For homeowners who want to restore walls to smooth painted surfaces, or who need to make repairs to walls, removing wallpaper is often the first step. Without the right tools and techniques, though, wallpaper removal can be a major project that leads to frustration. Commercial liquid wallpaper removers do a great job at loosening old paper. But these wallpaper removers, with their odor and cost, may not be desirable for many users.
A great alternative is to make your own homemade wallpaper remover with a simple ingredient you probably already have around the house: white vinegar. Mixed with water, vinegar's acetic acid helps to break up wallpaper adhesive. Combined with scoring the paper and a variety of gentle scrapers, this method can safely and reliably remove wallpaper from almost any wall surface.
Be aware that using vinegar as a wallpaper remover has a few drawbacks. It is a slower method than using commercial wallpaper removers, and it must be applied warm in order to be effective. The vinegar odor will be obvious for a while until the fumes dissipate, and the solution may soak into drywall unless the walls were primed and painted before the wallpaper was hung. But vinegar makes a simple, low-cost wallpaper remover, and it is considerably more effective than using water alone.
Vinegar is a mild acid that creates fumes that can irritate eyes, so it's best to work on a day when you can open windows to ventilate the room. Make sure to protect floors with plastic sheeting, and wipe up spilled vinegar mixture to avoid puddles. Removing wallpaper is a messy job, so work methodically and clean up as you go.
Equipment / Tools
- Clean bucket
- Mixing cup
- Spray bottle for misting
- Plastic putty knife
- Wallpaper scoring tool
- 5-in-1 tool
- Plastic sheeting
- White vinegar
- Warm water
Score the Wallpaper
Penetrate the surface of the wallpaper using a scoring tool. Score marks allow the wallpaper remover to penetrate through the surface print layer to the paper layer below. The tool's scoring wheels perforate the wallpaper just deep enough to allow the remover to penetrate, but not so deep as to damage the wall. You can even use the device on painted wallpaper.
Place the scoring tool flat on the wall but do not press hard on it. Move the tool in circles—most scoring tools' wheels can turn in any direction, much like swivel wheels on a chair. Perforate the wall thoroughly, striving to place the tiny gouges no more than 1-inch apart.
Measure two cups of white vinegar into a clean container. Add an equal amount of warm water from the tap and mix with a spoon. Carefully pour the mixture into the misting bottle and attach the pump top.
Vinegar is slightly caustic, so avoid getting it in your eyes. Many users can find vinegar fumes to be noxious, so keep the room well-ventilated when working with the homemade remover.
Apply the Remover
Lay plastic sheeting on the floor in front of the wall to protect floor surfaces. Lightly mist the wallpaper with the homemade remover, taking care not to overspray onto adjacent walls. When an area of wallpaper is saturated, it will begin to drip down the wall; use a sponge to distribute the mixture and work it into the wallpaper. Allow the remover to penetrate for a minute or so before continuing.
After the remover has soaked in for a few minutes, begin to remove the wallpaper, using a plastic scraper. Some large sections will begin to fall on their own and can simply be lifted away from the wall. For troublesome areas, use the 5-in-1 tool to scrape the wallpaper away from the wall but take care not to gouge the drywall. (You can scrape a little more forcefully if you are removing wallpaper from plaster walls.) If the remover has dried out, you may need to apply more solution as you continue removal.
Place the wallpaper strips in a plastic trash bag as you remove them, to avoid a soggy mess on the floor. Try to avoid tracking the vinegar/water mixture around the house, as it sometimes stains hardwood flooring.
Use a Steamer (Optional)
For wallpaper that is difficult to remove or for large expanses of wallpaper, consider using a wallpaper steamer. A wallpaper steamer steps up your game by applying well-distributed warm moisture to the wall and can be used in combination with a spray bottle of vinegar solution for tough spots. A steamer can be a good choice if your walls have had multiple layers of wallpaper applied, one over the other.
Wallpaper steamers have a steam plate that is attached to the electric steamer unit by a hose. Scoring is a necessary first step. After turning on the unit and letting it reach its set temperature, press the steam plate to the wall for 10 to 15 seconds.
As the steam penetrates the wallpaper and breaks up the adhesive, quickly follow up by scraping away the wallpaper. In some cases, the wallpaper steamer is so effective; it's just a matter of peeling the wallpaper off of the wall by hand.
After Wallpaper Removal
Use clear water and a damp sponge to wipe down the walls, removing any traces of adhesive and neutralizing the vinegar solution. Afterward, air out the room by opening windows, if possible, or setting up fans to dry out the walls. Do not allow the walls to remain wet, as the water may soak in and damage the paper surface of the drywall.
Vinegar is Not Always Safe. National Capital Poison Center.