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WALLPAPER REMOVAL IS MESSY,
TIME-CONSUMING, AND IRRITATING!
That's why you want to do it right... the FIRST TIME!!
Wallpaper removal is fairly easy, but quite messy. There are two ways to
remove it, aside from ripping it off the walls with your bare hands. Don't
laugh... I have seen wallpaper that would fall from the walls with a sideways
glance. However, if yours was that easy, you would be practicing an icy stare
instead of reading this article!
All kidding aside (never), if you can get under a corner of the paper, try to
tear it off dry. If it works, it will save you loads of work. In some cases,
everything but a small amount of paste residue will remain. You can clean it off
with some wallpaper stripper and a sponge. In other cases, the facing (on vinyl
papers, primarily) will come off and leave a paper backing stuck on the wall.
This backing will be easy to get off with method 2.
Method 1 - Use A Wallpaper Steamer
The first method is using a wallpaper steamer, a piece of
equipment that can be rented. You can also buy less powerful homeowner-sized
wallpaper steamers at many home stores, such as the Wagner unit (shown left).
Wallpaper steamers send steam through a hose to a flat metal
plate similar to an iron. Pressing this plate on the wall forces steam into
the wallpaper, which softens the paper and paste. This allows you to
easily lift off the wallpaper with a wide putty knife.
If the wallpaper is heavy "strippable" vinyl, you'll need to peel off the top
layer of vinyl before steaming. Slide a fingernail or utility knife under
any corner and pull. If the vinyl comes off easily, it is strippable.
If it simply shreds or LAUGHS AT YOU... it isn't strippable. For light
vinyls and heavy papers, you'll need to score the wallpaper to allow the steam
to pass through to the glue. This can be done with a stiff wire brush or a
specialized tool... the Paper Tiger (graphic and explanation below).
This method harkens to the days of plaster
walls, still in abundance in older homes but a relative rarity in the last
twenty or thirty years. Unfortunately, aggressive steaming can damage
paper-faced wallboards, especially if the wallboard wasn't fully sealed prior
to wallpapering. In new construction, walls that are going to be papered are
often not primed with paint, but just coated with sizing. The
sizing seals enough to allow the wallpaper to stick, but offers little
protection to the walls otherwise. So steaming these walls may damage
Overall, steaming is a lot quicker than chemical removal and less
messy, so I don't discourage trying it, especially if you have lots of
wallpaper to take down.
This leads us to Method 2...
Method 2: Use a chemical wallpaper stripper
The second method involves the use of a chemical agent that is
added to hot water. This chemical is an enzyme that soaks into the paper and
dissolves the paste. It takes a little longer than the steamer, but does a
fine job and may be less damaging to the walls, especially walls that
have not been properly primed before wallpapering.
- Cover the floors with plastic tarps and put newspapers on top to absorb
excess spray and to collect the old paper. As necessary, take up the
top level of newspaper to keep the work area neat, and add more if needed.
- If the paper is strippable (keep reading), get your fingernail or a
utility knife under a corner and tear the facing off. If the
facing doesn't come off, it's NOT strippable paper! Most
heavy vinyl papers are strippable, which makes removal easier since only a
thin layer of paper and glue remain. Some thin vinyls are not
strippable so you'll need to do Step 3.
Score the face of the wallpaper to allow the chemical to pass through
the face and reach the glue. (This isn't necessary with strippable
wallpaper.) You can do this with a still wire brush, or use a
specialized tool such as the Paper Tiger (graphic right). Moving the
Paper Tiger over the wallpaper causes a small roller with pin-like
protrusions to perforate the surface of the paper, leaving the wall
- Wallpaper stripper is applied with a sprayer, either a hand-held
trigger spray type for very small jobs or a pump-type pressurized garden
sprayer for entire rooms. It will drip. That's why we had Step 1.
- Allow the chemical to do its work... do not to rush into scraping too soon. The paper should be
kept wet with the chemical until the paper is loose enough to scrape off
EASILY. As you work, if areas begin to dry out, apply more chemical.
You can also spray under the paper as you lift it off, if necessary to
dampen dry spots.
- As waste accumulates,
throw away a few layers of newspaper and put additional paper on the tarps.
- After the paper is removed, you can remove small amounts of residual paste
using hot water and just about any wall washing detergent, or you can use the
wallpaper stripping chemical as a final wash. If there is lots of paste
left, though, you may need to respray the walls with the chemical stripper to
soften it. Then, use a scraper or putty knife to remove the residual glue,
followed by a final rinse with a sponge dipped in the stripper.
- If you are going to wallpaper again, your prep is almost done.
Just give the walls a light sanding to remove any roughness and clean up all
the dust before beginning the wallpapering process.
- If you are going to paint, prime the walls with one coat of a sealing/stain
killing oil-based primer. You must prime because there will be
residual paste on the wall, no matter how much you try to remove it.
This leftover paste will bubble up if you apply latex paint over it and make
your wall look like it has acne!
- If the walls feel a little rough (like sandpaper) after you prime, you
should sand the walls again. (The
roughness is caused by that leftover wallpaper paste I told you couldn't get
completely off!). PLEASE SAND IT OFF. If you skip this step, it will be
difficult or impossible f to
remove the roughness later! (5 minutes of work now will save you 10 or
more hours of work later.)
- Clean up all the dust, and
then apply one or two coats of any paint your heart desires!
Enjoy your like-new walls!!
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Written by Jerry Alonzy
Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.
As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+.