Painting Over Wallpaper Q&A
Be sure to scroll down... there may be more than one question on this page!
I want to use interior flat latex paint over wallpaper that's well adhered.
Is it worth the effort to strip the paper rather than just paint over it?
IB from St. Louis, MO
You can definitely paint over wallpaper, but I have mixed feelings about it.
First, the seams will show through the paint unless you carefully coat them with
a skim coat of wallboard compound to hide them. Second, you must use an oil
based primer to seal the paper, or the latex paint could cause the wallpaper
paste to soften, causing the paper to "bubble". Another
"hidden" problem is that many wallpapers have a texture... sometimes
not very noticeable until painted. Flowers, anyone?
Even if the paper is vinyl (which generally does not let water through) it is
wise to prime because using a good oil-based primer-sealer will insure that the
paint will stick to smooth vinyl surface.
The reason I don't suggest painting over wallpaper is that if the wallpaper
begins to fail, the walls will begin to look very ragged. The repair is not
difficult… simply cut out all the loose areas and smooth them with wallboard
compound. Since wallpaper failure tends to be progressive, this process of
failure/repair will continue on and on over the years. If you spend the time now
to strip the paper, you save yourself future disappointment.
Once you paint, the removal process becomes much more tedious and difficult,
since the paint has removed any porosity in the paper and also stiffens it by
adding more thickness to the wall. The more coats of paint, the worse it gets!
Nowadays, with the high quality chemical wallpaper strippers available,
removing wallpaper is not as much of a chore as you might think. Messy, yes, but
not catastrophic. I have an article at the site that discusses some of the
issues in wallpaper stripping.
We have wallpaper on our walls that was painted over by the former
residents. I would like to know if there is an easy way to remove it.
It is always difficult, and sometimes impossible, to remove painted-over
wallpaper without damaging the walls... especially if your walls are wallboard
or a similar product. Plaster walls can take more moisture abuse and can
stand more abuse. That is why the number one choice is to just leave it on
the walls. With the proper repairs, all but the most awful wall surfaces can be
restored to their original smooth glory!
The general procedure is to cut out all loose areas of paper and level the
walls with wallboard compound, as if you were fixing shallow holes. You can
similarly cut back loose seams and fill them. Once you do all the repairs, a
coat of an oil-based primer is required to seal the walls. If you use a
water-based primer, you may cause more of the wallpaper to release where you
don't want it to! Also, though water-based primers have really improved over the
last 20 years, they still tend to dissolve stains and carry them to the surface
of the paint, leading to possible bleed through into your finish coat.
Removal of the paper is another more serious and more difficult task. Paste
dissolving chemicals and/or a steam wallpaper remover will be your tools of
choice in this endeavor. Of course, for the chemicals or steam to get to the
adhesive beneath the paint/paper collage, you must somehow mechanically pierce
the paint film. One old-time method is to use a stiff wire brush to abrade the
surface of the paint and paper. Fast forward to the 20th Century… there is a
retail product called the Paper Tiger that does this a little more neatly and
easily. The Paper Tiger is a small hand-held tool that has hundreds of small
pins attached to wheels. Rolling it over the surface of the wall introduces
hundreds of small holes, usually deep enough to penetrate the surface but no so
deep that you will require extensive wall repair afterwards. This product is
commonly available at paint stores. The only drawback is that it may not fully
penetrate through multiple layers of paint.
One you have sufficiently scored the paint film or paper, you can begin
stripping the paper. You have two options. You can use a chemical wallpaper
stripper, available at any paint or hardware store, which is mixed with hot
water and sprayed on the surface of the wall. The chemical dissolves the paste
and helps lift the paper from the wall. Your second, more severe option is to
use a steam wallpaper stripper. Many paint stores and rental centers have these
available, and will provide instruction in their use.
If the above methods fail you, the final and least desirable method would be
to use a chemical paint stripper. Because these products are very toxic and
possibly damaging to many other surfaces (including your body), I list this as a
last resort when other less dangerous remedies have been ruled out!
Return to NH's Question and Answer Index
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+.