How to Remove Kitchen Backsplash

Kitchen Backsplash Update

Removing existing backsplash in your kitchen may seem intimidating at first, but is oftentimes a necessary task. It will not only improve the look of your kitchen, but add value to your home. Updating and improving your kitchen will add more value to your home than just about anything else you can do.

To remove kitchen backsplash first you need to clear off the counter tops, turn off the power to your electrical outlets, and remove all outlet and light switch covers. Next be sure you have all of the appropriate tools and safety gear. Then using a box cutter, Dremel or oscillating tool, score the grout to weaken the bond between the tiles. Using a wide metal putty knife to protect from damaging the drywall (rather than a pry bar or hammer), separate one tile at a time from the wall, working top to bottom. Finally, remove left over bonding agent, fill any holes with putty, and sand smooth with 120 grit sand paper.

In the rest of this article I will go over each of these steps in detail. If any of this sounds at all complicated, again please do not let this intimidate you. It is really quite simple. As you read through the rest of this article I will take you through it step by step. I will also teach you some simple tricks that will save you time and keep you from making the most common mistakes.

I promise you will leave here confident in your abilities to complete a once-daunting task for a fraction of the cost of hiring a professional. But before we go swinging hammers and tearing tile off the wall it is important to first prepare the area and gather the required protective equipment, tools and materials.

Required Prep Work

Any successful DIY project begins with the requisite preparation and planning, and this project is no different. Before we can remove the backsplash we must first prepare the area, including:

  • Clearing off the countertops for the areas you will be working
  • Removing electrical outlet covers
  • Turning off power to the area via the circuit breaker box (individual breakers should be labeled – if they are not you’ll need to utilize a “guess and check” approach, meaning flipping one breaker off and checking to see if it was the desired area, repeating as necessary)

Required Protective Equipment, Tools and Materials

The final step before getting our hands dirty is to collect the required personal protective equipment, tools and materials. For this project you will need:

  • Gloves, eye protection and mask/respirator
  • Hammer
  • Metal putty knife
  • Utility knife/box cutter
  • Screwdriver
  • Spackling or joint compound
  • Sand paper (120 grit)
  • Drywall sanding pad (optional)
  • Multi-tool, oscillating tool or Dremel (optional)
  • Shop vac for quick cleanup (optional)
  • Roll-on primer (optional)

Now that we have everything we need and the area is prepped, it is time to start removing the existing backsplash!

Removing the Tile

Before jumping into the project, ensure you are wearing the appropriate safety equipment, including protective eye glasses (full-contour glasses that wrap around the side of the face are best, protecting the eyes from all sides), gloves and a mask. With tile shards and fragments flying, it is important to protect your eyes and hands, while the mask protects your lungs from the particles released into the air from sanding.

If you have never removed backsplash tile before, your first instinct might be to simply reach a pry bar or the leverage end of the hammer behind individual tiles and start ripping tiles off the wall. While effective, this is likely to damage the sheetrock/drywall behind the tiles to a point where you would need to completely replace it before installing a new backsplash.

For this reason, I highly recommend not using a pry bar or the leverage end of the hammer to remove backsplash!

There are a few quick and easy steps we can take to prevent this from happening. First, take your multi-tool, oscillating tool or Dremel and score the grout between the tiles (if you don’t have one of these tools, a simple utility knife or box cutter will do the trick!). This will weaken the bond between tiles, allowing each to break away from the wall easier and with a lower chance of damaging the sheetrock/drywall behind.

Next, take your utility knife and score any caulking (typically found between the bottom row of tiles and the counter and over the top row of tiles). This also serves to weaken the overall adhesive force of the tiles to the wall.

Now that we’ve taken the necessary steps to preserve the sheetrock/drywall behind the existing backsplash, we can begin the process of removing the tiles. Keep in mind, it is best to start on one end of the backsplash, working top to bottom first and continuing to the opposite end of the wall. Remove one tile completely before continuing.

Take your hammer and lightly tap the tile to be removed (can increase the force used after you get the hang of it). We don’t necessarily need to hit the tiles hard enough to crack them, as all we’re attempting to do here is further weaken the bond between the tile and sheetrock/drywall. The strength of that bond varies depending on what material was used to affix the tiles, ranging from bonding paper (weakest) to mastic (intermediary bond) to thinset (strongest).

With the bonding agent now in its weakest state, take your metal putty knife and hammer and wedge the putty knife between the tile and wall, being careful not to break through the sheetrock/drywall. The wider the putty knife, the better, which serves to spread the leverage load out over a wider surface area (less likely to break through the sheetrock/drywall).

Removing-Kitchen-Backsplash

Simply pry each tile away from the wall individually, repeating this process from top to bottom across the entirety of the backsplash. With the old backsplash removed, we can now focus on preparing the wall for the new backsplash to be installed!

Finishing Prep Work for New Tile

With the old backsplash now removed, we should be left with remnants of the bonding agent used to affix the previous backsplash. In the below table, you will see the best-practices way to remove each bonding agent.

Bonding AgentRemoval
Bonding PaperPeel or scrape away with metal putty knife
MasticTwo passes with 120 grit sand paper
ThinsetUse metal putty knife to scrape away thinset before sanding

After removing the bonding agent from the previously installed backsplash, use a plastic putty knife and either drywall spackling or joint compound to fill any imperfections in the wall itself. To do this, apply a quarter-size amount of compound to the putty knife and spread it over the imperfection in the wall, applying even pressure as you drag the putty knife. It is best to use a four-point approach, dragging the putty knife north to south, east to west, south to north and finally west to east to ensure even coverage over the affected area.

Repeat this process, covering all imperfections on the wall and allow to dry for the prescribed amount of time as indicated on the product used. Once dry, sand the entirety of the wall with 120 grit sand paper (a good place to use a drywall sanding pad if you have one; not required). The result should be a smooth surface ready for primer.

Priming the wall is an optional step, but one I highly recommend. Priming the wall before applying a new backsplash serves to increase the bonding power from whatever bonding agent you use, providing additional longevity to the new backsplash installed. It is a quick and inexpensive way to ensure your new backsplash lasts!

Related Fixes

What if the tiles won’t come off using the above method? If your tile can’t be removed via the above methods, it is likeliest that it was installed using construction adhesive or glue (this might seem silly, but it is something I have seen used). If that is the case, your best bet is to use your hammer and/or pry bar to remove the tile and sheetrock/drywall together. This will require you to replace the sheetrock/drywall prior to installing a new backsplash.

What if I make a small hole in the wall while removing the backsplash? Don’t fret! A small hole in the sheetrock/drywall can be patched without having to replace a portion of your drywall. Since the wall will be carrying a load (the weight of the bonding agent and backsplash), it is best to use a wire mesh drywall patch. Simply spread spackling or joint compound around the hole, apply your wire mesh patch, spread joint compound over the patch with an even layer, let dry and sand!

What if the wall isn’t perfect in appearance? Since we’re applying new backsplash over the affected area, it doesn’t have to be! Our goal is to create the best possible environment for the follow-on backsplash to be applied to, which doesn’t necessarily mean we need a perfect sheetrock/drywall surface ready for paint!

David

David has been an avid DIYer for years. Recently he's really taken to home security, but he has a lot of experience with all sorts of projects from Plumbing to Electrical and Framing to Tiling.

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