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Removing ceramic tile not difficult, just messy

Q: I recently bought a house that has Formica tops and a ceramic tile backsplash. I am going to replace them with granite and tumbled marble. How difficult would it be for me to remove the backsplash? Also, is there something that dissolves grout or is it something that has to be chipped away?

A: Removing ceramic tile really isn’t that difficult, but it is messy. You ask about removing grout, but you needn’t worry about that if you are removing the tile because the grout will come out with it in a dusty mess.

If you just want to remove the grout to change the color or re-grout, that is fine. Grout isn’t something that you can dissolve, and there are easier ways to remove it than chipping it away: Use a grout removal tool.

The tool looks like a screwdriver but has a triangular carbide tip. You simply place the tip of the tool onto the grout and move it back and forth, and the grout will turn to dust. This tool cuts a “V” shaped groove. There are also power tool attachments that work well but do leave plenty of dust to clean up.

Since you are installing a new backsplash, you want to remove the grout and the tile.

There are a couple of ways to remove the ceramic tile backsplash. You can smack the tile with a hammer to crack it and then pry up the pieces (wear eye protection and gloves for this). This method will usually damage the underlying drywall. Since the tiles break, so does the drywall behind them. The damage will be spotty with some of the drywall totally pulling off with the tile, while other areas will appear gouged and torn.

The other method to separate the tile from the drywall is to use a putty knife or other suitable flat, bladelike tool. The best tool I have found is a modified putty knife (either a 4- or 6-inch knife with a beveled edge).

If you try to slide a regular putty knife behind the tile and hit the back of the handle with a hammer, the angle of the blade in relation to the handle will cause it to dig into the drywall behind the tile. Therefore, you need to bend the blade away from the handle at about a 30-degree angle.

Try sticking the blade into a vise near where the blade meets the handle, then pulling the handle over to the desired angle. If you don’t secure the blade near where it meets the handle, the blade will curve and the tool won’t work correctly.

The offset will allow you to hit the back of the knife’s neck so it will cut straight down and not into the wall. Just place the edge of the blade at the top of the backsplash and hammer down to separate the tile from the wall.

You will still have damage to the drywall, but it will be minimal; your granite/marble installer will thank you.

Whichever method you use, you can minimize the damage to the drywall above the backsplash if you run a utility knife along the top of the backsplash to cut the layer of paper on the drywall. If you don’t do this and pull up the tile, you risk peeling the layer of paper, including the wall texture and paint, off the wall.

This isn’t a job of finesse. It’s minor demolition.

Mike Klimek is a licensed contractor and owner of Las Vegas Handyman. Questions may be sent by email to handymanoflasvegas@msn.com. Or, mail to 4710 W. Dewey Drive, No. 100, Las Vegas, NV 89118. His web address is www.handymanoflasvegas.com.

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