Expert Advice: Painting Wallcoverings

Painting expert Brian Santos warns about painting over wallpaper. Read more in his new book, "Painting Secrets."


Enlarge Image Author Brian Santos

Q. Is it easier to paint over old wallpaper than to remove it? If I have to remove it, what tools do I need?

Brian Santos: Thinking about painting over wallpaper? Think again! Sure, you avoid the mess of removing the wallpaper, but the resulting finish is not as good. Wallpaper patterns and seam lines can show through the paint. Plus the paint can act as a solvent to the wallpaper paste, causing the paper to fall off the wall while you're painting, or bubble, wrinkle, and release irregularly over time.

There are a couple of instances where painting over wallcovering is acceptable. The first is when you need a quick fix -- for a month or two -- until you can actually do the job right. The second is when you paint over decorative wallboards, such as those used in modular homes. Since you can't strip the decorative coating off these wallboards the way you can with conventional wallpaper, painting over them is really your only option, and you can get surprisingly good results if the wallcovering is securely attached to the wall. Use a 150-grit sanding screen to smooth any irregularities and rough up the surface so the paint will stick. Dust the surface with a clean broom. Apply two thin coats of oil-based sealer, such as Kilz, to the wall. When it has dried, apply your finish coat.

Removing wallcovering requires a few tools. Use a broom handle to roll strippable wallcoverings off the wall. A rolling mop bucket eliminates the need for you to repeatedly bend over and move it (or place a bucket on a planter dolly). A 3-gallon plastic pump sprayer quickly applies wallpaper remover to large areas; use a trigger-handle spray bottle for smaller areas. Buy a new sprayer; don't use one that has been used for herbicides or pesticides. A Paper Tiger is a handy tool that perforates wallpaper and makes it easier to remove. A paper scraper has a wide, flat edge that is angled so it easily lifts wallpaper from the surface. Never substitute a broad knife for a paper scraper.

You will also need baking soda, fabric softener, and wallpaper remover concentrate with enzymes to make the potion for wallpaper removal. Stir 1 cup of vinegar into 1 gallon of water to rinse walls. Have several clean 5-gallon buckets on hand. Have plenty of .7-mil plastic sheeting to cover the walls from top to bottom.


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