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How to Remove a Tile Backsplash From a Kitchen

Updating a kitchen with a busy mosaic glass tile backsplash? Learn the best way to remove a tile backsplash with a mesh backing from drywall.

Do you love watching HGTV?

Me too!

In fact, my husband and I tend to watch it almost every day.

One of our favorite shows is Flip or Flop.

Lately, my husband has been saying he’d love to start flipping houses…

He says doing DIY projects is relaxing.

Hard work, yes, but relaxing nonetheless.

I’m not sure I agree, but I digress!

When Flip or Flop began airing, one of the popular styles of tile that Christina would often choose was a mosaic glass backsplash.

It always looked so nice in those white kitchens during the reveal!

So when we decided to put in a tile backsplash about 6 years ago, my husband really liked the idea of doing a similar backsplash in our home.

And I was so excited to get a tile backsplash that I didn’t push for what I really wanted.

I still suffered from “stay at home mom guilt” when it came to spending…

Close up of a multi-colored glass tile backsplash and a Baltic brown granite counter in an outdated kitchen before renovation

Living with this backsplash has been an amazing lesson about the importance of speaking up!

Yikes.

To be fair, the colors blend perfectly with our old Baltic brown granite counters.

But could it be any busier?

Not to mention, it made our cherry kitchen cabinets look even darker.

We’ve lived with the kitchen like this for a while now, but when we decided that we were going to stay in our home instead of downsizing, some renovation projects were added to our list.

Starting with the kitchen.

I shared my complete kitchen renovation plan a few months ago, and the first big project is removing the mosaic tile backsplash.

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Tools Required to Remove a Tile Backsplash

Step 1: Turn Off Electricity

Most kitchen backsplashes have electrical outlets and light switches in them.

Protect yourself from electrocution by turning off the circuit(s) to that area.

Use a plug-in lamp to check each outlet to confirm it isn’t live before beginning.

Step 2: Protect Surfaces You Plan to Keep

Since we are replacing the counters, we weren’t concerned about protecting them.

If you’re planning to keep your counters, be sure to protect them with a drop cloth.

You might also want to protect your floors with either cardboard, floor protection paper, or a drop cloth because this project does get messy!

Step 3: Remove the Granite Backsplash

For decades, the style was to use the counter material to form a backsplash.

It does a great job of protecting the drywall in the kitchen if you don’t have a tile backsplash on the walls.

But newer homes tend to have a flat counter surface and then either use the counter material all the way up to the bottom of the cabinets or have a tile backsplash.

The look is cleaner without that 3 to 4-inch lip.

We’re planning to replace our counters, but even if we weren’t, we would still remove the granite backsplash and have the entire backsplash area be the same material.

Start with a utility knife to cut or scrape away the caulk sealing the granite onto the countertop.

Man using a screwdriver and a hammer to to remove a baltic brown granite backsplash from a kitchen for a makeover project.

Removing the granite backsplash was actually very simple.

We used a flat head screwdriver and a hammer to lift the piece of granite away from the wall after breaking the silicone seal.

You could also use a rubber mallet instead of a hammer.

Start at an exposed edge of the backsplash to reduce the chance of damaging the counters.

Work your way around the piece of granite, gently prying it from the wall.

You’ll feel it loosen and it just pulls right away from the wall.

I was surprised that we didn’t need to do anything along the edge where it met the tile.

Cherry kitchen with a glass tile backsplash and busy granite counter and black appliances during a renovation

As you can see, despite being careful, the adhesive pulled the top layer of paper from the drywall.

No worries!

This is an easy fix with some drywall joint compound or a drywall patch kit if you haven’t worked with drywall.

We decided to wait to do any repairs until after removing the glass tile backsplash.

Step 4: Remove the Tile Backsplash

We decided to hang construction plastic drop cloths in an attempt to contain dust.

Have your shop vac handy too!

Cherry kitchen cabinets draped with plastic sheeting to reduce dust when removing a glass tile backsplash

We did lots of research before starting to remove the tile backsplash.

Our plan was to use an oscillating tool to cut the grout lines, then carefully remove the tiles.

Some experts also suggested using a mallet or hammer to crack the longer tiles.

My plan was to have amazing photos showing you how we managed to remove the tile without damaging the drywall.

Talk about how it was tedious, but “just stick with it and you’ll be able to do it too!”

But.

It turns out that removing mesh-backed glass mosaic tiles is a very different beast from removing other types of tile.

