How to Remove Layers of Wallpaper
Removing “dated” wallpaper from your home can be a real chore, but there are a few ways you can make it a bit easier. This DIY project is a great way to help update your new home’s appearance without investing a great deal of money.
Step 1. Determine what type of wall structure is under the paper.
If you don’t know what kind of wall you have, the easiest way to find out is to remove a light switch plate and look inside. In a matter of seconds, you should be able to tell if the underlying surface is drywall, plaster, or paneling.
It’s important to know the base material, to determine how wet you can safely get the paper without damaging the underlying wall surface. Plaster and (most) paneling can take more water during the removal process than drywall (also called gypsum board). Drywall is coated with paper and will absorb any water that is applied. Once wet, it’s easy to damage this material.
Step 2. Gather the tools you will need.
- Drop cloths/plastic sheeting to protect the floor (preferably disposable ones, so you can just throw them away when you’re finished).
- Wallpaper removal solution can be purchased at your local hardware store, or you can make your own by combining bargain-brand fabric softener with equal parts of hot water.
The hotter the water, the faster the solution will soak in and the easier it will be to remove the paper. Mix up small batches, and use it before the solution gets cold.
- Equipment to apply water to the walls. There are several methods to select from:
- Steam machines can be rented to “steam off” the layers. These entail a rental charge and often result in steam burns for the person using them. Previously quite common, this method has lost favor in recent years.
- Sponge mops can be dipped in water, or a wallpaper removal solution, and applied to the walls. This method is effective on walls that can handle the excess moisture, but it also means the solution runs down the handle and down the arms of the person applying it.
- A hand-held spray bottle can be filled with hot water and wallpaper removal solution. This method works and works well, but it’s much slower. It may be perfect for removing a border, because it will reduce the mess of excess water and will be easier to direct. For large walls and whole rooms of wallpaper, you need a better method.
- A garden “pump” style sprayer is probably the best way to get water onto the paper. You can control the stream, the strength of the spray, and the walls of the pressurized container will retain the heat of the hot water/remover solution better than a spray bottle or an open bucket, using the sponge mop method.
- Scraping tools are the work horse of this job. Your best option is a semi-flexible 3-inch blade scraper. Use this to remove any loose wallpaper, before wetting, and to remove damp wallpaper from the wall. You may also want a 1-inch putty knife for working around doors, windows, and tough-to-reach areas. A wider scraper can also be used if your wallpaper is easily releasing its hold.
- Scoring tools may, or may not, be helpful. They are used to make tiny holes in the wallpaper, allowing the water to seep in and loosen up the glue.
This is fine on a plaster surface that won’t be damaged by the tool. On drywall, however, this tool will also make tiny holes in the paper surface of the board, allowing water to seep into the chalk interior. If you have wood paneling under your wallpaper, the tool may scratch or mar the wood’s finish.
- Sponge, dishwashing soap and hot water for completing the job. A bucket or dishpan with soapy hot water will help you clean your sponge as you remove the last of the glue from the walls and clean up any messes.
Step 3. Prepare the area.
This is going to be messy, so be sure to protect floors, woodwork, furniture, and other items from accidental over-spray, from dripping, and from sloshy wads of old paper mache. (After all, you make paper mache with paper, glue, and water, right?) Once it sets up, paper mache is super hard and durable.
Imagine how difficult it will be to remove a wad or even a smallish fleck of paper mache from your floor, furniture, or upholstery. Prevention is your best friend.
Step 4. Start soaking and scraping!
Listen to your favorite music, take your time, and be patient… It’s going to take a while. Admire your progress, rather than focusing on the work that still needs to be done.
If the paper you are removing has a plastic or vinyl component, you may be able to get the wallpaper “started” in a corner. Spray your removal solution under that corner, then slowly peel back the paper in a whole sheet as the glue softens and dissolves.
Be careful not to over-soak the wall underneath (if it’s drywall). Be patient. It may take some time for the glue to soften. It’s much more efficient to wait than to pull too soon and tear the paper. In that case, your only option is scraping.
No matter what type of wallpaper you are removing, it’s best to start at the edge of a wall, at the woodwork, or at a seam. Starting in the middle of a sheet will be more difficult and will make it harder to lift big pieces at once.
If You Have Multiple Layers
On old plaster walls, it was common to wallpaper over existing wallpaper, and then to wallpaper over that, and so on. Most of this older wallpaper is uncoated, decorated paper and will readily absorb the water from your sprayer. Be patient and remove one layer at a time. Trying to remove multiple layers at once will usually take longer, and be more frustrating, than removing each layer individually.
Step 5. Clean up.
Use your sponge, rinsed in soapy water to wipe down the walls. This will be the final step, after the wallpaper is removed, to eliminate any remaining remnants of glue. Be sure your sponge is wrung out so you aren’t soaking the wall (particularly important on drywall surfaces).
When finished, towel-dry the walls and let them air-dry overnight before painting or doing any other finishing work on your new, paperless walls. Be sure to patch and make any needed repairs after the walls are fully dry, before painting or adding any new wall treatments.