How to Take Tile Backsplash Off

Removing a tile backsplash can be a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it doesn’t have to be. Taking the time to properly prepare and using caution when prying off tiles will make the process smooth. Follow these steps to successfully take tile backsplash off.

Gather Materials Needed for Removal

Taking tile off requires gathering a few key materials ahead of time:

  • Safety gear – Wear safety goggles, gloves, long sleeves and pants to protect yourself from debris. A particle mask is also recommended to avoid breathing in dust and particles.
  • Hammer – A claw hammer allows you to grip and pry off tiles. Choose one with some weight to it.
  • Flat pry bar – A long, flat pry bar is perfect for getting behind tiles to pop them off. Opt for one at least 24 inches.
  • Putty knife – For scraping off any remaining tile adhesive, a putty knife with a 4+ inch blade works well.
  • Trash bags – Have heavy duty trash bags on hand to collect tile pieces and debris.
  • Shop vacuum – A vacuum with hose attachments makes cleaning up leftover material easy.
  • Tile cutter – A manual cutter easily nips off corners or edges of whole tiles.
  • Grout removal tool – A grout saw or grout rake can scrape out old grout between tiles.
  • Cheesecloth and spray bottle – These help control dust created when removing tiles and adhesive.
  • Ladder – For reaching higher portions of a backsplash, have a sturdy ladder available.

Prepare the Workspace

Before starting demo, prep the area to simplify tile removal:

  • Clear countertops and remove anything breakable from the backsplash area. Cover remaining items with drop cloths.
  • Protect floors with rosin paper or cardboard to catch fallen debris.
  • Have a clear path to remove and dispose of tiles easily.
  • Turn off electricity running to any outlets you’ll be working around.
  • Use painter’s tape and plastic sheeting to mask off adjacent surfaces.
  • Ensure proper ventilation by turning on exhaust fans or opening windows.
  • Have a first aid kit nearby in case of cuts from sharp tile edges.
  • Wear knee pads if working for extended periods.

Remove Any Molding or Trim

Eliminate obstructions before prying off tiles:

  • Use a pry bar and hammer to gently remove any molding, trim or edging at the perimeter.
  • Pry off carefully to avoid damaging the materials for reuse.
  • Use a utility knife to cut through any caulk or adhesive sealing trim.
  • Scrape off any remaining adhesive with a putty knife.
  • Remove sink faucets or soap dispensers attached over the backsplash.
  • Detach any brackets or screws holding these items with a drill or screwdriver.
  • Place hardware in labeled bags to reinstall later.

Score Grout Lines with Grout Saw

Scoring grout lines first simplifies prying off tiles:

  • Use a grout saw or oscillating multi-tool to score grout horizontally and vertically.
  • Hold the tool at a 45 degree angle and gently scrape out 1/8 inch deep grout lines.
  • Grout crumbles away easily when scored ahead of time.
  • Take care not to scratch tiles with the scoring tool.
  • Wipe away grout dust and debris frequently while scoring.
  • If any tiles are cracked or damaged, use a tile cutter to nip them into smaller, manageable pieces.

Chisel Tiles Off Vertically in Columns

Removing tiles vertically in full columns causes the least surface damage:

  • Start from a top corner and wedge pry bar under tile edge.
  • Tap gently with hammer if needed to lift tiles.
  • Once lifted, grip tile firmly with one hand as you slide bar behind.
  • Push bar forward to pry tile off while catching with other hand.
  • Continue prying vertically until full column of tiles is removed top to bottom.
  • Place intact tiles in a box to retain for other projects. Discard broken pieces.
  • For stubborn tiles, use a utility knife to cut through adhesive behind them.
  • If surface drywall paper tears, patch with joint compound when finished.

Use Putty Knife to Scrape Off Adhesive

Thoroughly removing all adhesive ensures a smooth finish:

  • After all tiles are pried off, use a stiff putty knife to scrape adhesive.
  • Hold blade at 45 degree angle and gently sweep across surface.
  • Take care when scraping near corners or edges. Work blade along rather than into edges.
  • Apply pressure where adhesive is thickest to remove down to bare substrate.
  • Switch to a fresh sharp blade often to increase effectiveness.
  • For thinset mortar, dampen before scraping to prevent dust. Wipe frequently.
  • Remove excess debris with shop vacuum as you work.

Clean Surface and Inspect for Damage

Proper cleanup and inspection ensures the wall is ready for new tile:

  • Wipe down entire surface with a damp sponge to remove dust.
  • Use cheesecloth and a spray bottle with water to control airborne dust.
  • Allow wall to dry fully before applying new backsplash.
  • Fill any gouges or holes in drywall with joint compound and sand flat.
  • Seal joints between dissimilar materials like drywall and plaster.
  • Check for hidden damage like leaks and deteriorated areas behind removed tiles.
  • Repair issues prior to installing the new backsplash.
  • Apply skim coat of thinset mortar if surface is uneven. Let cure before tiling.

