How to Remove Tile Backsplash

Removing a tile backsplash can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be accomplished successfully. This guide will walk you through the entire process of removing tile from your backsplash, from initial preparation to final cleanup. We’ll cover how to remove ceramic, porcelain, glass, and stone tile backsplashes, as well as what to consider when deciding between DIY removal and hiring a professional. Follow these steps and you’ll have that outdated or damaged backsplash removed in no time.

Preparing for Tile Removal

Before starting demo on your backsplash, there are a few key steps to take that will make the process smoother. Proper preparation is crucial for safe and effective tile removal.

Gather Necessary Materials and Tools

You’ll need the following materials and tools on hand before beginning tile removal:

  • Eye protection
  • Dust mask
  • Ear protection
  • Knee pads
  • Work gloves
  • Flat pry bar
  • Hammer
  • Putty knife
  • Utility knife
  • Grout saw or oscillating multitool
  • Shovel and dustpan
  • Shop vacuum
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Tarps or drop cloths
  • Garbage bags
  • Bucket of water
  • Sponges
  • Rags

Make sure to use eye and ear protection when demolishing tile, as pieces often shatter. Knee pads will also help protect your joints when kneeling on hard floors. Have all your tools ready to go before starting demo.

Clear the Backsplash Area

Remove everything from the backsplash before beginning tile removal. Take down wall décor, shelves, curtains or blinds on nearby windows, etc. Cover any surfaces below the backsplash with tarps or drop cloths to catch falling debris. Empty the sink and clear counters of any dishes, appliances, or other items.

You’ll want the backsplash area to be as clear as possible to safely maneuver while removing tile. Don’t forget to give yourself enough working room all around the perimeter.

Turn Off Electrical and Plumbing

Make sure to turn off any electricity running to the backsplash area before beginning demolition. Shut off nearby outlets, light switches, and any hardwired electrical fixtures.

Additionally, turn off the water supply lines to the faucet and shut off the hot and cold handles. Disconnect any plumbing or attachments leading up to the backsplash, like soap dispensers or sprayers. Turning off utilities prevents electric shocks or water damage while removing tile.

Prepare Flooring Protection

Cover any flooring or surfaces below the backsplash with tarps, plastic sheeting, or plywood to protect from falling tile pieces and debris. Secure coverings with tape to keep them from shifting while you work. Consider laying a drop cloth in the sink basin or taping cardboard over the drain opening to prevent debris from falling in.

Removing Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

Ceramic and porcelain tile backsplashes tend to be moderately easy to remove. Follow these steps for successful ceramic and porcelain tile demo.

Score Grout Lines

Use a grout saw or oscillating multitool to score along the grout lines surrounding each tile. Cut just deep enough to penetrate the top layer of grout without notching into the drywall behind it. This will allow tiles to pop off easier.

Be sure to wear eye protection when scoring as pieces of grout will fly. Use steady hands and go slowly to keep score lines even.

Knock Tiles Off

Once grout lines are scored, it’s time to start knocking tiles off the wall. Start gently tapping a putty knife or flat pry bar into the corner of a tile, wedge it underneath, and gently twist to pry upwards. Apply just enough force to get the tile moving.

Work systematically around the backsplash, removing one tile at a time. Be patient and persistent. Ceramic and porcelain can take some elbow grease to release from mortar. Remove screws or any remaining grout as you go.

Grind Down Stubborn Tiles

Any tiles that won’t pry off can be ground down flush with the wall using an abrasive grinding stone on a rotary tool. Hold the tool steady with even pressure as you smooth down remaining tile until flush. Wear a face mask to avoid breathing ground tile dust.

Thoroughly vacuum dust after grinding. Use a damp sponge to wipe excess dust; don’t rinse the sponge in the sink or it will clog drains. Rinse frequently in a bucket of water.

Remove Mortar Bed

Once all tile is removed, use a hammer and chisel to carefully chip away at the mortar adhered to the wall. Start at the top and work down, going slowly to avoid gouging drywall. Use a putty knife to scrape off layers of mortar.

Take your time removing mortar until you expose the bare drywall underneath. Avoid damaging the wall in the process. Thoroughly vacuum up all mortar remnants before moving on.

Removing Glass Tile

Glass tile backsplashes require a bit more care to remove intact. Follow these tips when demolishing glass backsplash tile:

Apply Heat to Mortar

Glass tiles are typically adhered with a thin-set white epoxy mortar which is quite strong. Applying heat helps soften the epoxy so tiles release easier.

Use a heat gun or blow dryer to warm the epoxy behind each tile, moving continuously to avoid overheating. Warm to around 200°F—the epoxy should bubble slightly and smell like burning marshmallows when ready.

Gently Pry Tiles Off

Once the epoxy is softened, start prying glass tiles off gently with a putty knife. Take your time and ease them off slowly to keep breakage to a minimum. Twist the putty knife slightly as you pry upwards and work it around all edges.

Remove any stubborn pieces of mortar after removing each tile. Consider numbering tiles with painters tape as you remove them to keep them in order for potential salvage or reinstallation.

Clean Off Epoxy Residue

Use a plastic putty knife to gently scrape off remaining epoxy mortar after tiles are removed. Avoid gouging into the drywall, especially since it’s softened by heat. Make sure to wear gloves as the epoxy can be quite sticky.

You can also use a solvent like denatured alcohol on a cloth to dissolve epoxy residue. Remove as much as possible to ready the wall for new backsplash tile.

Removing Stone Tile

Natural stone tiles like granite, marble, or slate have a distinct removal process. Follow these tips when tackling a stone tile backsplash demo:

Score Grout with Chisel

For stone backsplashes installed with mortar, use a hammer and chisel to score along grout lines. Tap gently to cut into grout without cracking tile—stone can shatter if struck too hard.

