Installing a backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and protect your walls from splashes and spills in a kitchen or bathroom. However, tastes change and tile that once looked stylish may start to feel dated after a few years. When it’s time for an update, you may find yourself needing to remove the existing backsplash tile from the wall. Taking on this project yourself can save money compared to hiring a professional. With some time and effort, these tiles can be taken down safely. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to take tile backsplash off walls.
Gather the Right Tools and Materials
Taking tile off a wall is a messy job, so make sure to protect nearby surfaces with drop cloths. Gather all the tools and materials you’ll need before starting:
- Safety gear – gloves, eye protection, mask/respirator
- Chisel and putty knife
- Pry bar
- Utility knife
- Dustpan and trash bags
- Cleaning supplies – sponges, buckets, towels
- Replacement tiles or new backsplash material
Put on safety goggles, gloves, and a dust mask or respirator before beginning demolition. This helps protect you from debris, sharp edges, and dust.
Prepare the Tile Surface
Before attempting to pry or chisel off tiles, you need to prepare the surface:
- Remove any caulk or grout between the tiles and around the edges using a utility knife.
- Take down any trim, accent tiles, or decorative edges that are on top of the main tile.
- Clear the countertops or any other surfaces around the backsplash to create a clean workspace.
- Turn off the electricity and water supply to the backsplash area.
Exposing the edges and clearing obstruction makes it easier to strike the tiles with tools for removal.
Break the Tile Bond
Tiles are adhered tightly to walls with thinset mortar. To remove them, you need to break this bond:
- Start tapping tiles lightly with a hammer and chisel to weaken the mortar’s grip.
- Use light, controlled strikes. Hitting too hard can damage the wall behind the tile.
- Move methodically across the backsplash surface, striking each tile multiple times.
- Alternatively, you can use a specialty vibrating power tool to weaken the bond. Hold it against each tile for 15-30 seconds.
Be patient and keep tapping. The goal is to fatigue the thinset enough that tiles start popping off.
Pry Off the Tile
Once tiles are loosened, it’s time to start prying them off. Be sure to wear gloves for protection:
- Insert a pry bar into the open grout lines between tiles and twist gently to wedge it behind the tile.
- Apply slow, steady pressure until the tile pops free.
- A putty knife can also be slid under corners and edges to lift tiles.
- Work in small sections across the backsplash surface so you don’t create large holes in the wall.
- Catch debris with your free hand or have a helper hold a dustpan nearby.
Leverage is helpful for removing stubborn tiles. Place a block of wood under the pry bar and tap it with a hammer.
Clean the Wall Surface
After prying off all the tile pieces, inspect the wall for any remaining thinset or backing material stuck to it:
- Use a chisel, putty knife, or scraper tool to gently loosen any chunks.
- Avoid digging into the drywall or creating large gouges.
- If necessary, use a wire brush or sandpaper to smooth the surface.
- Wipe away dust and debris with damp sponges and towels.
Your goal is to get down to a clean wall layer ready for the new backsplash. Fill any cracks or holes in damaged drywall with joint compound.
Dispose of Tile Debris
Collect all the broken tile pieces, grout, thinset, and backer material carefully:
- Sweep small debris into a dustpan using a brush.
- Pick up larger chunks by hand and place them in buckets or bags.
- Some vacuum models are designed to collect masonry dust. Use as needed.
- Transport buckets or bags outside to avoid spreading dust in the house.
- Most tile debris can be disposed of with regular household trash.
Proper cleanup is important for safety and preparing the area for a new backsplash installation.
Tips for Easier Tile Removal
Removing tile from a wall takes patience, strength, and the right approach. Here are some useful tips:
- Always score grout lines and break adhesive bonds before prying. This prevents wall damage.
- Heat tiles with a blow dryer or heat gun first to soften the thinset mortar.
- For stubborn tile, use a grout removal oscillating power tool around edges before prying.
- Apply painter’s tape around the tile perimeter before prying to catch broken pieces.
- Use a flat pry bar and wood block for leverage to pop off whole tiles rather than breaking them.
- Soak the tile surface with water for easier scraping of thinset residue.
With care and the proper tools, those outdated tiles will come down quickly and cleanly.
FAQs About Removing Tile Backsplash
Taking on a tile removal project for the first time can be intimidating. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
What is the easiest way to remove tile backsplash?
