How to Take Out Backsplash Tiles


Taking out old or damaged backsplash tiles in your kitchen or bathroom can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be with the right tools and techniques. A backsplash protects your walls from splashes and spills while adding visual interest to your space. Over time, backsplash tiles may crack, discolor or become outdated. Replacing them can update the look of your kitchen or bath while also allowing you to fix any underlying water damage or other issues behind the tile.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to safely and effectively remove existing backsplash tiles in your home. We’ll cover planning and prep, tools and materials to have on hand, step-by-step instructions for removal, cleaning and disposal considerations, and tips for preventing damage. With some time and elbow grease, you can transform the backsplash area in your home.

Assessing Your Backsplash

Before you start demolition, take some time to fully evaluate the backsplash area. Here are a few things to assess:

Type of Tile

What type of tile is currently installed? Common backsplash tiles include ceramic, porcelain, glass, marble or stone. Identifying the material will help determine the proper tools and level of care needed for removal. Ceramic and porcelain are more delicate, while natural stone is sturdier.


Look at the tile pattern and layout. Are the tiles set in a straight grid pattern or offset pattern like a brick layout? Also note the tile size, and if multiple shapes or mosaic tiles are used. Understanding the exact layout will help plan the removal process.

Grout Lines

Inspect the grout lines between the tiles. Check for cracks or missing grout that indicate tiles are loose. Also note the color – you may wish to match it later with new grout. White and off-white grout can also discolor or yellow over time.

Water Damage

Check for signs of water damage behind the tile. Discoloration, staining, or mold indicate leaks that need to be addressed before new tile is installed.

Wall Surface

Determine what type of material the tiles are adhered to. Drywall, plywood, concrete backerboard and plaster are common backsplash surfaces. This will dictate the sub-surface prep later.

Estimated Quantity

Measure the backsplash area and calculate the approximate number of whole tiles for removal. This will determine how long the project will take, along with disposal needs.

Gather Your Materials

Removing backsplash tile successfully requires having the right tools and supplies on hand. Gather these materials before starting demo:

Safety Equipment

  • Dust mask – Protects from inhaling tile dust
  • Work gloves – Leather gloves prevent hand injuries from sharp tiles
  • Safety glasses – Keep debris from eyes while breaking tile
  • Knee pads – Cushions knees when kneeling on hard floor

Demolition Tools

  • Hammer – A small sledge or ball peen hammer delivers enough striking force
  • Cold chisel – The edge helps free tiles that are firmly stuck
  • Flat pry bar – Great for prying off full sheets of tile
  • Putty knife or painter’s tool – Useful for scraping off old thinset and grout

Cleanup Tools

  • Broom & dustpan – For sweeping up tile shards and debris
  • Shop vacuum – More powerful vacuuming of dust and small pieces
  • Plastic sheeting – Covers floors and counters from mess during removal
  • Garbage bags – For disposing of old tiles and debris

Additional Supplies

  • Buckets – For soaking tiles or holding tile pieces before disposal
  • Tile cutter – Helps break up larger tiles into manageable pieces
  • Spray bottle – For misting water to keep down dust

Prepare the Workspace

You’ll be generating a lot of debris during the demolition process, so prep your workspace to make cleanup easier:

  • Clear countertops and remove anything breakable from the backsplash area.
  • Cover nearby surfaces like countertops, sinks, and appliances with plastic sheeting. Secure it with painter’s tape.
  • Sweep and vacuum the floor surrounding the workspace.
  • Turn off any fans or ventilation that could circulate dust into other rooms.
  • Have a clear path available to carry and discard broken tiles and debris.

Preparing a controlled workspace takes a little time upfront but will save the hassle of constantly stopping to clean up messes. It also contains the potential mess, protecting the rest of your home.

Removing Backsplash Tiles

With your workspace prepped and materials gathered, it’s time for the fun part – smashing out those old tiles! Here is a step-by-step process for safe and effective tile demolition:

1. Score Grout Lines

Use a utility knife or grout removal tool to score along grout lines. This will help break the tile adhesive’s grip. Apply moderate pressure as you score – don’t try to cut all the way through the tiles.