Safety Tips for Removing Tile Backsplash

Follow these safety tips when demolishing a tile backsplash:

  • Keep first aid supplies on hand for cuts or abrasions.
  • Wear eye protection and mask to avoid inhaling dust and debris.
  • Work carefully when using grout saws and utility knives. Cut away from your body.
  • Take breaks often and stretch muscles to avoid injury from repetitive movements.
  • Clean hands thoroughly before eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Dispose of broken tiles, adhesive and debris properly based on local regulations.
  • Have an adequate dust containment system and ventilation in place.
  • Keep damp cheesecloth on surface to minimize airborne particles.
  • Handle broken tiles carefully. Wear gloves when carrying pieces.
  • Turn off power when working around outlets and electrical fixtures.

Tips for Easier Tile Removal

Removing tiles neatly takes patience, but these tips can simplify the process:

  • Heat tiles using a heat gun to soften adhesive before prying up.
  • Score grout lines with an oscillating multi-tool before chiseling off tiles.
  • Apply painter’s tape on tile faces before prying up to prevent shattering.
  • Tap tiles with hammer and block of wood to dislodge without damaging.
  • Spray water and vinegar solution on stubborn thinset to weaken bonds.
  • Try a steamer to penetrate and liquefy mastic adhesives for easier scraping.
  • Use a utility knife and chisel to cut adhesive and free stuck tiles.
  • Wedge wood blocks between pry bar and wall to distribute pressure evenly.
  • Work top to bottom and systematically to avoid leaving random open areas.
  • Take out tiles in full vertical columns to minimize wall damage.

How to Dispose of Old Tile Debris

Once the tile backsplash is down, you’ll have a pile of tile pieces, grout, adhesive and dust to properly dispose of:

  • Place small broken tile pieces in heavy duty contractor bags and seal tightly.
  • Box up and wrap any large intact tiles you are saving for other uses.
  • Load debris into a truck or trailer to transport to dump site.
  • Check local regulations on construction debris disposal in your municipality.
  • Most tile materials can go to standard landfills or construction dump sites.
  • Asbestos tiles require special disposal procedures. Have tested before beginning work.
  • Adhesives with solvents may require hazardous waste precautions. Check product labels.
  • Do not place debris in household trash bins. Use proper construction waste receptacles only.
  • Contact local recycling centers to inquire about tile and grout recycling options.
  • Avoid breathing tile dust by wearing an N95 mask when cleaning up debris.
  • Wet debris with spray bottle to contain dust particles during cleanup and disposal.

Cost to Remove Tile Backsplash

Several variables affect the total cost of removing an existing backsplash:

  • Type of tile – Ceramic tiles are easiest. Porcelain, marble or metal tiles take more effort.
  • Type of adhesive used – Water-based adhesives scrape off easier than mastics.
  • Amount of prep/cleanup required – Textured walls need skim coating for smooth finish.
  • Professional vs DIY – Many pros estimate jobs on an hourly basis plus materials.
  • Disposal fees – Some areas charge construction dump fees. Recycling reduces these costs.
  • Typical range is $150 – $500 for a full professional removal of a standard backsplash.
  • Doing it yourself saves on labor fees, but has a learning curve to get clean results.
  • Allow for extra costs if hidden electrical or extensive wall repairs are needed afterwards.
  • Get multiple quotes to compare prices for your particular tile removal project.

FAQs About Removing Tile Backsplash

Q: Can I put new tile over old backsplash tile?

A: It is not recommended to install new tile over an existing backsplash. Removing the old tile allows you to level the wall surface, address any underlying problems, and ensure proper adhesion of new tiles.

Q: How do I soften mastic before removing tiles?

A: Heat guns or steamers help soften thick mastic backsplash adhesives before scraping off. You can also try covering the mastic with rags soaked in hot water for 30 minutes. Avoid open flames.

Q: What tools work best for scraping off old thinset?

A: Stiff putty knives, chisels, oscillating multi-tools, or mechanical scrapers work well. Dampen the thinset first to avoid excessive dust. Re-sharpen scraper blades frequently.

Q: Can I remove just a section of the backsplash?

A: It’s best to take off full sections from counter to cabinets or outlets to avoid leaving odd unfinished patches. Take out tiles systematically in columns for easier patching.

Q: How do I get rid of grout haze left behind?

A: Mix a solution of 1/4 cup vinegar to a gallon of water. Scrub with cheesecloth or nylon brush to remove residual grout once tiles are taken off.

Q: What’s the easiest way to protect cabinets during demo?

A: Remove cabinet doors and shelves if possible. Use rosin paper and painter’s tape to mask off cabinet boxes. Cut cardboard to fit around fixtures.

Q: Can the drywall get damaged when removing tile?

A: Yes, hammering and prying can damage drywall paper facings. Patch large holes or tears with joint compound before installing new backsplash.


Removing an old tile backsplash takes time and care to avoid damaging walls and cabinets underneath. With the proper tools and safety precautions, it can be an achievable DIY project. Break tiles into columns, score grout lines, and scrape adhesive thoroughly before installing fresh new tiles over your smooth backsplash surface. Don your safety gear, turn on some music, and take those outdated tiles down with less mess and hassle.