How to Take Off Tile Backsplash

Removing a tile backsplash can be a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it doesn’t have to be overly difficult. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to properly take off tile backsplash in your home.

Plan Ahead

Before starting any demolition, make sure to plan and prepare properly. Here are some tips:

  • Clear the area of any items, cabinets, or appliances that may get in the way or damaged during the tile removal process. Remove shelving, racks, etc above the backsplash area.
  • Cover nearby surfaces like countertops with drop cloths to protect from debris and dust. Tape and plastic off doorways or other open areas.
  • Have all necessary demolition tools and materials on hand before beginning – pry bar, hammer, chisel, eye protection, gloves, dust masks, trash bags, etc.
  • Turn off electricity running to any outlets, switches or appliances in the backsplash area.
  • Take detailed photos of the existing backsplash installation for reference later.
  • Have a container ready to collect tile pieces and debris as you work. Be sure to vacuum and clean up debris frequently.

Protect Yourself

When taking on any demolition project, safety should always come first. Be sure to:

  • Wear safety goggles or glasses to protect eyes from flying shards and debris.
  • Use thick work gloves to protect hands from sharp edges on tile and tools. Leather gloves work best.
  • Wear a dust mask or respirator to avoid inhaling fine tile dust particles during removal. An N95 mask is ideal.
  • Use ear plugs or noise canceling headphones to protect hearing from loud demolition work.
  • Wear long sleeves, pants and closed toe shoes to prevent cuts on any exposed skin.

Take breaks often when doing demolition work to avoid overexertion or fatigue. Having a first aid kit nearby is also a good precaution.

Remove Tile Backsplash Carefully

When ready to start removing tile, take your time and do not rush through the process. Here are step-by-step instructions:

1. Score Grout Lines

Use a sharp utility knife or oscillating tool to score along all grout lines surrounding each tile. Cut approximately 1/8 inch deep. This will help loosen the tiles and make prying easier.

2. Tap Tiles Lightly

Using a hammer and chisel, lightly tap on the surface of each tile, working in a grid pattern across the backsplash. This will help further break the tile free from the thinset mortar below. Be careful not to swing too hard or you may damage the drywall behind.

3. Pry Tiles Off

Insert a pry bar under each tile and gently twist and lift upward to pop the tile off of the substrate. Support the drywall behind it as you pry so it does not tear. Go slowly and carefully. Remove any remaining thinset mortar left behind on the wall.

4. Remove any Damaged Drywall

Inspect the drywall once all tile is removed. Any areas with remaining thinset or damage from prying will need to be cut out and replaced with new drywall. Make evenly spaced cuts for easy patching later.

5. Clean Surface Thoroughly

Make sure to remove any remaining debris, grout, thinset and dust from the wall surface. This will allow new tile, paint or other finishes to adhere properly later on. Vacuum well and use clean water on a sponge or rag to wipe away residue.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Once the backsplash demo is complete, you’ll be left with a pile of tile pieces, grout, drywall and other debris. Be sure to clean up and dispose of this waste correctly:

  • Wear gloves and protective eyewear when handling debris. Loose tile shards can be very sharp.
  • Sweep up any loose dust, grout or small pieces of debris. Vacuum well afterward.
  • Place broken up tile pieces, grout, drywall, etc into heavy duty contractor bags. Seal them up securely.
  • Make multiple trips if needed to avoid overloading or tearing the trash bags.
  • Check your local municipal codes for proper disposal procedures. Most tile and drywall can go out with regular trash pickup if broken down into small pieces and bagged.
  • Consider renting a dumpster to have on site if you have a very large amount of heavy debris to discard.
  • Do not try to dispose of powdery dust, grout or any fine particulate in the air. Seal it into bags to contain it.

Following safe work practices and cleaning up properly afterward are just as important as the tile removal itself. Never leave debris lying around after a construction project.

Common Alternatives

While a complete tile removal is one option when updating your backsplash, there are several alternatives that are less involved as well:

Refinish Existing Tile

If the current tile is in good shape, consider using an etching product or primer to rough up the glazed surface in preparation for painting. Any high quality spray paint formulated for tile and grout can update the look with minimal work.

Apply New Thinset and Tile Over

Rather than demoing down to the studs, you can apply a fresh thinset mortar layer over the existing backsplash and install new tile directly on top. This saves the effort of prying off all the original tile.

Install a Covering Over Old Tile

Another shortcut is to cut 1/4 inch backerboard to fit over the old backsplash and simply glue or screw it into place. Then apply fresh thinset and install your new tile. The backerboard creates a sturdy base without removing the old tile.

Add an Adhesive Backsplash Panel

For a temporary makeover, peel and stick backsplash panels are available in many tile, metal, glass and faux stone patterns. Just clean the old tile well and apply adhesive panels directly on top. Easy to remove later.