Take care to hold the chisel at the proper angle as you score. Rinse chisel in water frequently to prevent buildup.

Start Prying Tiles Off

After scoring grout, start prying stone tiles off the wall. Use a pry bar and wiggle carefully side-to-side to break the tile free. Apply even pressure as you work around the perimeter.

For stubborn spots, use a hammer and chisel to chip away remaining grout holding the tile in place. Use light, repeated taps instead of forceful blows to prevent stone cracks.

Grind Down Remaining Tiles

Any stuck tiles can be smoothed down with a rotary tool and diamond abrasive wheel attachment. Apply steady, even pressure as you polish tiles flush with wall. Wear a respirator to avoid breathing stone dust.

Thoroughly vacuum dust after grinding. Rinse tools frequently in water to prevent clogging while removing excess tile mortar.

Chip Away Mortar Bed

Use a hammer, chisel, and putty knife to gently break apart and pry away the tile mortar bed after all stone is removed. Work in sections starting from the top down until you expose the wall behind it.

Take care not to gouge the drywall. Completely clean off mortar remnants before proceeding with new backsplash installation.

DIY Tile Removal Tips and Tricks

Removing a tile backsplash takes patience, persistence, and the right techniques. Follow these extra tips to make a DIY tile removal project go smoothly:

  • Work methodically in sections for organized demo and to avoid missing spots
  • Wear knee pads, change positions often, and take breaks to avoid joint pain
  • Always pry tiles away from walls at 45° angle to prevent damage
  • Contain dust and debris as much as possible for easier cleanup
  • Dispose of demo waste properly; most can go in household trash
  • Run dehumidifier nearby to reduce dust and aid mortar removal
  • Have drywall repair materials ready for any wall damages
  • Wipe surfaces with denatured alcohol to remove thinset haze
  • Apply a grout sealer before installing new backsplash for easier future removal
  • Consult a professional if electrical or complex plumbing is involved

When to Call a Professional

Some tile removal projects are better left to the experts. Consider hiring a professional tile removal contractor for:

Large Backsplash Areas

If your backsplash spans multiple surfaces and covers a significant area, a professional demo team will likely get it removed faster and with less mess.

Complicated Demolition Situations

If the backsplash abuts cabinetry, countertops, appliances or plumbing that must be removed and reinstalled, it’s often wise to call a pro to avoid damage and complications.

Hazardous Material Concerns

Older tile and mastic may contain asbestos or lead. It’s crucial to have hazardous backsplash materials tested and removed safely by qualified asbestos/lead abatement contractors.

Tricky Access Areas

Backsplashes in difficult, cramped spaces like behind sinks or stoves often require creative demolition techniques best left to the experts. Removing tile in tight areas has a high risk of collateral damage.

Dense Mortar Beds

Sometimes backsplash tile and mortar have been adhered excessively with thick layers of mortar. This requires professional strength and tools to break through and pry off.

Limited Timeframe

Professionals can efficiently remove backsplash tile in significantly less time, allowing you to complete your kitchen remodel or other project on schedule.

How Much Does Backsplash Tile Removal Cost?

Backsplash tile removal costs range between $2-$6 per sq. ft. on average for DIY projects. Hiring a professional tile removal contractor typically costs $3-$8 per sq. ft.

Exact backsplash demolition costs vary based on:

  • Tile type and thickness
  • Mortar bed density
  • Presence of asbestos/lead
  • Accessibility and scope
  • Local labor rates
  • Disposal fees

Simple DIY ceramic tile removal may only run you around $100-$200 in supplies for an average kitchen. However, replacing a glass subway tile backsplash spanning multiple surfaces could cost $1000+ professionally. Get contractor estimates beforehand to budget accurately for your specific backsplash removal project.

Backsplash Tile Removal FAQs

How do I remove stubborn tile backsplash adhesive?

For stubborn backsplash mastic, apply heat with a heat gun to soften it, then gently scrape off with a plastic putty knife. You can also use chemical solvents designed to dissolve adhesives. Avoid damaging the wall surface underneath.

What is the easiest way to remove backsplash tile?

Scoring grout lines with an oscillating multitool before prying tiles off is the easiest DIY method. Heat and chemical solvents also help release tiles adhered with mastics or epoxy mortars. Work slowly and systematically.

Can I put new backsplash tile over existing?

It’s not generally recommended to install new backsplash tile over existing due to thickness buildup, adhesion issues, and imperfections telegraphing through. Remove existing tile completely before replacing a backsplash.

What tools do I need to remove kitchen backsplash tile?

Common backsplash tile removal tools include a hammer, putty knives, chisel, pry bar, grout saw, rotary tool, heat gun, grinder, safety gear, dust masks, tarps, and vacuum. Have everything ready before starting demo.

How do you remove backsplash without damaging drywall?

Prevent drywall damage during backsplash removal by scoring grout lines instead of chiseling directly on tile surfaces. Pry tiles off gently at a 45° angle rather than perpendicular to the wall. Use heat or solvents to dissolve stubborn adhesives rather than forcing tiles off.


Removing an outdated, damaged, or otherwise undesirable backsplash tile does take some work, but is completely doable as a DIY project if you have the proper tools and techniques. Carefully follow the process from start to finish, working systematically and safely. Be sure to turn off any nearby electrical and plumbing lines before starting demo. Wear protective gear at all times and contain dust and debris. Dispose of tile and mortar properly and set up tarps or plastic sheeting below the workspace. With some perseverance and patience, you can successfully tackle a backsplash tile removal project and prepare the space for a new, fresh look.