How to Remove Wallpaper

Removing Wallpaper

Gary Ombler / Getty Images

Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 3 hrs
  • Yield: 100 square feet
  • Estimated Cost: $25 to $100

Removing wallpaper from your walls might be one of those projects you've considered for a long time, except for one thing: rumors of its difficulty. Whether you or someone else originally installed the wallpaper, that paper may indeed be a chore to remove. But that's only if you approach this project without a plan. When you have the right tools and materials, you'll be able to do a faster, cleaner, and easier job of removing your wallpaper.

Wallpaper Removal Basics

If you've ever removed other surface coverings—self-adhesive vinyl flooring or shelf paper, for instance—you might wonder what makes wallpaper so uniquely difficult to remove. The answer has as much to do with the wall as it does with the wallpaper.

Wallpaper Bonding With Drywall Paper

Drywall is coated with a paper facing. When this paper is joined with the wallpaper, these two like materials bond especially well. Pulling the two laminated materials apart is hard to do in any clean way. Both are porous, thin, and tear easily.

When the wall has previously been painted with semi-gloss or gloss paint, removal is somewhat easier. With this, the drywall paper is less porous, plus the paint helps to hold the drywall paper together.

Wallpaper Adhesives

The ingredient that gives wallpaper paste such incredible wet-tack properties is starch. Modified wheat starch has long been used for wallpaper adhesive. Even today, you'll find modified wheat starch as the main solid ingredient in most wallpaper adhesives.

If you've ever encountered stubborn wheat starches in another common form—dried pasta residue on a pan, perhaps—you'll know that hot water breaks up those starches so you can wash them away. With wallpaper, the same concept applies. Moisture plus heat, with a short amount of rest time, equals an unbeatable combination for breaking up those starches and removing that wallpaper.

Liquid Stripping vs. Steam Removal

There are two methods you can use: liquid stripper or steam removal.

With liquid stripping, you spray or sponge a biodegradable chemical stripper to the wallpaper and let the product soak in for a few minutes. A mixture of propylene glycol and water, this solvent penetrates the paper and softens the adhesive.

With steam removal, you combine water in the form of steam, along with heat, to soften the adhesive. You will need a dedicated steam wallpaper remover; you cannot use a clothes iron or a clothes steamer.

Liquid Stripper Method
  • Inexpensive

  • Good for small areas

  • Fewer tools required

  • Removal incomplete sometimes

  • Uses chemicals

Steam Removal Method
  • Uses no chemicals

  • Complete removal or nearly so

  • Adhesive residue remains

  • Machine purchase or rental required

  • Wet and often messy

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Wallpaper Liquid Stripper Method

  • Putty knife
  • Wallpaper scoring tool
  • Clean sponge

Wallpaper Steam Removal

  • Wallpaper steamer
  • Putty knife
  • Clean sponge
  • Wallpaper scoring tool

Materials

Wallpaper Liquid Stripper Method

  • Wallpaper stripper in spray bottle
  • Sheet plastic
  • Tape

Wallpaper Steam Removal

  • Sheet plastic
  • Tape

Instructions

Use the Wallpaper Liquid Stripper Method

  1. Apply the Wallpaper Stripper

    Tape sheet plastic around all areas of the wallpaper that will not be removed.

    Turn the wallpaper stripper bottle to the ON position but not to a spray-mist. Spray the product, following with the sponge to distribute it over an area about 2 feet by 2 feet.

    Wait about five minutes for the product to penetrate the paper. In the meantime, watch for any drips and clean them up.

  2. Begin the Removal

    Gently push the putty knife under the paper and lift the paper away. Do not scrape or gouge the wall with the knife. The wallpaper should easily lift off. If not, score the wallpaper with the scoring tool. Make about ten holes every square inch.

  3. Repeat the Process

    Apply more of the wallpaper stripper and let it rest for five minutes. Repeat the process of lifting the wallpaper off with the putty knife. You might have to do this a few more times to get the wallpaper off cleanly.

  4. Clean Up the Last Bits

    Some wallpaper adhesive may remain on the wall. Use the wallpaper stripper to remove this. Spray it on the wall and spread it with the sponge. Let it rest for a few minutes, then scrape the liquified adhesive off the wall with the putty knife.

    Wipe down the wall with a new, clean sponge dampened with water.

Use the Wallpaper Steam Removal Method

  1. Prepare the Steamer

    Fill the steamer reservoir full of water, up to the waterline mark. Do not overfill the steamer.

    Attach the handle and hose to the large steamer plate. Plug in the machine and turn it on.

    Wait for the machine to build up steam. Most machines will have indicator lights that tell you when the machine is ready. This can take five or ten minutes.

  2. Steam the Wallpaper

    Lay the plate on a section of wallpaper and press the trigger for 15 to 20 seconds. Immediately remove the plate.

  3. Remove the Wallpaper

    Immediately begin peeling up that section of the wallpaper with the putty knife.

    If this isn't working well, score the wallpaper with the wallpaper scoring tool. Steam that section again and try peeling it up.

    Continue with the process until the wallpaper is gone.

    Warning

    Never refill a wallpaper steaming tool while it is hot. This can lead to eruption or spilling of hot water, which can lead to burns. Wait until the tool is completely cool before refilling it.

  4. Clean Up the Adhesive

    After the paper has been removed, go back and re-steam so that you can scrape up any residual adhesive. Once it's all gone, use a new, damp sponge to wipe down the wall.