage any concealed electrical wires.

Proper prying technique is crucial for removing tiles fully intact, especially for fragile materials like glass or marble. Rushing the process can result in cracked tiles or damage to the wall.

Dealing with Broken Tiles

Despite your best efforts, some tiles will inevitably crack and break during removal. Here are tips for handling broken tile pieces:

  • Protect yourself – Wear safety goggles and gloves when removing fractured tiles.
  • Chip pieces away – If a tile cracks, use a pry bar, hammer, or scraper to chip it off in pieces.
  • Clear debris often – Keep the workspace clean by frequently clearing away tile shards and fragments.
  • Check for hidden layers – Watch for additional tile layers under the broken pieces and remove them.
  • Inspect the wall – As you remove tile shards, examine the wall integrity underneath.
  • Fill holes as needed – Use spackle or drywall compound to fill any gouges or holes in the wallboard.

Carefully prying in the natural grout lines and sweeping away debris as you go will help make breaking tile sections off easier and safer.

Removing Residual Tile Adhesive

As tiles are pried off, there will likely be remaining tile mastic, mortar, or thinset stuck to the wall underneath. Getting this adhesive residue off is crucial for prepping the wall for new backsplash tiles.

Here are some tips for removing it:

  • Let it cure fully – Give any mastic or thinset time to dry and harden completely first.
  • Use a scraper – A paint scraper or putty knife can help peel off dried-on adhesive.
  • Apply solvents – Tile mastic removers help soften and dissolve residual sticky spots.
  • Try a wire brush – For cement-based mortar, a brush can help scrub it away.
  • Sand rough areas – Use 40-60 grit sandpaper to smooth any chunks or uneven adhesive.
  • Clean thoroughly – Wash the wall well with tile prep cleaner or denatured alcohol.
  • Fill holes – Fix any gouges in the wallboard with spackle compound. Allow to dry.
  • Prime painted walls – Coat any exposed painted drywall with primer before applying new tile.

Persistence and the right solvents are key for getting rid of old adhesive until the wall is smooth.

Protecting Surrounding Surfaces

When demolishing a tile backsplash, it’s crucial to protect surrounding countertops, cabinets, and floors from damage. Here are some tips:

  • Keep a shop towel or sturdy bag over countertop edges near the backsplash area while working to protect from tile shards.
  • Tape painter’s tape along the countertop to avoid scraping or scratching the surface. Leave it in place until the job is complete.
  • Use painter’s tape along the top edges of cabinets to prevent pry bars and hands from damaging the finish.
  • Place a drop cloth on top of cabinets or countertops to guard against debris and tool damage.
  • Sweep up debris after removing each tile instead of allowing shards or splinters to accumulate.
  • Wipe down surfaces frequently with a damp cloth to keep them free of adhesive residue or dust.
  • Avoid banging pry bars or hammers directly onto counters or cabinetry when trying to wedge behind tiles.
  • Take care not to step onto countertops with dirty shoes when working on higher tiles.

Protecting kitchen and bath surfaces takes a little extra time and care, but prevents expensive repairs down the road.

Tackling Tile Removal Safely

Demolishing a tiled backsplash creates debris, dust, and risk of injury if proper safety practices aren’t followed. Here are some key tips for staying safe:

  • Wear safety goggles, dust mask, and gloves during the entire process.
  • Work carefully when prying to avoid sharp tile edges or causing shards to fly.
  • Clear tile pieces and debris frequently to prevent slipping or tripping hazards.
  • Have a first aid kit available in case of cuts from sharp tiles or tools.
  • Limit continuous demo work sessions to 30-60 minutes to avoid fatigue.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy in case sparks from a grout saw or grinder ignite debris.
  • Dispose of removed tiles safely by bagging them securely before placing in a dumpster or trash can.
  • Use proper lifting techniques and recruit help for removing large format or heavy tiles.
  • Keep the work area well ventilated when using chemical solvents or adhesive removers.

Staying alert and being aware of safety risks is the key to getting the backsplash demo done without injury.

Disposing of Tile Debris

Once the backsplash has been taken down, it’s time to properly dispose of the tile debris. Here are some tips:

  • Sweep up shards – Thoroughly sweep up all tile fragments from the floor after finishing removal.
  • Bag it – Carefully sweep debris into heavy duty contractor bags or cardboard boxes. Don’t use thin bags that could tear.
  • Seal bags – Seal bags or boxes securely closed before carrying to avoid spillage or cuts.
  • Protect surfaces – Avoid dragging filled bags across counter tops or the floor. Carry or use a wheeled cart instead.
  • Load wisely – When loading bags into a vehicle, place them carefully to prevent tearing open in transit.
  • Cover the load – If hauling open loads of demolition debris in a truck or trailer, cover the material with a tarp to contain dust.
  • Deposit carefully – Use proper body mechanics when lifting bags or buckets to deposit into dumpsters or waste bins safely.
  • Check regulations – Consult local codes for proper disposal methods and locations for demolition refuse. Fees may apply.

Taking time to clean up and contain debris makes for safer transport and disposal of old backsplash tile materials.

Hiring a Pro for Hassle-Free Removal

For some homeowners, tackling the backsplash removal process themselves is too daunting, while others simply wish to avoid the mess and effort involved. In such cases, hiring a professional tile removal contractor is advisable.

Here are some benefits of choosing a pro:

  • Saves time – Professionals have specialized tools and expertise that allows faster removal.
  • Reduces strain – Removing tile requires lots of awkward positioning and physical exertion.
  • Prevents damage – Contractors take care to not harm countertops, drywall, or cabinets.
  • Improves safety – There is less risk of injury with an experienced pro doing the demolition work.
  • Provides clean up – Reputable contractors contain debris and remove it from the site.
  • Fixes wall flaws – Any wall damage or holes get repaired to ready it for new tile.

While hiring out tiling services costs more up front, it can prevent headaches, injuries, and damage making it worthwhile for many homeowners.

Frequently Asked Questions

What tools do I need to remove a tile backsplash?

The basic tools needed include a pry bar, putty knives, hammer, safety gear (gloves, goggles, mask), utility knife, bucket, and drop cloths. For stubborn tiles, a grout saw, chisel hammer, or oscillating tool may also help.

How do I remove backsplash tile without damaging drywall?

Work slowly and carefully, prying out grout lines first before attempting to lever off tiles. Make sure the pry bar is wedged securely to avoid ripping chunks out of drywall along with the tiles. Repair any drywall holes or gouges promptly with joint compound.

What solvent removes mastic from backsplash?

Mastic remover products or denatured alcohol work well to soften tile adhesive residue after backsplash demolition. Let mastic fully cure before attempting removal. Apply solvents wearing gloves and allow them time to penetrate before scraping away mastic.

Can I put new tile over existing backsplash?

It’s generally not advisable to install new backsplash tile over old. The layers of mortar and tile build up and create unevenness. It’s also harder to achieve a smooth finished appearance when tiling over an existing backsplash.

What is the easiest way to remove glass backsplash tile?

Use a heat gun carefully aimed at the mastic behind the glass tiles to soften the adhesive before attempting prying. Take extreme care when handling the glass pieces as they can shatter and become razor sharp shards. Wear heavy work gloves.


Removing old backsplash tile provides a fresh start for renovating your kitchen or bath. While it qualifies as a demolition project, having the proper tools and techniques makes eliminating the outdated backsplash smooth and efficient. Focus on safety and protecting surrounding finishes as you work. Then make sure to properly prepare the wall surface so your new backsplash installation gets off to the right start. With some perseverance and patience, that dated tile backsplash can become a distant memory.