How to Remove Wallpaper

Removing Wallpaper

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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 remove your wallpaper faster, more cleanly and with greater ease.

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, both are thin, and both 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 solids ingredient in most wallpaper adhesives.

If you've ever encountered stubborn wheat starches in another common form—dried pasta residue on a pan—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 for 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

Wallpaper Liquid Stripper Method

  1. Tape sheet plastic around all areas of the wallpaper that will not be removed.
  2. 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.
  3. Wait about five minutes for the product to penetrate the paper. Watch for any drips and clean them up.
  4. Gently push the putty knife under the paper and lift it away. Do not scrape or gouge the wall with the knife.
  5. The wallpaper should easily lift off. If not, score the wallpaper with the scoring tool. Make about ten holes every square inch.
  6. Apply more of the wallpaper stripper and let it rest for five minutes.
  7. Repeat the process of lifting the wallpaper off with the putty knife.
  8. Some wallpaper adhesive may remain on the wall. Use the wallpaper stripper to remove this. Spray on the wall and spread it with the sponge. Let it rest a few minutes. Scrape the liquified adhesive off the wall with the putty knife.
  9. Wipe down the wall with a new, clean sponge dampened with water.

Wallpaper Steam Removal

  1. Fill the reservoir full of water, up to the waterline mark.
  2. Attach the handle and hose to the large steamer plate.
  3. Plug in the machine and turn it on.
  4. 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.
  5. Lay the plate on a section of wallpaper and press the trigger for about 15 or 20 seconds. Remove the plate.
  6. Immediately begin peeling up that section of the wallpaper with the putty knife.
  7. If this isn't working well, score the wallpaper with the wallpaper scoring tool. Steam that section again and try peeling it up.
  8. After the paper has been removed, go back and re-steam so that you can scrape up any residual adhesive.

Warning

Never re-fill a hot wallpaper steaming tool. Wait until the tool is completely cool before filling it.