Especially when that tile was installed by professionals…

Damaged drywall after attempting to remove a glass mosaic tile backsplash

We were only one foot into the task of removing the tile and it was pretty obvious that the techniques we planned to use weren’t working.

It was safe to say that some drywall joint compound or a patch kit weren’t going to be sufficient!

My husband persevered and kept trying.

After all, it was only our first try.

Maybe removing a tile backsplash was one of those things that you got better at after a few tries?

Man using a hammer to break glass tiles of a backsplash while removing it from the kitchen

My husband has so much more patience than I do!

He gently broke (how’s that for an oxymoron?!) the larger tiles.

Cut through the grout lines.

He did everything the experts suggested.

Man using an oscillating tool to cut through drywall to remove a tile backsplash

And it quickly became obvious that the amount of drywall repair was going to be massive.

You see, it’s important to have a smooth base for new tile, so new pieces of drywall would need to be installed in some places.

We had to ask ourselves if the amount of time spent trying to carefully remove just the tile was worth it.

You probably know where this is going…

My husband quickly found a better use for that oscillating tool.

Area under upper kitchen cabinets where a tile backsplash was removed by cutting out the drywall.

Cutting the tile out along with the drywall took so much less time!

At first, he tried cutting out large sections, but they were so heavy.

Smaller pieces were definitely the way to go.

Large plastic tub filled with pieces of glass tile from a backsplash that's being removed.

A large plastic tub made it easy to transport the pieces of tile and drywall out to the van to take to the dump.

At first, my husband thought it would be easier to only cut out the tile.

If you look closely in the next photo, you can see how he left the drywall that the granite had been attached to along the left wall.

Kitchen with cherry cabinets during a renovation as a glass tile backsplash is removed

Along the last wall, he decided to cut the drywall all the way down to the counter because it was damaged in the back corner.

It turns out that it was actually easier to install the new drywall along that back wall because there was less of an issue with smoothing the seams.

He recommends going ahead and cutting the drywall out all the way to the counter if you’re removing a mosaic tile backsplash like we did.

Step 5: Install Drywall or Cement Board

Now that we were done removing the tile backsplash and the drywall, it was time for a fresh start.

We decided to use cement board instead of drywall as the base for our new tile backsplash.

Cherry cabinet kitchen with cement board installed for a new tile backsplash.

Cement board is more waterproof than drywall and it’s also less likely to warp or break down.

Since there’s definitely water in the kitchen, it seemed like the best option.

The kitchen looks so much brighter already with the granite backsplash removed!

In fact, the busy pattern on the counters was less obvious too without it carrying up onto the wall.

Kitchen with cherry cabinets with a sample of a new matte white lantern tile sheet attached to the wall for a backsplash

We’ll be installing these matte white lantern tiles with white grout once the new counters are installed.

Want to see how this makeover is going?

We’ve dealt with some supply chain issues and some delays with contractors, but here’s what we’ve done so far:

  1. I’ve shared my project plan and mood board
  2. The kitchen island update went in a different (better!) direction than planned
  3. I changed my mind on the paint color for the island
  4. Here’s the latest progress update on this kitchen makeover

Be sure to subscribe so you can see how the rest of the cherry kitchen renovation turns out!

If you have any questions or suggestions, contact me or leave a comment.

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Cindy

Saturday 19th of February 2022

Such a big job. You're perseverance is amazing

AnnMarie

Monday 21st of February 2022

Stay tuned for the final reveal. Anne has a few finishing touches before she shares the complete makeover. Her kitchen is looking amazing!! Thanks for taking time to read our blog. Have a great week!

Rachel Harper

Thursday 17th of February 2022

Anne It’s going to be great.

Anne

Friday 18th of February 2022

Thanks, Rachel! I'm loving how it's coming together!

Leslie Watkins

Thursday 17th of February 2022

Oh, how I feel your pain! We found removing the sheetrock completely in our bathroom redo was the best thing to do. I’m waiting on new windows in the kitchen before our new backsplash goes up. So much patience required for materials these days. Can’t wait to see those gorgeous new tiles go in!

Anne

Friday 18th of February 2022

Hey Leslie! I agree, the supply chain issues have made everything take so much longer. I made the mistake of praying for patience about 25 years ago. I'm still waiting... LOL You must be so excited about getting new windows too? I can't wait to see how your kitchen comes together too!