The most labor-intensive part is breaking the tile-to-wall adhesive bond. Using heat and moisture to soften mortar, scoring grout lines, and vibration tools all make this easier. Gentle prying motions are then needed to pull tiles off once loosened.
Can I just smash the tiles with a hammer?
It is not advisable to smash tiles with a hammer. This can damage the wall behind, leaving an uneven surface for the new backsplash. Use light tapping and prying motions instead for controlled removal.
How do I get rid of old tile glue?
After prying off tiles, any remaining thinset mortar or adhesive backing must be thoroughly scraped away. Chisels, putty knives, and oscillating power tools all help with residue removal.
What if tiles are stuck really tightly?
For tiles that resist removal, use heat and moisture to penetrate behind them, vibrate them loose with an oscillating tool, and be patient with wedging a pry bar or putty knife in seams. Applying force gradually is key for difficult tiles.
How long does it take to remove tile from a backsplash?
The demolition process usually takes 2-4 hours for a full backsplash. Exact timeframe depends on tile material, bonding method, tools used, and the installer’s skill. Removing accent tiles is quicker.
Can I install new tile over the old backsplash?
It is generally not recommended to install tile over an existing backsplash. The multiple layers can lead to adhesion problems. Existing tile should be fully removed down to the bare wall for best results.
What tools will I need?
Common tools needed are a hammer, chisel, pry bar, putty knives, utility knife, dustpan, buckets, eye protection, gloves, and an oscillating tool for stubborn areas. Have rags, towels, sponges, and cleaning products on hand too.
Step-By-Step Process for Removing Tile Backsplash
To successfully complete a tile removal project, follow these steps in order:
Shut Off Utilities
The first step is to turn off water supply lines, electricity, or gas to the backsplash area. This prevents leaks or damage to lines during demolition.
Remove Grout and Accessories
Use a utility knife to clear out all grout between tiles and surrounding trim. Take down any backsplash edging, soap dishes, or accent tiles mounted on top of the main tile.
Prepare Your Workspace
Clear counters, lay down drop cloths, put on safety gear, and assemble tools. Have a garbage bag or bucket ready to collect debris. Turn off HVAC system vents if possible.
Score and Loosen Tiles
Use a hammer and chisel to lightly tap tiles and weaken the bond. Target grout joints initially. Apply heat or moisture to help penetrate behind tiles.
Pry Off Tiles
Once loosened, use pry bars, putty knives, and scrapers to gradually wedge behind tiles and pry them off. Apply force slowly and control debris.
Remove Adhesive Residue
Use chisels, oscillating tools, and sandpaper to scrape down to a clean wall surface. Avoid gouging drywall. Wipe up dust and debris as you work.
Make Any Wall Repairs
Fill holes or cracks in drywall from removal process with spackling or joint compound. Sand smooth when dried.
Clean Up Debris
Collect all tile pieces, grout, adhesive, and backing material. Vacuum dust and wipe down the area. Transport debris outside and dispose of properly.
Inspect and Prepare Wall
With tiles gone, inspect the wall condition. Apply primer and/or skim coat if needed so it is ready for the new backsplash installation.
Enjoy Your New Backsplash!
Once the wall is prepped, you can install a beautiful new backsplash using updated tile, removeable wallpaper, sheet backsplash panels, or other preferred material!
Common Problems When Removing Tile
Even with the right technique, some issues can come up when taking down a tile backsplash:
Damaging the Drywall
Using too much force and aggressive prying can gouge the wallboard behind tiles. This leaves an uneven surface requiring extensive repairs. Work slowly and control demolition movements.
Breaking Tiles Into Small Pieces
Rather than prying off whole tiles, fragile or thin tile may shatter when being pried. Use scrapers and chisels to remove broken shards stuck to adhesive.
Thinset Adhesive Won’t Budge
Some fortified mortar products are extremely stubborn to remove from drywall. Use oscillating tools and consider skim coating over residue if too difficult to scrape off.
Tiles Crack But Won’t Release
Heat and moisture may cause some tiles to crack apart but still stick. Keep working around seams to eventually wedge pry bar or putty knife underneath cracked sections.
Causing Plumbing Leaks
If water lines are still active, prying motions can damage pipes and cause leaks. Always shut off water supply and drain lines before attempting removal.
