Q. We’ve just moved into our new home, and the previous owners have left behind a wallpaper print in the bathroom that has got to go. Unfortunately, we have no idea how long it’s been in place—or what to expect when taking it down. What’s the best way to remove wallpaper?
While scraping away the glued-on paper of years past may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. The right tools and technique can greatly ease the amount of work you have to do. Of course, the exact tools and the best way to remove wallpaper will depend on what type of paper is up on your walls. Follow these tips to determine the wall covering your dealing with—removable, strippable, or vinyl wallpaper—and how to remove the specific style.
Before you begin, cover your floors. Protect your precious hardwood or plush carpeting with drop cloths (non-slip canvas works best) and cover the baseboards with wide painter’s tape. You’ll want to ensure that no peeled wallpaper strips or glue residue accidentally touches and sticks to these features as it comes down from the wall.
Locate a corner of the patterned paper, and give it a tug. If it’s removable wallpaper (also called temporary wallpaper), it was designed to come down easily. As long as the wall beneath the paper was painted in an eggshell, satin, or semi-gloss with a slight sheen—and then properly prepped and cleaned before installation—the paper should release from the wall with a careful pull at any of its seams. Stand on a ladder and use a putty knife to unstick the top left corner of the wall (likely the first sheet of wallpaper to be installed). Once you have enough of the perimeter lifted to grasp, take the sheet between your fingers to continue removing it. If you like the pattern enough to place it elsewhere within the house, aim to pull the wallpaper directly down rather than out from the wall in order to prevent curling and bending it. After you’ve repeated this process with each sheet, wipe the wall with a damp cloth to remove any glue marks left behind. With that, your surface is ready to be repapered or painted in any color you choose.
However, since removable wallpaper only recently emerged as a trend for homeowners and apartment renters alike, there’s a chance that this is not the type of wallpaper on your walls. If your careful attempts to peel didn’t do the trick, you may be dealing with strippable or vinyl varieties, each of which requires a different approach.
If stuck on, spray down with hot water. Strippable paper is more permanent but permeable, meaning that the water can seep through and soften the paste for easy removal when the time comes. You’ll work one section at a time, so use your first patch as an opportunity to test whether you’re working on strippable stuff. (Alternatively, if hot water alone does no good, it could be that you’re looking at water-resistant vinyl. In that case, proceed to the next method outlined below.) Simply fill a hand or pump sprayer and dampen the first panel thoroughly with hot water. After allowing it a few minutes to absorb, try peeling the panel back at its top left corner. If the paper lifts, great! Proceed one panel at a time until the wall is bare, washing the walls with warm water and a large noncellulose sponge frequently as you go to remove residual glue. Otherwise, any glue dries will require rewetting and a little extra elbow grease to remove later.
For truly stubborn vinyl wallpaper, score it and try again. To get through the water-resistant vinyl and affect the glue itself, the best way to remove wallpaper begins with rolling a scoring tool over the wall—from corner to corner and from floor to ceiling—in a random pattern. This tool’s tiny teeth create small slits that allow the liquid to seep in and loosen the glue. Then, give your supply of hot water a boost to help dissolve the glue by mixing 1/4 cup liquid fabric softener per gallon of water into your hand or pump sprayer. Heavily saturate with the solution one section of wall at a time starting at the top left and working your way down. After 10 to 15 minutes, you can start peeling back damp wallpaper where the wall meets the ceiling. You should have luck removing large pieces now that the glue has softened, but keep a wall scraper handy to shave away strips of paper that do not come off in one continuous strip. Continue spraying the hot solution onto the wall as needed, and you’ll spend less effort scraping. When you do use the scraper, take care to hold the tool so its blade is nearly parallel to the wall when you work so that you have few gouges to repair when you’re all finished.
Once the wallpaper is lifted, scrub away the residual glue. Removable wallpapers leave minimal residue behind, but could still use a cleaning. To tackle most other glues, you’ll need a bucket of hot water, liquid dish soap, and a table of baking soda—as well as an extra cup of vinegar for every gallon of water on standby if the adhesive is particularly stubborn. Soak a sponge and ring out most of the water before rubbing the solution into the sticky leftovers. Once the adhesive softens enough to scrape away with your fingernails, wipe as much as you can away with a clean rag and scrape the tough stuff with a putty knife. Clear the adhesive until not a speck remains—even one lump can mar the appearance of a fresh paint job—and finish with a quick and easy clean.
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