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Removing Wallpaper

By Jim Sulski

Summary:Removing wallpaper, although tedious, is a task that should be done thoroughly before a painting or wallpapering project begins. Here are tips to make this process easier.

After buying the nearly century-old house, the couple had decided to remove the flowery wallpaper from their son's bedroom and put up a more appropriate racecar pattern.
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They believed if all went well, the job could be completed over the weekend.

The first snafu came when they found not one but two layers of wallpaper hidden under the floral design. The bottom layer looked like it had been hung early in the century.

It took several bottles of chemical stripper and hours of scraping to get all the wallcoverings off the walls. Next, decades old glue had to be removed, again requiring hours of scraping and washing.

With all the old wallpaper gone, the couple found huge cracks in the old plaster-and-lathe walls. They spent the next several days plastering and sanding.

Instead of a weekend, the work continued part-time over the next few weeks. During the process, the room looked like a construction zone.

For anyone who has wallpapered, the above scenario does not sound unfamiliar.

Unfortunately, working your way down to the bare walls is the right way to do the job. Putting up new wallpaper over old wallpaper, or painting over wallpaper just buries any problems.

Even if the existing wallpaper is in good shape, it could come up eventually, pulling up any new wallpaper over it. If you paint over wallpaper, the water in the paint will make it buckle and come up. And the seams of will show through.

Mildew and other stains will also eventually bleed through new wallpaper and blemish it.

To successfully removing wallcoverings, there are several steps:


When removing wallpaper, there are all sorts of unpredictable snafus you should be prepared for. For example, if you have plasterboard walls that weren't primed properly before they were wallpapered, they can literally be destroyed by ripping down the wallpaper.

Also, there's no way of determining the shape of the walls beneath the wallpaper. As a result, you may be facing plaster or drywall repair.

Hence, the first step you should take is to determine what exactly is underneath the top layer of wallpaper by literally scratching under the surface. Find a spot that's inconspicuous and pull up a corner.

This may give you an idea of the task at hand.


Wallpaper is removed via dampening it, making the glue beneath it soggy. In the past, this was usually done with an electric steamer, which looks like a large iron. The problem is they are slow.

The more popular alternative is chemical strippers, which disintegrate the adhesive behind the wallpaper.

The chemical strippers are mixed with water and can be applied with a sponge or a garden sprayer.

When using a stripper, mix it according to the manufacturer's specifications and wear protective clothing - especially safety goggles and rubber gloves. Carpets and furniture should be covered and protected when using the strippers.


Before applying the stripper, the top layer of wallpaper should be scored or lightly cut with a utility knife or a scoring tool, which looks like a pizza cutter.

Foil and vinyl papers especially need to be scored, as they are impervious to moisture.

After scoring a vertical patch of wallpaper, soak the paper with the stripper, washing from the bottom up to prevent streaking. Or use the steamer to loosen it.

Peelable or strippable wallpaper of the last ten years or so may be pulled off by hand. Otherwise, use a putty knife or a wall scraper to remove the paper.

Keep the wallpaper wet while you're removing it and work your way up the wall. After removing a vertical strip of wallpaper, move over a bit and start again at the bottom.

If you have more than one coat of wallpaper, it's likely that they will come up only one layer at a time. You'll need to go back and score the second coat, and again soak the second - now top - layer with the stripper.


The older the wallpaper, the more likely you are to encounter glue residue on the walls. Once all the wallpaper is removed, the paste often appears as bumpy brown or gray patchy spots across the wall.

To remove the glue, wash down the walls with warm water and trisodium phosphate (TSP) or another heavy-duty detergent.

The detergent and water mixture will soften the adhesive so that you can scrape it away with a wide putty knife. Again, be careful not to gouge the walls. You can also wipe away small patches with a wet cloth.

Once the glue is removed, check for mildew. If there's mildew, wash the wall with a mixture of half-water and half-bleach.

© by Jim Sulski. All rights reserved. July 15, 2005.

NOTE: This column is distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate, PO Box 366, Glencoe, Illinois, 60022. This column may not be resold, reprinted, resyndicated or redistributed without written permission from the publisher. 

2005 by Ilyce R. Glink. Distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate.




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