How to Remove Wallpaper

When it comes to unsightly wallpaper, you have two options: Remove the old wallpaper or simply paint over it. We'll show you how to do both.

Wallpaper Nightmares

When you remove wallpaper, take it down the same way it went up—in whole sheets, not pieces. To remove wallpaper and adhesive without damaging the wall, you have several options: Remove the paper in layers, use wallpaper-removal solutions (either liquid or gel), or steam it off.

Removing a wallcovering in layers requires stripping off the vinyl top sheet, then removing the paper backing with a liquid (a commercial product or a 1-to-16 solution of vinegar and water) or gel. If your wallcovering is a fabric-backed vinyl or strippable solid-surface vinyl, you can probably remove it in layers. Gels offer the advantage of clinging to the paper while they soak in and attack the starches in the wallpaper glue. Steaming is dangerous, both to operator and the wall—especially drywall.

Whatever method you use, turn off the power, remove all outlet and switchplate covers, and thoroughly protect switches and outlets with duct tape to prevent water or steam from entering and causing shorts when you turn the power back on.

Step 1: Score Wallpaper

The easiest way to remove wallpaper involves scoring the paper first to allow the remover to penetrate. Use a special wallpaper-scoring tool or a standard utility knife. Perforate the wallcovering with the scoring tool. Its teeth penetrate the surface, and the perforations allow the solution to soak through and soften the adhesive. Start at a top corner, working down and across the wall in large circles. When using a utility knife, apply only enough pressure to cut through the wallpaper to keep from damaging the wall.

Step 2: Mix Wallpaper Remover

Fill a pump-up sprayer with a mixture of warm water and wallpaper remover. Follow manufacturer's instructions for the optimal ratio of water to remover.

Step 3: Pump Sprayer

Secure the lid on the sprayer and pump it up. If you don't have a pump sprayer, you can also apply the wallpaper remover with a paint roller. Before proceeding, turn off the circuit breaker that powers the switches or outlets on the wall, and remove any electrical covers.

Step 4: Apply Wallpaper Remover

Apply the wallpaper remover with a garden sprayer or spray mister. Spray the walls from the bottom up, working around the room in one direction. Apply the solution at least three times. Wait 15 minutes or so for it to soak through and loosen the paper. Be sure to wear protective eyewear when spraying wallpaper remover.

Step 5: Cover with Plastic Sheeting

When the walls are saturated, smooth 7 ml plastic sheeting over the surface with a wallcovering brush or squeegee, cut the plastic to fit around the moldings, and tape it at the top. This keeps the solution from evaporating so it can dissolve the glue. Leave the plastic in place overnight.

Step 6: Peel Wallpaper

Test the adhesive to determine if it will release the paper. Pull back a lower corner of the plastic and gently scrape open a seam. If the wallcovering doesn't come loose easily, lift the plastic away at the top of the wall and resoak the covering. Smooth back the plastic, and let the solution work for an additional 6-12 hours.

Step 7: Remove Backing Layer

Often the top layer of wallpaper will separate from the backing. If this happens, apply the wallpaper remover again and repeat the process. When you can strip the paper easily, fold back about 4 feet of the plastic, and anchor a corner with pushpins to keep the rest of the glue from readhering to the wall. Starting at the top, scrape off one section at a time. Keep the scraper low to avoid gouging the wall. Spray additional solution to keep the backing moist.

Step 8: Patch Walls

Continue working until all the wallpaper has been removed. Patch any bad spots on the wall with spackling compound. Allow the spackling to dry, and sand it smooth before painting.

How to Paint Over Wallpaper

If the wallpaper is in good condition and not made of vinyl, it may be possible to paint over it rather than remove it. When painting over wallpaper, prime it first with a shellac-base stain-blocking primer or one made for painting over wallpaper. Test the primer on a small area first, and allow it to dry to be sure it doesn't cause the glue in the paper to pull loose.

How to Remove Wallpaper by Stripping a Layer

Step 1: Begin by peeling a corner of the top edge of a sheet of wallcovering away from the wall about 2 inches to give you an edge you can hold onto. Use a stripping knife to help strip the vinyl layer away from its backing.

Step 2: Roll a Dowel

Hold a dowel against the flap of loose paper, and roll the paper down around it. Continue rolling the covering about 8-10 inches. The dowel keeps the pressure spread evenly across the sheet of paper, which should reduce tearing.

Step 3: Finish Removing Top Layer

Hold the paper on the dowel with both hands and pull straight down, keeping the dowel close to the wall and wrapping as you remove the paper. This should minimize tearing the covering and damaging the drywall surface. If the paper starts to tear, roll the rest of it off the wall—don't pull it. When all the top layer is off, remove the backing and glue using the previous method.

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