Prep for New Backsplash

Once demolition is complete, preparing the bare wall for a new backsplash install involves:

  • Patching any holes or damaged drywall areas with joint compound and fiberglass mesh tape. Let dry completely.
  • Sanding patched areas smooth and feathering edges into existing drywall.
  • Priming raw drywall with a latex primer/sealer to aid adhesion. Allow to dry fully.
  • Marking stud locations for mounting any backsplash boards and checking they are plumb.
  • Planning layout of the new tile design and purchasing all necessary tile, tools and thinset mortar.

Take time to get the wall surface ready before starting your new backsplash project. This will result in a higher quality, long lasting finished product.


Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about removing tile backsplash:

How long does it take to demo a backsplash?

With proper tools and diligence, plan on at least 2-3 hours for an average sized backsplash. Larger or heavily tiled areas can take 6 hours or longer if removing multiple layers.

What tools do I need?

At minimum – a pry bar, hammer, chisel, utility knife, safety gear and a vacuum. An oscillating tool also speeds up scoring grout lines. Have a pail for collecting debris.

How do I remove thinset mortar from drywall?

Use a chisel, putty knife or oscillating tool to gently scrape off excess thinset. Be careful not to gouge the drywall paper. Avoid using excessive force.

What’s the easiest way to remove pesky tile pieces?

For stuck tiles that won’t pry up, use a chisel or hammer to carefully break up the tile into smaller pieces for easier removal. Wear eye protection.

How do I remove metal or plastic trim strips?

Use a flat pry bar and gently lift the strip away from the wall at the seam. Strike it lightly with a hammer if necessary to break the adhesive bond.

What if I accidentally damage the drywall underneath?

Minor tears or gouges in drywall just need to be patched with joint compound and drywall tape. Larger holes may need a backer board installed first for stability.


Demolishing a tile backsplash requires careful planning, safety precautions and the right techniques. While it can be labor intensive if done properly, the results are a clean slate to install an updated backsplash style. Always work slowly and safely. Don bulky debris properly to avoid injury or causing environmental hazards. The hard work pays off when you end up with a gorgeous new backsplash you can be proud of.

How to Prepare the Wall After Removing Tile Backsplash

Once you have successfully removed an existing backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom, it is crucial to properly prepare the wall prior to installing a new backsplash. Here are important steps to take after tile demolition and before new tile can be installed:

Clean Thoroughly

Use a damp sponge or rag to wipe away all debris, dust and residue left over from the tile removal process. Get into crevices and corners. Go over the entire wall surface multiple times to remove gypsum powder and other contaminants that could impact adhesion.

Repair Damaged Areas

Examine the wall and locate any gouges, holes, exposed seams or other flaws in the drywall. Use drywall joint compound and mesh tape to patch holes or tears. Feather seams smooth. Give patched areas adequate drying time before sanding.

Sand Patches Smooth

Once compound is fully cured, sand all patched spots until the texture matches the surrounding wall area. Use 100-150 grit sandpaper and sand in circles. Avoid sanding too aggressively or you can damage the paper facing.

Prime Wall Surface

Applying a high-quality primer designed for drywall creates an optimal base for your new backsplash installation. Use a brush or roller to coat the sanded wall evenly. Allow primer to dry completely as directed, often 24 hours.

Check for Moisture

Use a moisture meter on areas that may have gotten wet during demo to be sure the drywall or any behind-the-wall materials have fully dried before tiling. The wall must be completely moisture-free.

Mark Stud Locations

Use a stud finder to detect studs behind the wall and mark their locations with painter’s tape. This allows you to attach any backerboard properly into the studs later on. Mark 16 inches vertically between each stud center.

Clean Out Outlets

Remove any tile debris, thinset or grout residue that may have gotten into electrical boxes or switch outlets during demolition. This prevents issues with wires or shorts later. Use a shop vac and small wire brush.

Plan New Backsplash Layout

With a blank slate, now is the time to map out your new backsplash design. Mark things like accent tiles, patters, focal points and where you want the tile to end. Reference the exact measurements of the wall.

Purchase Supplies

Make a list of all required tile, grout, thinset, sealant and tools needed for the installation based on your new design. Buy a little extra tile and materials in case of breakage or mistakes.

Proper prep is the key to backsplash success. Only move on to setting the new tile once you have completed all of these important steps. Take your time and do it right!

What to Look for When Selecting New Tile

Choosing new tile for your recently demolished backsplash opens up an exciting world of options! Keep the following criteria in mind when selecting new tile:

  • Durability – Backsplashes need to stand up to heavy use and moisture. Select tile rated for wall application in kitchens or baths.
  • Cleanability – Consider how easy the tile will be to wipe down and keep clean long-term. Smooth surfaces are ideal.
  • Style – Choose a material, color, pattern and texture that perfectly suits your décor and design vision for the space.
  • Water Resistance – Tile that resists water penetration is crucial for backsplashes which can get splashed regularly. Avoid porous, absorbent tiles.
  • Size and Shape – Smaller tiles like mosaics or rectangles create more grout line patterns. Larger tiles have less grout. Shape impacts the overall look.
  • Price and Budget – Set a budget and find affordable tiles that give you the look you want without breaking the bank! Shop sales and closeouts.
  • Grout Color – Keep in mind that grout lines will show between tiles. Select a grout that complements your tile nicely.

