How to Take Off Old Tile Backsplash


Taking on a kitchen remodel project can be an exciting yet daunting task, especially when it comes to removing old backsplash tile. Tile backsplash protects your walls from splashes and stains while adding visual interest to your kitchen. However, styles and tastes change over time, and you may find yourself eager to replace outdated, damaged, or otherwise undesirable backsplash tile.

Removing tile backsplash may seem intimidating, but with the right tools, techniques, safety precautions, and prep work, you can take off your old tile efficiently. Learning how to properly take down tile backsplash prevents unnecessary damage to your walls and allows for a smooth installation of new tile or other backsplash materials.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process of removing old tile backsplash, from start to finish. We’ll cover:

  • The tools and materials you’ll need
  • Key safety tips
  • Steps for prep work and protecting surfaces
  • Techniques for taking down tile and mortar
  • Tips for cleaning up and prepping for new backsplash

By following these steps, you can successfully tackle a tile removal project with minimal headaches or complications. Let’s dive in!

Gather Necessary Supplies

Before starting demo, assemble the right tools and gear to safely and efficiently take down your backsplash tile. Having the proper equipment on hand prevents delays and frustrations during the removal process. Here’s a checklist of supplies you’ll need:

Protective gear

  • Safety goggles – Protect your eyes from debris when chiseling.
  • Dust mask – Reduce inhalation of dust and particles during demolition.
  • Knee pads – Cushion your knees when kneeling to work on the backsplash.
  • Work gloves – Save your hands from sharp tile edges and tools. Leather gloves stand up to the job.
  • Ear protection – Shield your ears from loud demolition noises.
  • Long sleeves and pants – Keep skin covered to avoid scratches or cuts from tile shards.

Demolition tools

  • Flat pry bar – Use to pry tiles off the wall and scrape off adhesives or mortar.
  • Hammer – Tap pry bar behind tiles to dislodge them.
  • Chisel and mallet – After removing tiles, chisel away remaining mortar.
  • Utility knife – Cut through grout lines or stubborn adhesives.
  • Putty knife – Scrape off old thinset mortar.
  • Reciprocating saw – For cutting tiles to remove sections or trim edges (optional).
  • Variable speed drill – To use drill bits for tile removal if necessary (optional).
  • Oscillating multi-tool – Cuts through grout lines and tiles if needed (optional).

Additional supplies

  • Drop cloths – Protect floors and surfaces from falling tile pieces and debris.
  • Painters tape – Mask off countertops, cabinets, or other non-demo areas.
  • Trash bags – Gather tile shards and debris as you work.
  • Bucket or wheelbarrow – For collecting and discarding tile pieces and waste.
  • Tile adhesive solvent or stripper – Helps remove stubborn old adhesive or thinset mortar.
  • Tarp – For larger demolition waste chunks before bagging.
  • Dustpan and broom – For cleaning up small debris and dust.
  • Mesh screen – To sift through debris to salvage whole tiles for reuse or mosaic projects (optional).
  • Shop vacuum – For quick debris removal between demolition steps.
  • Ladder or stool – To reach upper sections of backsplash comfortably.

With the right gear, you’ll be equipped for safe and smooth tile removal. Now let’s look at key safety tips.

Observe Proper Safety Precautions

Tile demolition can generate lots of dust, shards, and debris. Adhere to some basic safety measures to protect yourself:

  • Turn off power at the main breaker. De-energize any nearby outlets.
  • Wear your safety goggles, mask, gloves, knee pads, and other protective gear at all times during the project.
  • Work slowly and cautiously. Don’t rush demolition.
  • Keep a first aid kit close by in case of minor cuts.
  • Sweep up debris frequently to prevent slips or falls.
  • Stack tiles neatly after removal instead of tossing them aside haphazardly.
  • Never use power tools near plumbing lines or electrical wiring.
  • Take breaks and stay hydrated, especially when generating lots of dust.
  • Use any power tools properly and according to directions.
  • Bend knees and lift tile shards safely to avoid back strain.
  • Discard waste tiles and debris carefully. Broken ceramic edges can be sharp.
  • Open windows and use fans to improve ventilation during demolition.
  • Check for hidden electrical lines or plumbing in the wall before you start.

