Any number of imperfections, from nail holes to degraded plaster, may lurk underneath wallpaper. Another ugly truth: The wallpaper you see may in fact be only the top layer of several applications. It’s hard enough to remove one layer of wallpaper, let alone multiple layers. If you have no plans to move, it may be worth the effort to strip away the paper entirely. But if you need a quick fix, you can actually get good results painting over wallpaper! You can achieve a brand-new look with a minimum of hassle.
MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
- Oil-based primer/sealer
- Paintbrush and roller
- Oil-based paint
To paint over wallpaper successfully, take the time to properly prepare the papered wall. This may involve the counterintuitive task of repairing or replacing loose or missing sections of the wallpaper. At the very least, prep work here requires cleaning the walls with trisodium phosphate, a chemical better known as TSP.
TSP is such strong stuff that it must be diluted. Mix it with water in a bucket, aiming for a ratio of one half-cup for every two gallons of water. Closely follow the manufacturer’s usage directions, including the labeled safety warnings. Adequately ventilate the room in which you are working, and don’t forget to wear protective gear.
TSP can be applied with a sponge or even an extra paintbrush. Once the TSP has dried, use a damp (but not dripping wet) rag to remove the chemical from the wall. Tread carefully. Too little water, and you may not get the chemical off, thereby compromising the paint’s ability to adhere. Too much water, and you run the risk of damaging the wall.
If after you’ve gone to the trouble to paint over the wallpaper it ultimately starts to peel, you’re not going to like how it looks. One way to prevent subsequent peeling is to apply an adhesive compound where the wallpaper is most vulnerable—at the seams where it meets the ceiling and floor. An even better approach is to coat the wall with a combination primer-sealer. Not only does primer-sealer minimize the chances of peeling, but it also provides a surface to which the paint can readily adhere. Use an oil-based primer-sealer, not a water-based product; after all, water and wallpaper don’t mix. Whether or not you choose to seal and prime, be sure to opt for an oil-based paint when you’re ready to coat the walls.
Once the walls are clean and you’ve applied the primer-sealer (if you’re going that route), give the walls enough time to dry. You are now ready to begin painting. Approach the job as you would any other painting project: Use a paintbrush to cut in at the corners and along edges, then let the roller do the rest. You’re probably going to need a couple of coats.
Let the first coat dry completely before you proceed to the next one. During the interim, consider sanding the wall. It’s tedious, yes—less so if you own a power sander—but sanding minimizes imperfections and could greatly improve the finished appearance of your work. Either way, the very last step is to paint the top coat. When you’re finally finished, stand back and admire the difference. Where once there had been wallpaper you had tired of, you’ll now see gleaming, freshly painted surfaces!