Three Easy Methods On How To Remove Wallpaper

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Removing wallpaper in your home is an easy task. Careful planning at the beginning of the project and patience will help the task move along smoothly. There are three different ways to remove old and outdated wallpaper and they're described in detail below.

Get started by covering your floor with plastic sheeting. Tape it to the baseboards with painter's or masking tape. Next, lay out a drop cloth over the plastic so you don't slip on the plastic. The drop cloth will help absorb water when stripping the wallpaper.

1. Dry Stripping Many modern wallpapers are manufactured to be strippable, which is the easiest type to remove. Begin at a corner or seam and gently lift away from the wall with a putty knife at about a 10-degree angle. Slowly peel back the wallpaper to see if it will separate from the wall. Do not pull the paper away at a 90-degree angle; it may damage the surface of the wall. If it doesn't easily release from the wall, apply water with a sponge to help dissolve the wallpaper adhesive. After removing the wallpaper from the room; scrub up the walls with a detergent such as trisodium phosphate (TSP) to remove the rest of the adhesive under the wallpaper. It is a good idea to use rubber dishwashing gloves when using TSP, it is a strong detergent. The final step is to wash the walls with a sponge and clean water, inspect for any defects that require patching or sanding and you are ready to paint or re-wallpaper.

Ready for Planting Finished Product

2. Chemical Stripping

If dry stripping was not successful, you're probably dealing with a wall-covering that is not strippable. A chemical stripper or remover solution is the next step. There are wallpapers that are actually manufactured as vinyl or acrylic (not paper) and are waterproof. It will be necessary to score the surface in a crisscross pattern with a scoring tool. Using this special tool is a good technique to prevent damage to the wall surface beneath the wallpaper. After scoring the vinyl or acrylic wallpaper it is time for the chemical stripper. Most strippers will need to be mixed with water. Read the manufacturer's instructions for the ratio of chemical stripper to water.

A word of caution about working with chemicals; always wear protective gloves (dishwashing gloves are fine) and eye protection such as safety glasses or goggles. Be certain to cover exposed electrical outlets on the walls with tape or plastic. Or, if possible, turn off the power in the room.

Apply the stripper with a sponge, brush, paint roller or spray bottle evenly over the wallpaper and let soak for 20-30 minutes. Stubborn wallpaper may require several applications. If you have a very large wall or several walls to strip, you may want to buy a garden sized sprayer (Hudson sprayer) to make the job go faster.

An alternative to chemical strippers is a mixture of one gallon of water and ¼ cup of white vinegar or fabric softener for a less toxic solution than harsh strippers.

After applying the stripper, use a wall-scraper or putty knife to scrape the wallpaper off the wall. If working with drywall, scrape carefully to prevent damage to the softened drywall paper. A wider putty knife is better than a narrow one to help prevent damage to the wall.

When finished, use a sponge and trisodium phosphate (TSP) to remove the any residue of adhesive left behind the wallpaper. Use rubber dishwashing gloves when using TSP it is a strong detergent. Finish up by washing the walls with a sponge and clean water, inspect for any defects that require patching or sanding and you are ready to paint or re-wallpaper.

3. Steam Stripping

Renting a steam stripper is less messy than using chemical strippers and may be worth the extra expense. Sometimes, wall-covering stores will make these available at a discount when purchasing your wall coverings. It is a good idea to ask. Using a steamer to remove old wallpaper requires scoring the wallpaper surface in a crisscross pattern. Using a scoring tool will help prevent damage to the wall surface.

Fill the steamer tank with water and plug-in the steamer to heat the water. When the hand-held plate begins to expel steam; it is ready to use. Hold the steamer plate against the wallpaper to soften the adhesive and scrape off the wallpaper. Work in small areas as you move around the room.

Steamers generate a considerable amount of heat. Wear protective gloves and eye protection. Steam condenses into water, so cover wall outlets and switches with tape or plastic and turn off power to the room if possible.

When the steamer has loosened the glue, or adhesive, use a wide putty knife or scraper to remove the wallpaper. The wall surface may be soft, so use caution to prevent damaging the wall.

Wash the walls with trisodium phosphate (TSP) and a sponge to remove the residue of adhesive left behind the wallpaper. Use rubber dishwashing gloves when using TSP.

Finish up by washing the walls with a sponge and clean water, check for any surface defects and you are ready to paint or re-wallpaper.

4. Clean Up

Whatever method you use to remove the old wallpaper; it is important to have a clean and even surface for paint or new wallpaper. Applying trisodium phosphate (TSP) will leave the wall surface with a slight residue and texture. Always finish up with clean water in preparation for the wall finish surface. Patch any nail holes, cracks, or defects at this time. Older plaster walls may need a coat of acrylic primer to provide better surface adhesion for paint or wall covering.

5. Tools & Materials

  • The following tools will help:
  • Drop cloths & plastic sheeting
  • Plastic water bucket
  • Sponge
  • Putty knife or scraper
  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety glasses or goggles
  • Wallpaper scoring tool
  • Paintbrush, roller, garden sprayer or spray bottle
  • Step stool or ladder
Last Updated: October 20, 2011
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About Bill Washburn William "Bill" Washburn has a BA in advertising from the Art Center College of Design and has taught at the University of Southern California and Northrup University. Writing from a well-connected studio in the rural foothills of the west coast, he is a frequent speaker at local art associations and has published numerous articles discussing periods of art history and the fundamentals of drawing and painting. William is a master gardener who grows his own culinary herbs, organic heirloom vegetables and a variety of fruits. He writes frequently about his gardening experiences on his website Pioneer Dad. He is an accomplished advertising writer, fine art painter, and art director with more than 20 years' experience. 

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