Staying alert helps ensure you complete the tile removal safely without incident. Next, we’ll prepare the space.

Prep Your Kitchen for Demolition

Preparing your kitchen thoroughly before you begin demolition streamlines the tile removal process and protects your cabinets, countertops, and floors. Follow these essential prep steps:

Clear countertops and protect surfaces

  • Remove everything from countertops and backsplash area – small appliances, kitchen tools, decor items.
  • Cover countertops with rosin paper or an old sheet to guard from debris. Tape paper securely in place on edges and sides.
  • Mask offexposed cabinet fronts with painters tape and rosin paper.
  • Drape or tape drop cloths over stove, refrigerator, and sinks to shield them.

Cover floors generously

  • Spread drop cloths, plastic sheeting, or tarps across entire floor area. Overlap edges.
  • Tape down coverings securely on all sides so they don’t shift during demo.
  • Place plywood or cardboard on top of floor coverings where you’ll be working.

Seal doorways and ventilate

  • Close doors between rooms and seal off doorways with plastic sheeting to contain dust.
  • Open windows and use fans or temporary venting ducts to direct air circulation.

Turn off water supply and electricity

  • Shut off water supply valves below the sink or at the main shutoff.
  • Turn off power to kitchen at circuit breaker. De-energize nearby outlets.
  • Turn off gas supply to stove at shutoff valve.

With your kitchen prepped, you’re ready to start taking down tile. Move any furniture away from the backsplash area to allow ample working room. Now let’s dive into removal techniques.

Remove Backsplash Tiles

Taking down backsplash tiles involves systematically working in sections across the backsplash surface. Follow these steps:

1. Score grout lines

Use a utility knife or oscillating tool to score along grout lines surrounding each tile. This severs the grout so tiles are easier to dislodge. Apply light pressure as you score – don’t try cutting all the way through the tiles.

2. Start prying tiles

Wedge the flat pry bar into the grout line behind a tile and gently pry outward. Tap lightly with a hammer if needed. Work systematically in one section at a time, removing tiles across a horizontal row.

3. Dislodge stubborn tiles

For tiles that won’t release, use a chisel and mallet for extra leverage. Position the chisel in the grout line behind the tile and gently tap the mallet. Continue tapping until the tile comes free. Angle the chisel to avoid striking the drywall behind.

4. Remove remaining grout pieces

Pick away remaining grout chunks with the utility knife or pry bar. Take care not to gouge into the underlying wall surface.

5. Inspect adhesive

Determine if only grout (mortar) or also adhesive was used to attach the tile. Grout alone can often be chiseled off. Adhesive may require using solvent or a heat gun for removal.

6. Discard debris

Carefully place tile pieces into a bucket, bag, or wheelbarrow to safely discard sharp debris. Sweep up all loose grout chunks and dust.

Repeat this systematic process across the entire backsplash surface until all tiles are removed. Use a ladder or stool to access upper sections comfortably. Work carefully around electrical outlets to avoid damage.

For stubborn tiles adhered with mastic, apply heat using a hair dryer or heat gun to soften the adhesive. Then use a pry bar for gentler removal. Wear gloves when handling heated tiles.

Now let’s look at dealing with the underlying tile mortar or adhesive.

Remove Mortar and Adhesive

Once tiles are down,you still need to remove the underlying mortar, adhesive, or thinset behind them. Here are techniques for taking it down:

Grout mortar

  • Chisel away all loose grout using a masonry chisel and mallet. Angle chisel slightly to avoid hitting the wall.
  • Scrape off remaining grout residue using a single-edge razor or putty knife. Rinse often.
  • For thick grout layers, use a grout saw blade on an oscillating multi-tool. Vacuum up dust.

