The Process of Removing Wallpaper

Removing Wallpaper
Credit: Opensource

If you have ever tried to remove wallpaper, you probably have sworn it off forever as a wall covering. Aside from the fact that it is incredibly challenging for the novice to apply to a wall in the first place, but once you decide to make a change, you must go through a tedious process of removing it from the walls before you can apply paint. And this is no easy task because after all, you or someone else glued it to the wall and it is not going to come off in one piece.[2]

Wall paper is installed by wetting the back with an activator that creates a bond with the dry residue on the back of the paper and the wall you are applying it to.[2] If done properly with the right product, the bond keeps the wallpaper from pealing through the years.

However, it does such a good job that when and if you decide you want another wall covering, you usually end up scraping and tearing the wallpaper off which can take days for each wall.

So what are some of the best methods to remove wall paper and should you simply paint over it?

Should You Remove or Paint Over Wallpaper?

Scaping WallpaperCredit: OpensourceWhile there is no exact science to removing wallpaper, there are some measures you can take to make the job a little easier. Make no mistake though, there will be considerable effort involved no matter what. The task can be so tedious that some opt to simply paint over it but that can lead to issues down the road that ruin your beautiful paint job.

Can you really paint over wallpaper and why would you ever want to choose this option?

Yes, it is possible to simple paint over it and the reason you might want to go this route is because some papers have been on the wall so long, or were improperly installed, that attempting to remove it would do too much damage to the wall.[1]

Typically, if the surface is smooth with no apparent water damage on the ceiling, most professional painters will simply prime it and paint over it, but not before making sure all of the seams are tight and testing the paint in one area of the wall paper.

Inspect and Test an Area

So if you are thinking of going this route, take a small area of the wall, apply a primer, let it dry, then apply a top coat to it.[1] If there are no issues, then proceed as follows.

Painting over Wallpaper

  1. Wipe the wall thoroughly with a wet sponge.
  2. Repair dings or dents with surface compound and sand lightly.
  3. Wipe down with a wet sponge once again.
  4. Apply a tinted shellac-based, stain blocking primer over the wall paper.[1]
  5. Let dry for 24 hours.
  6. Look for bubbles that may have formed and make a small slit in them with a pin or utility knife.
  7. Use adhesive to glue the slits or cut areas to the wall.
  8. Apply the top coat of paint over the primer.

Only you know your home and its history so make an honest assessment of the area of your house that has the wallpaper before you proceed. This is not a time to make a decision based on how difficult the job will be one way or the other. If there is any doubt in your mind as to what is behind it, or how it was installed in the first place, remove it before doing anything else to your walls.

Ideally, it is best to start from scratch if possible. Complete removal is the only way to guarantee that the surface behind it is in good condition, without imperfections, and does not contain water or mildew stains.

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Before You Begin

There are a few things you need to have around the house before you begin removing wallpaper.

  • Blue painter’s tape
  • Baseboard masking tape
  • Wallpaper remover
  • Spray Bottle
  • A tool to tear wallpaper open
  • Screwdriver to remove wall plate covers
  • Rubber gloves
  • Plastic scraper
  • Sponge
  • Water proof drop cloth to cover the floors

So what exactly is a wallpaper remover?

Typically a wallpaper remover is a chemical purchased in any home improvement store that loosens the bond between the paper and the wall. However, you can create your own with white vinegar if you do not like to use harsh chemicals in enclosed areas.  The acetic acid in vinegar acts in the same manner as the chemicals used in the store bought removers by slowly dissolving the bonding paste on the old paper.  It is a less inexpensive, non-toxic option.

Simply mix 1 cup of vinegar and with a gallon of  water and pour it into your spray bottle. The hotter the water you use, the more effective the solution will be, so you will need to make this on the fly rather than making a large batch at once.

This is either going to go really fast (if you are lucky) or have you cursing the very existence of wallpaper. There is no way to really know before you begin, but you should get an indication early on. If the procedure is followed properly, the wallpaper will peel right off the wall, although there may be several problem areas that will required more attention.

  1. Turn off the power near the area at breaker panel. After all, you will be spray liquids around the area.
  2. Remove any electrical or switch covers on the wall and store them all in one zip lock bag with the screws.
  3. Cover the holes left open over the electrical and switch outlets with blue painter’s tape.
  4. Cover the floor with a moisture proof cloth or plastic and tape it to the baseboard using the baseboard masking tape. This tape is typically wider than the blue painter’s tape. Make sure there are no gaps in the drop cloth coverage.
  5. Using your preferred tool for opening the wallpaper, gently perforate the paper without damaging the wall behind. Some people use a knife to get started, but if you are worried about the wall, there is a specially designed tool in the wallpaper section of any home improvement store specifically for this step.
  6. Spray the wallpaper remover on the wallpaper and let it set for 15 minutes. However, if using a specific product as a remover, follow the manufacturer’s recommended instructions.
  7. Begin peeling off as much of the wallpaper as possible. Peel slowly so that you can keep it all in one piece if possible. Inevitably, there will be residual pieces that remain.
  8. Spray the solution once again on the stubborn pieces that remain on the wall and wait 15 more minutes.
  9. Now scrap the remaining remnants of the wallpaper off the walls. It is important to scrap as gently as possible to avoid damaging the drywall behind the paper.
  10. Once all of the paper and residue is removed, wash the area with a wet sponge and clean water.
  11. Let dry, then repeat several times.

Simple right?

Well, if all goes as planned it can be, but you will probably run into some issues so take your time so you do not become frustrated and damage the wall.

Steam Powered Removers

The other option would be to use a powered steamer specifically designed to remove wallpaper. These are chemical free and work all in one step. You hover the steamer against the wall while you scrap and peel the wallpaper back. These types of machines can be rented or purchased at reasonable rates and may be an easier option, especially if you are sensitive to chemicals.

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Paint Over Wallpaper

Final Thoughts

It is important to remove all of the residue bonding the wallpaper otherwise primer and paint will not adhere properly and will lead to pealing of the paint.

If you choose to remove the paper, be sure to prep and inspect walls for any imperfections or water or mildew damage. Then prime your walls with an appropriate primer before applying the top coat of paint.