How to Remove a Wallpaper Border

Update your home's interior with these tips for removing a wallpaper border.

white bathroom border wallpaper
Photo: Brian McWeeney

Whether buying new furniture, investing in updated appliances, or painting walls, it doesn't take a complete makeover to update the aesthetic of your home. For others, this means removing a dated wallpaper border so that interior walls can be painted with favorite colors. However, if a wallpaper border isn’t removed properly, you can damage the underlying walls, creating additional problems to fix.

Wallpaper borders are made of solid paper, paper backing with a vinyl coating, fabric backing with a vinyl coating, or solid vinyl. This material is affixed to the wall with a strong adhesive, so before the wallpaper border can be peeled away, you need to reduce the adhesive bond between the wallpaper and the wall. Use this guide to learn how to remove a wallpaper border without damaging your walls.

Wallpaper Removal Methods

There are three common methods that are typically used to remove wallpaper borders. The first uses a hair dryer to apply heat to the wallpaper to gradually melt the glue, allowing the wallpaper to be peeled away by hand or with a paint scraper. 

Another option is to use a stripping solution, like warm water, liquid fabric softener and water, apple cider vinegar and water, or a commercial wallpaper stripper. This method requires scoring the wallpaper border and soaking it with the stripping solution, then using a paint scraper to peel it off the wall.

The third method used to remove wallpaper borders is steam. With a wallpaper steamer, you can heat and soak the wallpaper at the same time, making it easy to peel away the border. However, this method also loosens any other wallpaper on the walls, so it isn’t a good idea for wallpapered walls unless you are intending to remove all the wallpaper. 

How to Remove a Wallpaper Border with Heat

One of the easiest ways to remove wallpaper is by melting the adhesive with a hair dryer, then using your hands to peel the wallpaper border away from the wall. However, this method doesn’t work on all wallpaper adhesives, so you might need to try an alternate method if the wallpaper doesn't budge.

What You Need

  • Drop cloth
  • Step ladder
  • Hair dryer
  • Paint scraper or putty knife
  • Scouring pad

Step 1: Prepare the Area

Move any furniture or objects away from the walls and put down drop cloths to catch any falling bits of wallpaper or adhesive. Make sure that you have enough space to be able to set up a step ladder along any of the wallpapered walls. Even if you are tall enough to reach up and grab the wallpaper border, your arms will quickly grow tired. Using a step ladder allows you to hold them in a more relaxed position as you work. 

Step 2: Apply Heat

Find the starting edge of the wallpaper border. Plug your hair dryer into a nearby outlet. Carefully climb up the step ladder with the hair dryer and begin to apply heat to the wallpaper border. As the heat gradually melts the adhesive, use your fingers to peel up the corner of the wallpaper border. You can also use a paint scraper or putty knife to slide under the edge of the border and peel up the wallpaper. 

Step 3: Peel Off Wallpaper

Once you have started to peel up the wallpaper border, move the hair dryer along to the sections of wallpaper that are still stuck to the wall. Use your fingers or a scraping tool to peel off the wallpaper, being careful not to rip or tear the material. It is more difficult to remove small, isolated pieces of wallpaper than it is to remove an entire strip. Continue heating and peeling along the entire length of the wallpaper until it has all been removed. 

Step 4: Clean Remaining Area

After removing the wallpaper border, there might still be some adhesive stuck to the wall. Use warm water and a scouring pad to scrub adhesive off the walls before allowing the walls to dry. 

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Better Homes & Gardens

How to Remove a Wallpaper Border with Stripping Solution

If you don’t have a hair dryer or the hair dryer method didn’t work, a great alternative is to apply a stripping solution. Just keep in mind that this method typically requires scoring the wallpaper, which can damage the wall if you aren’t careful.

What You Need

  • Drop cloth
  • Spray bottle
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Liquid fabric softener
  • Commercial wallpaper stripper
  • Paint scraper
  • Step ladder
  • Scoring tool
  • Scouring pad

Step 1: Prepare the Area

To ensure that you have enough space to work, move any furniture and appliances away from the walls. Put down drop cloths to protect the floor and any nearby objects. Make sure there is enough space for a step ladder. Using the ladder will make it easier to work with the wallpaper border, so you don’t have to hold your arms above your head whenever you need to spray, score, or peel the wallpaper.