Thinset mortar

  • Use a hammer and chisel to chip away large pieces, then scrape off residue with a putty knife.
  • For thinset that won’t chisel off, soften it using a heat gun or tile adhesive remover product applied by brush.
  • Let chemical solvent sit for the directed time, then scrape off softened adhesive.

Epoxy-based adhesive

  • Apply adhesive solvent generously and let sit for 15-20 minutes before scraping.
  • Use a plastic putty knife so solvent doesn’t degrade the blade. Rinse often.
  • For stubborn epoxy spots, use a drill mounted abrasive pad or oscillating multi-tool.

Thorough removal of all old mortar or adhesive ensures your backsplash wall is smooth for new tile installation or backsplash materials.

Clean and Finish the Wall Surface

Once demolition is complete, properly clean and finish the exposed backsplash wall:

  • Use a shop vacuum with brush attachment to remove fine dust and debris. Empty the vacuum outside.
  • Wipe down the entire backsplash area with a damp microfiber cloth. Allow wall to fully dry.
  • Sand rough spots on the wall smooth using fine-grit sandpaper. Avoid exposing the paper layer beneath drywall face.
  • Fill any gouges, holes, or damaged areas with drywall joint compound. Let dry and sand smooth.
  • Prime wall with tile primer to prepare for new backsplash installation. Allow primer to fully dry.
  • Make any repairs to surrounding surfaces – cabinets, countertops, paint touch ups. Remove floor coverings last.
  • Properly dispose of all tile debris and waste according to local regulations.

Your kitchen is now prepped and ready for a fresh new backsplash. Use rosin paper and painter’s tape when installing the new backsplash tile to protect your primed wall surface.


Still have questions about tackling tile removal for your kitchen backsplash? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Should I demo the lower backsplash behind the stove too?

Yes, it’s best to remove all existing backsplash tile from the entire area at one time. Use the same techniques to carefully take down tile from the range backsplash.

How do I remove backsplash tile from drywall vs. cement board?

On drywall, take care not to gouge the paper layer. For cement board, you can chisel a bit more vigorously but still avoid damaging the surrounding areas.

What about electrical outlets in the backsplash?

Turn off power at the breaker. Then gently remove tiles around outlets and switches. Take care not to damage the boxes or wiring.

Can I salvage or reuse any of the tile?

Absolutely! Set aside undamaged whole tiles or decorative pieces to reuse for mosaics, flooring, outdoor projects, coasters, trivets and more.

Should I hire a contractor for tile removal?

While challenging, a DIYer can tackle tile backsplash removal with the right prep work, tools, safety gear and patience. Consider hiring help for larger tile demolition jobs.

What’s the fastest method for taking off lots of tile?

For large areas, renting a pneumatic tile scabbler from big box home improvement stores can expedite removal. Use proper eye and ear protection.

Can I put up new tile backsplash right away after removing old?

It’s best to remove all adhesive, clean the wall, fill holes, prime, and let dry completely before installing new backsplash tile.

What about asbestos in old tile?

Asbestos was discontinued in flooring by the 1980s but may be in some older wall tiles. Have suspect tiles tested before removing. Follow proper asbestos abatement procedures.


Removing old backsplash tile provides a fresh canvas to install an updated kitchen backsplash that matches your current style. With the right prep work, tools, and safety techniques, you can take on a tile removal project yourself and avoid the cost of hiring out the demolition work. Just be sure to properly dispose of all tile debris when finished.

Follow the steps outlined here for safely dismantling tile backsplash while minimizing damage to your walls. Focus on working methodically in sections, scoring grout lines before prying off each tile. Remove all underlying mortar or adhesive to prevent issues applying new backsplash materials. Wear your safety gear, work carefully near plumbing and wiring, and keep the workspace clean.

With some perseverance and preparation, those outdated tiles don’t stand a chance. Tackle your tile removal project with confidence using this comprehensive guide. Before you know it, you’ll have a smooth backsplash surface ready for a stunning new tile design, shiplap, marble, or other backsplash finishes that give your kitchen the fresh look you’ve been seeking.