How to remove old wallpaper

July 27, 2015

With practice, even a novice can master removing old wallpaper. Choose a smaller room, out of the public eye for your first project. And start on a wall with a minimum of windows and doors because the measuring, hanging and fitting will be easiest there.

How to remove old wallpaper

Preparing papered walls

  • If your walls are already papered, it's advisable to strip the existing paper even if the old paper is holding well, because moisture in the new paste may cause the foundation layer to soften. (However, if there's just one layer of old paper in place, you can experiment by applying a single panel and waiting a day to check results.)
  • Many wallpapers are "strippable," which means they can be removed with very little trouble. To see if the paper you want to remove is strippable, start at the top and pry up a seam edge with a utility knife.
  • Tug gently and slowly on the lifted corner, pulling down at an angle, keeping both hands close to the lifting edge.
  • If it comes off easily, peels in a long sheet and leaves no adhesive residue, then removing the old paper will be a simple one-step operation.
  • Older papers, and the newer ones applied with standard wallpaper adhesive, will probably have to be soaked to soften the paste. Protect the floor with drop cloths before you start.

Use a special wallpaperer’s tool

  • Use a special wallpaperer's tool or a utility knife to "score" or rip the wallpaper so that water can get behind the paper more easily. (An old dinner fork works nearly as well.)
  • Then soak the paper thoroughly a few feet at a time, using a sponge or a water-soaked paint roller dipped in hot water.
  • For stubborn paper, however, you may want to add a professional liquid paper remover to the hot water.

Scraping off the old paper

  • When the old paste becomes soft and the paper begins to wrinkle — about 10 minutes — scrape it off with a broad wallpaper or joint knife. (To keep the job going, have the next area soaking while you scrape.)
  • Scrape as much adhesive residue off the wall as you can. Go back later with a brush or sponge and warm water to remove any remaining paste. New paper will adhere much better to a clean wall.

Removing several layers

  • If you are going to remove several layers of paper, then consider renting a portable, electric wallpaper steamer from a hardware or paint store to make the job go faster.
  • Follow instructions carefully and keep moving, especially on wallboard. Directed too long at any one spot, the steamer can cause wallboard to blister.

The final stages

  • Once the walls are stripped, go over them for defects that might show through, and make repairs.
  • Paint the ceiling and trim before papering; it's easier to remove paste from painted trim than paint from wallpaper.
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