Inhaling Too Much Dust
Scraping and prying tile pieces loose creates clouds of dust containing silica. Wear a respirator mask and have proper ventilation to avoid breathing it in.
Safety Tips for Tile Removal
Demolishing a tile backsplash can be a hazardous project. Keep these safety guidelines in mind:
- Wear eye protection, gloves, closed-toe shoes, long sleeves and pants. Use a dust mask or respirator.
- Work carefully with the hammer and chisel using light motions. Strike away from your body.
- Pry in controlled motions straight out from the wall at a 45-degree angle to avoid slipping.
- Clear workspace of tripping hazards and sharp debris frequently.
- Have a helper nearby to assist with passing tools, controlling debris, and help lifting.
- Take breaks often to avoid fatigue that can lead to slipping or gouging walls.
- Disconnect electrical within the backsplash zone and shut off water supply lines.
- Watch for old wiring, plumbing, or other utilities hidden behind tiles. Contact a pro if found.
- Double check that breathing and eye protection is tightly sealed before scraping thinset or sanding.
- Open windows and use exhaust fans to ventilate dust from the area.
Follow safe work habits to prevent injury and complete your tile demolition safely.
How to Dispose of Tile Backsplash Debris
Once all the backsplash tile is down, you’re left with piles of rubble to deal with. Here are smart tips for cleanup and debris disposal:
- Sweep small tile pieces, dust, grout, and adhesive crumbs with a broom into a dustpan. To avoid spreading dust, don’t just sweep across the floor.
- Carefully pick up larger chunks of tile and backer board by hand. Avoid creating new dust clouds or breathing existing ones while doing so.
- Use a flat shovel, scoop, or scraper to collect thicker piles of debris from the protected floor or workspace surface.
- Have a bucket, bag, or wagon ready to directly transfer debris to avoid spreading it around.
- For light dusting on countertops or appliances, use a microfiber cloth or damp towel to carefully wipe.
- Consider connecting a HEPA filter vacuum hose directly to the backsplash zone to collect fine silica dust.
- Avoid tracking debris through the home to take outside. Designate one path and exit. Cover shoes and change clothes after unloading.
- Most residential tile demolition debris can be placed in normal household trash bags and hauled away. Grout and thinset are not hazardous materials.
- If desired, broken tiles could be kept for future DIY mosaics or craft projects rather than disposal. Just wash thoroughly first.
Proper cleanup and removal of tile debris makes way for your beautiful new backsplash installation.
Alternatives to Removing an Existing Backsplash
Although removing a tile backsplash completely is usually recommended for the best outcome, there are some alternatives to demolition worth considering:
Installing New Tile Over Old
It is possible to install a new layer of tile directly over the existing backsplash. This saves labor, but has some drawbacks. Adhesion may be a problem, the new tile will sit slightly proud of the countertop, and bumps or divots below will telegraph through the new surface. Extra care must be taken to prepare the existing tile and use mortar suitable for the double layer of tile.
Applying Tile Paint
For a temporary facelift or rental property, painting over tiles with epoxy paint formulated for tile and stone can refresh the look. Clean thoroughly and scuff sand tiles first to help paint adhere. This won’t last as long as new tile but provides a cheaper update. Avoid abrasive cleaners that might strip the paint.
Covering with Composite Panels
Installing waterproof backsplash panels over old tile provides good protection and a new look while avoiding demolition. Use caution to select panels thick enough to fully conceal grout lines and transition evenly with countertops. Screw panels into wall studs, not just the underlying tile.
Installing Removable Wallpaper
Removable, peel-and-stick wallpaper can be applied directly over existing tile as a backsplash makeover. Select heavy-duty, cleanable papers intended for kitchen use. Follow preparation and installation directions carefully for successful application. Refresh periodically as paper wears.
Adding a Laminate Covering
For solid surface protection over tile, laminate sheeting can be adhered with construction adhesive as a permanent covering. Use 1/8-inch thick sheets and prep tile surface thoroughly. Cut seams to fall along grout lines using a putty knife or router. Seal edges with silicone caulk.
Removing an outdated or damaged tile backsplash takes elbow grease but can be DIY-friendly with the proper process. Breaking the adhesive bond and prying tiles carefully prevents wall damage and allows you to dispose of debris and start fresh. With safety gear, the right tools, patience, and clean-up diligence, those tiles will give way to your new dream backsplash design!