Interior design, for those of us who aren’t actual professional designers, is a hit or miss business. Sometimes you nail it, and that little nook in the corner of your living room looks perfect. Sometimes, however, you decide to “go for it” with something, and things don’t quite turn out in your favor. This could be the case with a particularly bold couch, a lampshade that actually looks weird in the daylight, and with wallpaper.
Wallpaper is a super fun way to jazz up a space quickly and easily, especially with the self-adhesive and removable wallpaper varieties that are available these days. However, sometimes you decide to go with that pattern with the gold flecks in it, or the one with the tiny elephants, or the jet black snake skin design and once it’s up on the wall you realize you’ve made an awful, terrible mistake. The good news? If it’s removable wallpaper your solution should appear straightforward. The better news? Even if the wallpaper was not designed to peel off, you can still get it off your walls without any or with minimal damage. Just follow the steps below.
Determine What Type of Wallpaper You’re Working With
If your wallpaper was installed fairly recently, you’re in luck. Most wallpaper nowadays is strippable which means it’s made to be easy to remove. You can find out which type you have fairly simply. Using a putty knife, lift up a corner of the wallpaper and grab on to pull. If the paper peels off the wall easily and keeps peeling, you’ve got yourself an easy strip job ahead of you.
If the wallpaper doesn’t budge, the process is not going to be as easy. It’s still doable, don’t worry, it’ll just be a bit more complicated. We’ve laid out both processes and recommended products for both below.
Identify The Type of Wall You’re Dealing With
The surface that puts the “wall” in “wallpaper” is also important. The age of the wall and material it’s made of dictates how careful you have to be with it. Plaster is typically found in homes over 50 years old, is more solid and produces a dull sound when you knock on it. Drywall, on the other hand, is typical in homes of the past 50 years or so and is more delicate than plaster. It’s essentially a sheet of chalk with cardboard covering it and requires more care to avoid damaging the cardboard with the scraper.
This process is not as complicated as other ones, as all it takes is peeling off all of the wallpaper, washing the walls with soap and water, and painting with an oil-based primer before repainting the walls.
Make sure to use a putty knife to pry up the first piece of wallpaper to avoid damaging the wall’s surface, and if the wallpaper rips just grab another corner and start again.
Warner 3″ ProGrip Full Flex Putty Knife
This putty knife is perfect for a job like this one, as it has a high-quality carbon steel blade and a comfortable handle for gripping. The hang hole also makes it easy to store.
If you’ve, unfortunately, found that your wallpaper is older than the strippable variety and is going to need a bit more elbow grease to pry off — don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We’ll walk you through the basics as well as random varieties you might encounter and caveats when it comes to those wallpaper types as well.
Step 1: Cover Your Bases
Before you start ripping, scraping and tearing — cover your belongings. Lay tarps out over the floor and tape them to the baseboards. Tape over all outlets, light switches and anything else electric. Better yet, if you can, shut off electricity to that room to avoid anything dangerous.
Remove all the furniture you can as well as paintings, wall decor and shelves if possible. Anything you can’t remove should get a tarp over it as well so pieces of paper don’t stick to its surface. This will make cleanup way easier and allow you to restore the room to a neutral space faster.
This blue painter’s tape from 3M has a full 14-day period wherein removing it from a surface won’t damage or leave a sticky residue behind. It’s a medium adhesive, perfect for a project like this, and is UV and sunlight resistant. Grab a roll or two of this stuff and tape everything down before you get started.
VICMORE Painters Plastic Drop Cloth
A drop cloth is a great way to get a lot of space covered in a short amount of time. Cover your entire floor with these and tape the edges to the baseboards of the room to get comprehensive protection during the entire removal process. These clothes are 100% recyclable so you can toss them responsibly after the job is done and measure 9′ x 12′ total, ideal for most rooms. They’re waterproof, dust proof and one piece so spreading them out is easy.
Step 2: Score Wallpaper
You’ll be using a liquid solution to loosen up your wallpaper and make it easier to remove. Some wallpaper responds quite well to this and will make your life easy. Other wallpaper, like the kinds designed to be used in bathrooms and kitchens, are designed to repel water. In all cases it’s helpful to use a scoring device before you drench your walls. A scorer essentially pokes tiny holes in the surface so the liquid can penetrate and do its job of loosening the adhesive’s hold on the wall. A scoring tool is an inexpensive, quick step that can save you a ton of time later when done effectively.
