How to Remove Tile Backsplash
Tile backsplashes do an excellent job of covering the walls behind kitchen or bathroom countertops, protecting the wall from water and impact. The tile can be removed when the backsplash becomes dated or worn or is no longer wanted. In some cases, removing a tile backsplash can be done with only minimal damage to the drywall. In other cases, it is simpler and less messy to excise the tile and attached drywall in one piece—a fairly easy job if you have the right tools.
Before You Begin
Backsplash tile is attached directly to the drywall with thinset, a smooth mortar that sticks remarkably well to tile and drywall. Thinset is hard and brittle, more like cement than like glue.
Removing backsplash tile is never clean nor will the wall be completely undamaged. Your aim is to limit the mess and the damage to the wall. The trick is to break the thinset bond between the tile and the drywall.
Thinset deposits left behind on the wall can be scraped away. Some drywall facing paper and gypsum will pull away with the tile but the depressions can be filled in or repaired.
If removing the tile from the drywall proves too cumbersome, a good alternative is to remove the tile and its attached drywall backer as one piece. An oscillating multi-tool helps you plunge-cut around the tile perimeter. If the drywall is not a concern, you can also use a rotary hammer with a spade bit to help remove the tile.
When removing tile from a backsplash, sharp, glass-like tile shards will become projectiles. Protect your eyes with safety glasses or goggles. Use thick gloves. Wear a long-sleeve top, pants, and boots or heavy-duty shoes. Frequently pick up fallen tiles to avoid slipping.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Caulk removal tool
- Electric oscillating multi-tool
- Multi-tool grout removal blade
- 4-inch drywall knife
- Putty knife
- Grout removal tool (optional)
- Shop vacuum with filter
- Pry bar
- All-purpose drywall joint compound (premixed)
How to Remove Tile Backsplash
Always try to first remove the tile backsplash from the wall before attempting other methods. If the tile was loosely applied, it will come off with relative ease.
Turn Off Electricity
Shut off the electricity to the backsplash area by shutting off the circuit breaker at the electric service panel. Multiple cables may run behind the wall.
Protect Counter and Area
Place stoppers in the sink to prevent tile from entering the drain. Lay cardboard on the counters and tape down the cardboard. Lay plastic sheeting on the floor. Limit scattered tile shards by taping plastic around the area.
With a screwdriver and prybar, remove non-tile obstructions from the backsplash like outlet or light switch faceplates, blank faceplates, and wood or PVC trim. If the tile backsplash runs up to wall cabinets, consider removing the cabinets to provide yourself with better access to the backsplash.
With the caulk removal tool, scrap away the caulk between the tile backsplash and the countertop.
Fit the multitool with the grout removal blade. Turn on the tool, then run the blade along each line of grout between tiles. The aim is to sever the bond between adjacent tiles rather than to remove all of the grout. Limit the mess by holding the shop vacuum's nozzle under the multitool blade.
The tile backsplash may be bordered by any number of tile perimeters: listellos, ropes, quarter-rounds, pencil liners, or more. Force the putty knife or drywall knife blade behind the border tile to break its bond to the wall.
Remove First Tile
Start at the top row of tiles. Hold the drywall knife or putty knife against the top of the tile, where the tile meets the drywall. Bend the tool toward the wall. With the hammer or a rubber mallet, tap the handle of the tool to force the blade between the tile and the wall.
Remove Remaining Tiles
Continue removing the tile backsplash downward, one tile at a time.
Scrape Away High Sections
After the tile backsplash has been removed, raised sections of thinset will likely remain on the wall. By hand, use the putty knife or drywall knife to scrape away the thinset. Hold the knife at a low angle when scraping.
Repair Low Sections
The drywall will be left with grooves, scrapes, holes, and other low sections from the removal process.
- Scrapes: Fix low scrapes in the drywall by running a pass of drywall joint compound over the scrape with the drywall knife. Usually, one skim coat will be sufficient for shallow scrapes.
- Small holes: Similar to scrapes, fill in small holes with the drywall knife and all-purpose joint compound. After about an hour, check the fix. Often, the joint compound will have formed a shallow depression. Run another pass of joint compound over the patch.
- Large holes: Fix large holes in drywall by squaring the hole with a drywall jab saw, then cutting a piece of scrap drywall to the same size. Back the edges of the hole with 3-inch strips of plywood. Screw the patch material onto the plywood strips. Finish with drywall tape and joint compound.
How to Remove a Tile Backsplash and Attached Drywall
If the tile backsplash is difficult to remove without damaging the wall—especially if the tile was attached with glue—it may be easier to remove the drywall along with the tile.
Turn off electricity and shut off the water to the backsplash area. Remove outlet and light switch faceplates and other obstructions.
If possible, remove any perimeter materials to give you better access to the tile. If not possible, leave them in place. Do not remove or loosen the tile grout.
Use a stud finder to identify and mark the location of each stud behind the backsplash.
Mark Depth on Multitool Blade
With an indelible marker or painter's tape, mark 1/2-inch inward from the cutting edge of the multitool blade.
Cut Drywall Around Tile Perimeter
Use the multi-tool to plunge-cut the drywall perimeter around the tile backsplash. Work slowly and with care. Stop the cut at 1/2-inch deep to avoid ripping up the insulation on exterior walls or contacting wires and pipes. It's especially important to stop cutting at 1/2-inch deep when cutting over wall studs.
Slip the pry bar into the cut at the top of the backsplash, directly above a stud. Start at one end. Slip the pry bar down as far as it will go until it meets with resistance above a drywall screw or nail. Gently pull back on the pry bar until the drywall pops free of the fastener.
Continue working horizontally. Once you reach the last wall stud, return to the first wall stud and continue to the next fastener. Each eight-foot section of countertop will have six to seven studs behind it.
Remove Backsplash and Drywall
Have an assistant help you remove the combined tile/drywall backsplash section as it will be heavy.
Measure Drywall Patch Area
Since the distance from a countertop to the bottom of wall cabinets is around 18 inches, a single sheet of 4-foot by 8-foot 1/2-inch drywall is sufficient to cover 16 linear feet of removed backsplash (minus the two 4-inch tapered drywall edges).
Cut the drywall with a utility knife, screw it into place with drywall screws, and tape and apply drywall joint compound to the perimeter. Finish with two coats of drywall primer.
When to Call a Professional
A general contractor or full-service tile installation company can remove a difficult tile backsplash for you.