2. Knock Tiles Loose

Gently tap tiles with a hammer and chisel to begin breaking the adhesive bond. Aim alongside grout lines and work outward from an edge or corner if possible. Apply moderate force – the goal is to dislodge, not pulverize.

3. Pry Off Tiles

Once tiles are loosened, use a pry bar inserted into grout lines or under edges to remove whole pieces. Insert cloth underneath the pry bar to prevent wall damage. Work methodically and with control.

4. Remove Stubborn Tiles

For excessively stuck tiles, use a hammer to break them into smaller pieces for easier removal. Ceramic and porcelain tiles should come off in larger sections if the adhesive has been properly scored and soaked.

5. Clean Surface

Use a putty knife, scraper or chisel to remove any remaining thinset mortar or adhesive from the wall surface after tiles are removed. Avoid gouging into the drywall or plaster.

6. Rinse Surface

Once adhesive residue is cleared, wipe down the exposed wall surface with a damp sponge to rinse off dust and debris. Allow the wall to fully dry before attempting to install new backsplash tiles.

7. Discard Debris

Carefully sweep up broken shards and pieces and discard them along with whole cracked tiles. Wear leather gloves when carrying larger chunks. Place debris into sturdy garbage bags or buckets for disposal.

8. Vacuum Space

Thoroughly vacuum the newly exposed wall surface as well as surrounding floors, counters and cabinets to remove any remaining dust and dirt kicked up during the tile removal process.

Follow these steps patiently, working in small sections, and you can successfully demolish a tile backsplash without damaging walls or counters. Always use caution and wear protective equipment when handling broken tile shards and debris.

Tips for Safe and Effective Tile Removal

Follow these tips to ensure the tile removal process goes smoothly and safely:

  • Wear safety goggles, mask, gloves, long sleeves and closed toe shoes at all times.
  • Move breakable items out of the workspace to prevent accidental damage.
  • Wrap faucet fixtures with towels and use painter’s tape to cover electrical outlets, cabinet handles and soap dispensers.
  • Start removal along the top row or in a back corner to minimize damage if tiles fall.
  • Keep a spray bottle filled with water to frequently mist the demolition area to keep tile dust under control.
  • Work in small sections, fully clearing tiles as you go. Don’t break all grout lines initially across a large area.
  • Take frequent breaks to avoid hand and wrist fatigue which can lead to uncontrolled force and injuries.
  • Dispose of debris frequently to avoid creating tripping hazards in your work area.
  • Inspect the wall for lingering adhesive residue or damage after all tile is removed.
  • Open windows and use exhaust fans to ventilate the area during and after demolition.

Following safety best practices reduces mistakes and makes an otherwise messy DIY job go much more smoothly.

Cleaning and Disposal

Once your tiles are removed, it’s time for the less glamorous work of cleanup and disposal. Here are some tips:


  • Sweep then vacuum the entire workspace thoroughly to get all small bits and dust.
  • Use plastic sheeting to contain dust and debris while transporting to disposal bins.
  • Wet a sponge mop and mop floor area to grab any remaining dust.
  • Wipe down countertops, cabinets and surfaces near the workspace to remove settled tile dust.
  • You may need to remove exhaust filters from range hoods or vents and rinse them to remove accumulated dust.


  • Place broken tiles and debris into sturdy garbage bags or buckets for transfer to a dumpster.
  • If disposing of hazardous materials like asbestos tiles, follow local regulations for containment and disposal.
  • Rent a covered dumpster if you are removing more than a couple buckets of tile. This prevents loose debris from blowing around.
  • Ceramic and porcelain tile pieces can typically be disposed of in standard landfills. Don’t try using them as fill or aggregate.
  • Stone tile disposal varies by municipality. Check if disposal in a construction debris landfill is required vs. a standard landfill.
  • Old thinset and grout residue is not hazardous but hardened mortar chunks need proper landfill disposal.

