While it can be simple to give a wall a new coat of paint or set of wallpaper, re-decorating a tiled wall requires more planning, skill and labour. Tiles that have been adhered to a wall will not come unattached easily, and simply trying to force them off will likely result in you ripping chunks out of your wall!
Tile walls are difficult to tackle for an inexperienced DIY enthusiast, especially if you are hoping to save the tiles. Wall tiles are placed much more closely together than floor tiles, with only thin line of grout separating them. This makes removing wall tiles a very delicate task. It can be easy for an inexperienced hand to break tiles as they are removed, or even damage the wall itself. Because of this, it is advised that you have a local tiler or experienced painter/decorator remove tiles from your wall. While it may seem expensive to hire a Pro, it will be worth it to save money on repairing the walls after a failed DIY-attempt!
Before you get started on anything, you will need to think about safety. This is not just for your sake: pieces of grout or broken tile may break off as you are working on the wall, and can damage delicate surfaces such as porcelain. Remove any valuables from the room and cover your surfaces with cardboard before you get started.
For getting down to work safely, you will need a sturdy pair of safety goggles, a dust mask and a pair of work gloves. If you will be working on lower tiles a lot, it is advised that you wear a set of kneepads to stop yourself from straining your knees. You can also lay a tarp on the floor beneath your wall to make the post-job cleaning easier.
You will need to remove the grout around your tiles before you can start prying them off. Scraping grout away will make it easier to remove each of your tiles, but remember that flakes may jump off as you work. Again, make sure you are wearing those safety goggles!
There are a number of de-grouting tools, both manual and automatic, that you can use for the job, though a utility knife can suffice. An issue with these de-grouting tools is that they are often sized for floor tiles, which have thicker and wider grout lines. In other words, if you want to purchase such a tool, make sure it has a head attachment that is small enough to use with wall tiles.
When removing an individual tile it is best to remove the grout on each side first, at the very least until the spacer lugs are visible. If you are finding it difficult, or if the grout is only coming out in tiny amounts, you can use a hairdryer or heat gun to treat it first. This should soften the grout and make it easier to remove. Remember, the more grout you remove now, the easier it will be to remove your tiles without damaging them.
If you are planning to remove all of the tiles on your wall, remember to remove the grout lines along the ceiling and floor as well as those between the tiles themselves.
Once you have de-grouted the tiles in a reasonably sized area, you can start removing them. By this point you should have decided if you want to keep the tiles or if you are happy to break them. If the former is the case, you may need a helper on hand to catch the tiles as they come off the wall. Make sure your helper is wearing a sturdy and padded set of work gloves for this.
For this stage, you will need a hammer and thin flat tool, such as a chisel or putty knife. Turning the chisel around, tap at the wall tiles with its handle, seeing if you can find a loose one that will come away more easily. If you can, this will be a great starting point! You will be more likely to find loose tiles in any areas that have seen water damage in the past, or where the most grout has already been removed.
After choosing a tile, insert your flat tool between it and the wall. Gently tap the handle of the tool with your hammer until it comes away, making sure you have someone on hand to catch it if you are planning to save the tiles.
Unfortunately, certain tiles may be too firmly attached to the wall to remove whole. When this is the case, you will usually have to remove them in pieces. Starting at the center or side of the tile, use your flat tool and hammer to break it in several places, taking them off the wall as you go. Be very careful here, as tile shards, especially porcelain, can be extremely sharp.
Once the tiles have been removed, it is time to clear the rest of the wall.
There will likely be several pieces of grout still attached, so start clearing this away carefully using a putty knife. Try to get the wall as smooth and flat as possible, as this will make re-decorating much easier for you. Alternatively, you could hire a skilled handyman to tackle any remaining imperfections in your wall before you start decorating again.
Finally, watch out for any spacer lugs still embedded in the wall, and remove them with a set of pliers.