Use care and don’t apply too much pressure to the tool, as you don’t want to puncture the wallpaper too hard and create holes in your wall you’ll have to plaster over afterwards.
WP Chomp Wallpaper Scoring Tool
This scoring tool has two interwoven scoring heads on a pressure-reactive nylon arm that’ll go light on thinner wallpapers but can also heavily perforate thicker ones if need be. The cutting wheels are made with tempered steel for 50% more strength than other tools of this kind and the ergonomic design combats user fatigue.
Step 3: Spray Stripper Solution
In order to remove traditional wallpaper you’ll need a stripper solution that melts away the adhesive attaching the paper to your walls and makes the peeling process much easier. You can purchase formal stripper solutions that you combine with hot water or create your own at home with a homemade wallpaper remover. You can make one with a formula of 1/4 fabric softener and 3/4 hot water or 1/3 household vinegar and 2/3 hot water.
Once you’ve mixed your solution, pour it into a spray bottle or garden sprayer for easy dispensing. You can also use a paint roller if you don’t have either one of these on hand.
Once you’ve got the solution mixed apply it to a four-foot wide section of the wall, making sure the section is not so big the solution dries before you’re able to remove the paper, and wait 3-4 minutes while the solution does its job.
WP Chomp Wallpaper Stripper
This formula from WP Chomp works in conjunction with their scorer and doesn’t require any mixing with water. It also has a sprayer included that’s ready to use to make the process as simple as possible. It works on all wallpaper types — vinyl, strippable, grass, etc. The liquid also has a mild citrus scent that won’t leave your room with a funky odor, and it’s a commercial-strength formula that’s 5X less toxic than baby shampoos.
ITISLL Garden Pump Sprayer
A sprayer like this can be handy in applying a homemade solution to a large area quickly. It has an adjustable brass nozzle that can adjust the intensity of the spray easily and an ergonomic handle with a lock trigger you can use to reduce hand fatigue. The bottle is transparent so you can see how much of the solution you’ve got left, and it has a safety valve that automatically relieves pressure when it gets too high.
Step 4: Scrape Off Wallpaper
Pretty quickly after you’ve applied your stripper solution you’ll want to start scraping so it doesn’t re-dry. Using a putty knife or other scraper pry the wet wallpaper and backing off of the wall. Skip pieces that dry prematurely and capitalize on what’s still wet, you can come back to other pieces later on. If a piece of drywall comes off or plaster from the wall comes loose, work carefully around that area and try as best you can to keep your wall in one piece. You can always go back and apply extra plaster over it later on.
If this keeps happening, stop what you’re doing and re-assess. You may need to steam the wall instead of use a solution.
ORIENTOOLS Heavy Duty Wall Scraper
This 4-inch refined blade will work wonders on scraping every last piece of paper off your walls. It has a long handle with a PVC grip for comfort and control, and the stainless steel handle is anti-skid and designed to last for years to come.
Step 5: Steam Remove (If Applicable)
If a solution-based wallpaper removal is not working for you, you may have to resort to a steam removal. This process is a bit more involved, but might be the only one that works, especially if the wallpaper is old. A steamer uses boiling water, instead of just warm water, to soften the adhesive between the paper and the wall. All of the scoring and scraping steps are the same, except you use a steamer instead of spray to loosen the paper.
It’s recommended that you rent a steamer instead of buying one, but if this is not an option or you prefer to own we’ve included a highly-rated option below.
With the steamer and the spray we recommend wearing safety goggles to protect your eyes, and gloves to protect your hands.
Wagner Spraytech Steam Wallpaper Remover
This steamer uses no chemicals, only distilled water and has a designated wallpaper removal attachment that can be used to lift paper easily. It can reach up to 212°F and can hold up to 48 oz. of water to run for up to 45 minutes continuously.
Step 6: Remove Remaining Adhesive + Apply Primer
After the bulk of the removal you may find a thin layer of leftover adhesive on certain spots. Another round with the sprayer and scraper should do the trick. After that, apply an oil-based primer to smooth over the wall before applying a fresh coat of paint.
KILZ Original Multi-Surface Oil-Based Primer
This primer effectively seals off your wall from water, smoke, tannin, ink and other stains. It can be used on drywall, wood, plaster, brick and even painted metal. It dries to the touch within 30 minutes and dries enough for a recoat in an hour.