Completely cleaning the workspace prevents hidden debris from damaging countertops or appliances later on. Follow local waste and recycling guidelines when disposing of old backsplash tiles and associated materials.

Preventing Wall Damage

Removing backsplash tile without damaging the wall underneath takes patience and the right technique. Here are some tips for keeping walls intact:

  • Always score grout lines before attempting to pry or lever tiles off. This breaks the tile-to-thinset bond.
  • Use a putty knife instead of a hammer and chisel on fragile drywall to gently lift tiles after scoring adhesive.
  • Set tiles in a leaned position against the wall as they are removed to prevent sudden forceful impacts if they fall.
  • Wedge a pry bar under tiles and tilt it slightly away from the wall to redirect force as you lift.
  • Position cloth or cardboard under tools as they are inserted between tiles to prevent gouging the wall surface.
  • Keep a spray bottle handy to re-wet tile adhesive as needed which softens it and loosens its grip.
  • Apply painter’s tape across damaged drywall areas and use thinset mortar to patch small holes or gouges if they occur.
  • Use a wall level to identify bulges or dents and sand or fill them to restore a flat surface before installing new backsplash.

Work slowly and cautiously, and you can demo a tile backsplash without adding unnecessary wall repair to the project scope. Proper tools, technique, and preparation are key.

Cost to Remove a Backsplash

If undertaking a backsplash removal project seems too daunting, or you simply don’t have the time, consider hiring a professional. Here are average costs:

  • Basic tile removal by a handyman service starts around $200.
  • Using a kitchen or bath contractor for the project will cost $400 or more.
  • Whole wall replacement including new substrate and tile install has an average range of $2,000 to $4,000 or more.

Many factors influence cost, including accessibility, tile type, wall size, and local labor rates. Get free estimates from at least 3 contractors before committing to evaluate your options.


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

Should I remove the existing backsplash before installing a new one?

In most cases, yes. Leaving the original backsplash under new tile can create bulges, unevenness, and drainage issues. It’s best to fully remove existing tile, clean the wall surface, then apply fresh thinset before installing new tile.

How do I soften old tile adhesive?

Heat and moisture help soften and release old thinset or mastic. Aim a hairdryer at problem spots for 30-60 seconds before scraping. Re-wetting adhesive with a spray bottle also allows tools to penetrate easier without gouging walls.

What’s the easiest way to remove glass backsplash tile?

Glass tile is prone to shattering. Carefully score all grout lines with a utility knife before attempting removal. Use a wide putty knife to gently lift whole tiles once adhesive is scored. Wear thick gloves as shattered glass has very sharp edges.

Can I just put new backsplash tile over the existing?

It is possible but not recommended. Uneven surfaces, bulges, and transition lippage issues are likely. Existing grout lines will also eventually become visible through new grout. invest the time to fully remove the old backsplash first.

How do I remove thinset mortar residue from walls?

Use a combination of scraping tools, warm water, tile cleaners, and elbow grease to remove as much residue as possible. Then apply an adhesive remover formulated for mortar and grout before scrubbing with an abrasive sponge. Rinse thoroughly.

Removing and replacing a backsplash tile installment is very doable as a DIY project with proper planning, patience and the right tools. Follow the guidance in this article and you can achieve beautiful results and increase functionality in your kitchen or bath.


Removing old or damaged backsplash tile may seem daunting, but breaking the job down into manageable steps makes it very achievable for motivated DIYers. Carefully assess your existing tile and wall, gather the right tools, thoroughly prep your workspace, and work slowly but steadily. Follow safety precautions like eye, hand and lung protection at all times when handling broken tile. With some sweat equity you can demolish and dispose of old tiles and prepare the wall surface for a new stunning backsplash tile design. Or utilize the cost guidance provided to evaluate hiring a professional if the scope seems too large. Either route will refresh the look of your kitchen or bathroom with an updated backsplash you’ll love.