Step 2: Mix the Stripping Solution

There are several different stripping solutions you can use to remove wallpaper. The easiest option is simply warm water. Commercial wallpaper strippers typically come premixed and prepackaged, making them another easy option. However, if you are using apple cider vinegar, you need to mix it with equal parts warm water to create a stripping solution. Another DIY stripping solution can be made by mixing liquid fabric softener with equal parts warm water.  

Step 3: Score the Border

Wallpaper can be made with a vinyl backing or coating that prevents liquids from penetrating through the material. In this case, you'll need to use a plastic scoring tool or a plastic knife to score the wallpaper border. You can make numerous holes in the wallpaper border using a scoring tool, but if you don’t have a scoring tool, simply use a plastic knife to cut crisscrossing diagonal lines along the wallpaper. This process allows the stripping solution to soak through the perforations in order to loosen the adhesive backing. 

Step 4: Apply the Stripping Solution

Once mixed, pour the stripping solution into a spray bottle. Climb up the step ladder and spray the starting edge of the wallpaper border with the stripping solution. Give the solution about 10 to 15 minutes to soak through to the adhesive, then use your fingers or a scraping tool to peel away the corner of the wallpaper border. 

Step 5: Peel Off Border

Don’t rush the process. Make sure that the stripping solution has time to soak through to the adhesive before attempting to peel the wallpaper to avoid ripping or tearing the material. Keep in mind that it’s more difficult to peel off a narrow, isolated part of the wallpaper than it is to remove the entire strip. Continue to spray the wallpaper border and peel it off the wall using your fingers or a scraping tool until the entire wallpaper border is removed. 

Step 6: Clean Remaining Area

Inspect the wall to see if there is any remaining adhesive still clinging to the wall. Fill a bucket with warm water and use a scouring pad to clean it off, then let the wall dry. 

How to Remove a Wallpaper Border with Steam

The final method for removing a wallpaper border is to use steam. There are specialized tools called wallpaper steamers that are specifically made for this purpose. If you have a lot of wallpaper to remove, consider investing in one of these tools, but if this is an isolated project, you can save money by renting a wallpaper steamer from a local home improvement or tool rental store. 

What You Need

  • Drop cloth
  • Wallpaper steamer
  • Paint scraper
  • Step ladder
  • Scouring pad

Step 1: Prepare the Area

Move any furniture or appliances out of the way. Put down drop cloths to protect your floor and any nearby objects, and make cleanup easier. You should leave enough space around the edges of the room for a step ladder. 

Step 2: Steam the Wallpaper Border

Fill the steamer and plug it in. Wait until the steamer is hot enough, then position the steamer paddle on the starting edge of the wallpaper. Run the paddle along the bottom edge of the wallpaper border, gradually moving up toward the top edge. Use your fingers or a scraping tool to peel the corner of the wallpaper off the wall. 

Step 3: Peel Off the Border

The steam from the paddle combines the first two wallpaper border removal methods to heat the adhesive and also loosen it with the heated water. Continue steaming the border and lifting it off with your fingers or a scraping tool until you're able to remove the entire border. 

Step 4: Clean Remaining Area

After the wallpaper border has been peeled off the wall, there is likely adhesive or glue still stuck to the walls. Fill a bucket with warm water and use a scouring pad or sponge to clean the adhesive off the walls.

Safety Tips for Removing a Wallpaper Border

There are risks involved with any of the wallpaper border removal methods, so it’s important to take steps to keep yourself safe while you work, like wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, including gloves, safety glasses, and a mask. It’s also a good idea to have a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and closed-toe shoes that are appropriate for standing on a step ladder. 

If you are using a corded hair dryer, you might need an extension cord to ensure that you have enough maneuverability to work safely. Make sure the cord doesn’t get tangled or wrapped around anything while working. Also, be careful around any type of stripping solution. While getting a bit of warm water in your eyes isn’t a huge problem, there is a much higher risk of injury if you are using a commercial wallpaper stripper.

The steam produced by a wallpaper steamer is incredibly hot. Be careful to avoid burns to your hands, face, or body. Read the manufacturer’s directions for use and take proper precautions to avoid injuring yourself or anyone nearby.

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