How to Paint Over Wallpaper

Painting on Top of Wallpaper

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Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hr
  • Total Time: 4 hrs
  • Yield: 80 square feet
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $50 to $100

When wallpaper gets old, worn, and tired—or when you're just tired of your wallpaper—the logical next move is to convert it to a painted wall. In an ideal world, you would effortlessly strip off the wallpaper, exposing bare drywall, and then paint that drywall. Yet wallpaper is finicky stuff to remove. Some patches may come off with ease, with other areas simply refusing to budge. Even if you do manage to remove all of it, you can end up with a wall in poor condition for painting.

The alternative is to paint over the wallpaper. Painting over wallpaper isn't as simple as rolling paint over the paper and letting it dry. It's a process that requires some prep work for successful results. But in the end, painting over the wallpaper is often easier and cleaner than trying to remove it.

When to Paint Over Wallpaper

Only paint over wallpaper that is generally in good condition. Examine the wallpaper to determine if painting over it is possible. If it is peeling away in large sections, removing it is a smarter move than painting over it. If the wallpaper is excessively dirty, the paint won't adhere properly; if it has large mold spots, that mold will show through the paint.

If the wallpaper is the plastic-coated removable kind, paint won't adhere well to it. In fact, painting over this type of wallpaper might do more harm than good. The paint will make it difficult, if not impossible, to remove the wallpaper without marring the walls.

Preparation

With a cordless drill or screwdriver, remove items from the wall that will not be painted. This might include switch or outlet faceplates, pictures and picture hangers, shelves, or sconce lights. Set these items safely aside.

With the painter's tape, tape off all areas that will not be painted. This might include baseboards, trim, door and window casings, and large shelves.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Drywall knife
  • Drywall sanding screen
  • Drywall sander and pole
  • Utility knife
  • Paint roller and roller cover
  • Paint tray and liner
  • Respirator
  • Screwdriver
  • Cordless drill and drivers
  • Flashlight
  • Lint-free cloths or rags

Materials

  • Fiberglass joint tape
  • Drywall compound
  • Oil-based primer
  • Interior wall paint
  • Painter's tape

Instructions

  1. Cut Off Loose Pieces of Wallpaper

    With the utility knife, cut away any loose or peeling sections of wallpaper. Be careful to only cut through the wallpaper, not into the drywall. Walk around the entire room with a flashlight held at a low angle to better identify the loose areas. You will often find loose wallpaper near doors, windows, light switches, or above baseboards or any type of trim.

  2. Cut In the Wallpaper With Primer

    What Is Cutting In?

    "Cutting in," also known as "trimming in," is the practice of carefully painting a straight line and border along the wall you intend to paint. This works well in areas that are too tight to use a roller, such as between the wall and trim, between the wall and the floor, or around doorframes and windows.

    After removing the loose wallpaper, prepare the walls for paint. Working steadily with a paintbrush, cut in the edges of the wall with the primer. Be sure to brush all areas that the roller cannot reach, usually about a 3-inch band of paint.

    Warning

    Put on a respirator or other breathing safety device before opening up the primer or paint. Ventilate the work area as well as possible.

  3. Roll the Wallpaper With Primer

    Place a paint liner in the paint tray. Mix the primer well, then fill the reservoir end of the paint tray with primer. Dip the roller cover in the primer and roll it out well on the tray; the roller should be saturated with primer but not dripping.

    Roll the wall with one layer of the primer. Let it dry according to the manufacturer's directions.

  4. Tape the Wallpaper Seams

    Once the primer has fully cured, run the joint tape down the entire length of all wallpaper seams. Cut off the ends of the joint tape at the ceiling and at the baseboards. Press it into place with the drywall knife.

    Tip

    Covering the wallpaper seams keeps them flat. If paint seeps through the wallpaper seams, the seams begin to curl and peel up.

  5. Apply the Joint Compound

    With the drywall knife, run a thin layer of joint compound over the joint tape. Do not apply too much, as this only leads to more sanding later on. For any areas of wallpaper that you cut away earlier, fill in the missing section with a thin swipe of drywall compound.

    Tip

    Purchase light joint compound, as this will make the sanding process easier. To reduce dust, you may want to purchase dust-control joint compound.

  6. Sand the Joints

    Fit the drywall screen onto the drywall sander. Gently run the sander up and down the wallpaper seams. Be sure to move vertically, not horizontally. Do not press hard or you risk abrading the wallpaper.

    When done with sanding, gently wipe down the surface with a clean, lint-free cloth to remove any dust or debris that might get trapped in the primer or paint.

  7. Prime the Walls Again

    Apply a second coat of primer. Not only does this further strengthen the first coat, but it helps to seal the porous joint compound.

  8. Paint the Walls

    Once the second coat of primer is completely dry, you can paint the walls with interior wall paint, using the brush and roller. Let the paint dry for at least two hours, then apply a second coat. Make sure you have enough paint for two coats with the help of The Spruce's Paint Calculator.