How To's - How to Remove Old Wallpaper

How to Remove Old Wallpaper

Removing wallpaper is a simple, straightforward process. That said, there’s no sugar-coating the effort involved. It’s hard, messy work. But if you have wallpaper and it needs replacing, you don’t have any other options.

Unless you have a very small room, you probably will need at least two days to complete the job. If it’s a big room, you might need three. The prep will take some time and the first phase will go by fast. Then it’s all slow, careful detail work, so you don’t miss anything and don’t damage the walls.

Let’s get started!

Tools Needed to Remove Old Wallpaper

You can save a little time having the tools for the entire project ready to go right from the start. Here’s what you’ll need:

• Bucket
• Sponge
• Masking tape or painter’s tape
• Plastic drop cloths
• Metal putty knife with rounded corners (sharp edges will gouge the wall)
• Gel stripper
• Utility knife
• Towels & rags
• Broom & dustpan
• Screwdrivers (Philips and Slot head)
• A spray/misting bottle with water
• Portable work light
• Plastic or vinyl work gloves—heavy duty would be best
• Shop vac (optional)
• Scoring tool (as needed)

Materials Needed

Once you finish removing the wallpaper, you may need to repair the walls. (Sometimes wallpaper is used to hide serious defects in the wall.) Any repairs would be done after all the wallpaper has been removed, so it makes sense to assess any damage once you’re finished and purchase materials as needed.

Here are materials you might need:

• Sand paper or sanding blocks
• Vinyl spackle or joint compound
• Drywall patching materials

Step 1: Prep

Before you begin to remove wallpaper, you need to prep the room:

1. Ideally, furniture should be removed. If it cannot be removed, then it should be moved to the center of the room and covered with plastic drop cloths.
2. Next, use your masking or painter’s tape to tape plastic drop cloths all along the baseboards. You will be using a lot of water that will run down the walls. This will bring with it the wallpaper adhesive. It’s messy and you don’t want it on your wood floors or carpeting.
3. Now, lay towels all along the wall. It will soak up the water. Make sure you have spare towels nearby to replace those that get saturated.
4. Remove outlet and switch covers. Tape over the outlets and switches to limit the chance of water getting in.

With the furniture moved, plastic taped, towels laid down, outlet covers removed and outlets taped, you’re ready to start removing the wallpaper.

Step 2: Remove Wallpaper Facing

This step can be the easiest. Find a section of loose wallpaper. You can often find loose wallpaper in a corner, near the ceiling or even by an outlet. Start pulling. It will probably pull off really easy.

This step removes the facing of the wallpaper. It’s the top layer with the design. If you can’t remove the facing, some glossy or vinyl faces are waterproof and may not remove as easily. In this case, you can use a scoring tool to poke holes in the wallpaper. But only use this tool if the facing cannot be removed without scraping, otherwise you will damage the drywall or plaster under the wallpaper.

Step 3: Scraping

This step has two parts – application of water and scraping. You’ll want to work this in sections as you’ll need the paste wet for easier removal. But, you don’t want to get the wall too wet as that would damage the paper surface of the drywall.

If you have plaster underneath, it can handle the water. If you wet too large an area, the water will dry before you get there and you’ll have to reapply.

Here’s how to do this step:   

1. Wet an area of wall with the hottest water you can handle. You could use a floor mop (with sponge rather than cloth), if desired.
2. Let the backing soak up the water. It will soften. Check with your scraper (or fingernail) to see when it starts to pull away from the wall.
3. Once the backing is soft, scrape carefully at a very low angle to remove the wallpaper backing. Take it slow, as you don’t want to gouge the wall.

Do this section by section until all the backing is removed.

Step 4: Remove Paste

Once you’ve removed the backing, a lot of paste will be left. Now it’s time to go back and make sure you get it all. This is also the step that takes the most effort.

Here’s what to do:

1. Wet areas where you see paste. Scrape off as much as you can.
2. Once you’ve done all the walls, wash the walls with a sponge and clean, warm (or hot) water.
3. Now, grab your misting bottle. Spray the wall, section by section, holding the work light to illuminate the area you sprayed. You’re looking for a dark sheen. If you see it, you’ve found residual paste. You need to remove this or it will ruin your new coat of paint, or bubble new wallpaper.
4. Scrape paste. If it doesn’t come off, use the gel stripper.
5. Once you’ve removed all the paste, wash the walls one final time. Clean up the floor (leave the plastic, remove the towels). Let the wall dry overnight.
6. Go get some rest.

Step 5: Prep Wall for Re-finishing

Once the walls are dry, it’s time to prep for finishing. Fill small gouges with vinyl spackle. Use joint compound for larger repairs. Sometimes, you may need to repair drywall, either that got damaged during the wallpaper removal, or that was originally damaged and hidden by the wallpaper.

Once patched, sand repairs smooth. It’s worth checking the entire wall for smoothness if you will paint, as any imperfections would have been hidden by the wallpaper.

If you are going to put up new wall paper, first prime with an acrylic primer. This will protect drywall from damage if this new wallpaper is removed in the future.

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