Doing a little tile research will ensure your new backsplash not only looks amazing, but performs well in a demanding space.

Helpful Tiling Tips and Tricks

Here are some helpful tips and tricks to employ when tiling a backsplash after removing the previous one:

  • Use tile spacers between pieces for consistent grout line width. Place them as you set each tile.
  • Thinset mortar has an open time before drying. Mix up small batches so none goes to waste.
  • Push tiles firmly into the wet thinset using a twisting motion to ensure full contact and adhesion. Use a rubber grout float.
  • Level as you go. Use a laser level on the wall to check for flatness every few rows up. Adjust as needed.
  • For cut edges on outlet boxes, measure carefully and use a wet saw with a sharp blade for clean cuts.
  • Wipe away any thinset or grout residue immediately using a damp sponge. Do not let it harden on tile faces.
  • Seal natural stone tiles prior to grouting so the porous tile won’t absorb grout pigment. Use a quality stone sealer.
  • Allow 24-48 hours of cure time after grouting before using the backsplash area. Keep it protected from water during this period.
  • Caulk where the backsplash meets the countertop later using a flexible, mold-resistant silicone caulk that matches the grout.

Following these handy tips will lead to a successful DIY backsplash installation after removing the old one. Take it slow and steady.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

It can be disappointing to finish a new backsplash project only to have tiles crack, pop off or become stained too quickly. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not cleaning the wall fully prior to tiling – Missing dust or debris can impede adhesion.
  • Using the wrong thinset for the tile type or wall material – Make sure it is compatible.
  • Neglecting to seal porous natural stone prior to grouting – Sealer prevents staining.
  • Applying tiles without enough thinset behind them – All tiles need full coverage and contact.
  • Poor tile layout planning – Measure carefully and map it out to avoid slivers or uneven spacing at edges.
  • Grout lines of uneven thickness – Use spacers for consistency and straight lines.
  • Applying grout before thinset has cured – Full 24 hour thinset cure prevents cracking.
  • Grouting with dirty water or sponges – Change rinse water often to keep grout clean.
  • Allowing grout or thinset haze to harden on tile – Wipe it away promptly before it dries.
  • Not allowing adequate cure times – Have patience and don’t use new backsplash before materials fully cure.

Avoiding common pitfalls like these will ensure your new backsplash looks and performs beautifully long into the future!

Maintaining Your New Backsplash

Once your new backsplash installation is complete, maintaining it properly over time is essential. Here are some tips:

  • Use a gentle pH neutral cleaner for routine backsplash cleaning. Avoid harsh chemicals.
  • Re-seal grout every 1-2 years with a quality grout sealer to prevent staining and cracking.
  • Re-seal natural stone tiles as needed based on manufacturer directions, often once a year.
  • Inspect grout lines occasionally for any signs of damage or moisture issues. Repair right away.
  • Use a soft sponge or microfiber cloth to gently wipe down tile. Avoid abrasive scrubbing.
  • Rinse soap, grease or grime away promptly after use to prevent buildup in grout.
  • Use a squeegee after the sink area gets wet to prevent hard water spotting on grout lines.
  • Don’t let cleaners, food, oils or other materials sit on tile surface long term. Promptly wipe up spills.
  • Avoid using very hot pans directly from burners/ovens on a backsplash. Use a trivet for hot items.

Proper care will help your new backsplash stay looking like new for many years of beauty and service life.

When to Call a Professional

While many backsplash projects can be DIY, there are certain situations where it’s best to call in a tile professional:

  • Removal of multiple layers of tile or tiles set in mortar – Difficult to DIY without damage.
  • Replacing tiles high up above counters or cabinets – Hard to reach safely.
  • Installation of large format tiles like slabs – Require special handling and tools.
  • Complex tile patterns or mosaic designs – Challenging for DIY execution.
  • Extensive grout repair over large areas – Labor intensive if not skilled in grouting.
  • Natural stone backsplashes – Professional experience helps avoid staining/damage.
  • Backsplashes in recently remodeled bath or kitchen – Best integrated into full renovation.
  • Correcting DIY tile jobs with poor adhesion or grout issues – May require complete redo.

Don’t be afraid to call in an experienced tile setter if project complexity exceeds DIY comfort level. Pay a little more upfront to ensure long lasting quality results.


Preparing a wall for new tile after tearing out an old backsplash involves careful demolition, surface preparation, planning and patience. Rushing through this process can sabotage an otherwise gorgeous new backsplash installation. Follow the recommendations above to ensure success from start to finish. With diligent work and the right techniques, you can achieve a showstopping new backsplash design!

Common Backsplash Designs to Consider

After removing an outdated backsplash, the possibilities are endless for the new design. Here are some of the most popular backsplash design ideas to consider:

Subway Tile

A classic 3×6 white subway tile backsplash gives a clean, timeless look. Grey grout provides nice