Removing Wallpaper

Removing wallpaper can be a daunting task.

Removing wallpaper is one of the most common setbacks I see with aspiring “do it yourself” painters. Nearly everyone has wallpaper of some sort in their homes, whether they have entire rooms sheathed in it or only a couple of decorative borders.

But what to do when you’re ready for a change? Perhaps you would like a change of mood, a sunny paint job, or a decorative faux finish. Where do you even start?

Wallpaper is not as popular as it used to be, thanks in part to the popularity of faux painting techniques, but also because removing wallpaper can be difficult.

With paint, you simply paint over it (or in the worst-case scenario, apply primer and then repaint). Removing wallpaper, on the other hand, can cause a few difficulties.

One of the difficulties in removing wallpaper is that no two wallpaper removal projects are the same. There is no surefire, one-size-fits-all removal technique.

There are many types of wallpaper, and many different methods of hanging wallpaper. They all require something a little bit different.

The good part of all this is that there are only a few tools necessary. You may just have to experiment with these tools and techniques to see exactly what works.

I’ve listed some steps to take below…attempt to follow the steps. If one step doesn’t work, or you’re unable to complete the step, move onto the next step.

Necessary Tools for Removing Wallpaper

  • Spray Bottle

  • Putty Knife

  • Wallpaper Removal Solution

  • Sponge

Optional Tools for Removing Wallpaper

  • Wallpaper Perforation Tool

  • Wallpaper Scraping Tool (replaces putty knife)

  • Garden Sprayer (clean, replaces spray bottle)

  • Wallpaper Steamer
Note: Before starting, be sure to cover the floors and furnishings in plastic. Removing wallpaper requires use of both water and a wallpaper removal solution, which can damage uncovered floors and furnishings.

Wallpaper Removal


Remove the Top Layer

Peeling Wallpaper

This first step is one of the simplest, and it may very well be one of the most important to a simple, painless wallpaper removal process.

The outer layer of wallpaper is the most resilient layer. Water or wallpaper removal solution (more on this layer) must penetrate the top layer in order to soften and dissolve the adhesive beneath.

Vinyl wallpapers are the easiest to peel. Attempt to start in a top corner and pull as much of the top layer away as is possible, exposing the raw paper and adhesive beneath.

Be careful not to damage the drywall beneath, or you will have patching to do later on.

Older or more fragile wallpapers will not peel well. Peel away as much as possible with these, but if it is coming off in very small fragments, proceed to step 2.


Removing The Unpeeled Top Layer

Wallpaper Perforation Tool

If you are able to complete Step 1 and peel away the entire top layer of wallpaper, you can skip to Step 3.

For those with old or fragile wallpaper where the top layer will not peel away, you will need to use a perforation tool.

This is simply a small tool with one or more spiked wheels that perforate the top layer of wallpaper, allowing the wallpaper removal solution to penetrate to the adhesive.


Using Wallpaper Removal Solution

Spray Wallpaper

Wallpaper Removal Solution is a liquid with an enzyme that breaks down the paste or adhesive used to adhere the wallpaper to the wall.

Removal Solution is sold either as a pre-mixed solution, in a spray bottle, or as a concentrate to be mixed with water.

For sheer ease of use, I suggest buying the concentrate and using a clean garden sprayer instead of a spray bottle, especially if you have a large area to cover. This will save you time and wrist pain.

Scraping Wallpaper

If you were able to remove the top layer of wallpaper, spray down the remaining paper and paste with the removal solution. Wait five to ten minutes for the enzyme in the solution to begin working, then begin removing the wallpaper with a putty knife, or more ideally a wallpaper removal scraper.

A word of caution. Be careful not to damage the drywall beneath the wallpaper with your putty knife. Use only the flat side of the putty knife/wallpaper scraper. Do not use the corners. Badly gouged or damaged drywall or plaster can be difficult and costly to fix.

If you were unable to remove the top layer of wallpaper, be sure to perforate the outer layer well with the perforating tool before spraying with solution.

Let sit five to ten minutes, then begin scraping.

Commonly, this is enough to remove the majority of wallpaper and paste. Repeat using the removal solution and putty knife over the entire wall to remove and leftover adhesive.


Using a Wallpaper Steamer

Eighty percent of the time, the above steps will be enough for removing wallpaper from your walls.

Occasionally, due to the type of wallpaper, the condition of the walls beneath, or the procedure used to hang the wallpaper, these steps will be inadequate to finish the job.

One great tool that can be used is a Wallpaper Steamer. This tool is lightweight, easy-to-use, and very effective, especially on old, brittle wallpapers that can be the most difficult to remove.

The wallpaper steamer is used by delivering hot steam to wallpaper which penetrates to the adhesive and causes it to bubble and soften.

Caution should be used not to steam one area for too long, as the steamer may damage the drywall beneath. Be sure to read and follow the directions if you decide to purchase a use a wallpaper steamer.

Other Options

On very rare occasions, none of the above will work to get the job done. Very likely, this is because there is a problem with the walls beneath the wallpaper (unfinished plaster, for example).

If this is the case, there are a couple of options available to you yet.

Firstly, consider contacting a professional contractor. is a great online service that will match you up with estimates from local contractors.

If a professional contractor is not an option, there are a few other options available to you. If your wallpaper is in good shape, flat, and not peeling, you can prime and paint directly over top of it.

Two things need to be kept in mind.

Number one, if you prime over top of wallpaper, you must use oil-based (as opposed to water-base) primer. Water-base primer will activate the wallpaper paste and cause the wallpaper to blister.

Number two, if your wallpaper has any sort of raised design, this will be visible even after being painted.

If you peel wallpaper off of your wall and find an unpleasant surprise (walls in very poor shape, for example), you have another option as well.

Printable Wallpaper.

This unique product is a white wallpaper, available with raised designs, that can be hung to cover up beat-up walls and then painted the desired color.

I hope these tips and tricks for removing wallpaper will help make your home decoration or renovation project easier. Please check out the rest of the site for helpful painting tips and step by step instructions for great faux finishes and faux techniques.

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