Once a very popular wall surface, wallpaper has waned somewhat in popularity. Hanging new wallpaper is now less common than removing old wallpaper in order to restore walls to a painted surface. Removing wallpapers no easy feat, especailly in older homes, where you may find layer upon layer of wallpaper, each adhered with a coat of dried glue that must be removed entirely to prepare the walls for painting. Complete removal of the old glue is also essential if you plan to apply new wallpaper.
Fortunately, it takes only a few tools and supplies to do the job—though it does take time and patience.
Before You Begin
Before complete glue removal begins, you must remove the wallpaper. This process usually easily removes the top design layer of the wallpaper, but some of the cellulose backing layer can remain attached to the wall by its glue. Cleaning off the glue, then, can also involve scrubbing away some of the backing that's still adhered to the wall. It can be a messy job if there's a lot of backing material still stuck to the wall, so be patient and refresh your bucket with fresh water and cleaning solution when needed.
Wallpaper glue removal uses a considerable amount of moisture, so it's important to cover floors and mask off electrical outlets and wall switches to prevent water damage or electrical short circuits.
Equipment / Tools
- Plastic tarps
- Painter's tape
- 2 Buckets
- Dishwashing gloves
- Putty knife or paint scraper
- Cellulose sponge
- Microfiber cloths
- Plastic sheeting
- Dishwashing liquid
- Distilled white vinegar
- Baking soda
Clear the Room
You probably cleared the room of furniture and accessories when you began the wallpaper removal process. If, however, you're working in stages, clearing the room while you do the glue removal will give you more space to move the ladder and work. If you can't remove the furniture from the room entirely, at least move it away from the walls and cover it with protective plastic sheeting.
Cover Electrical Outlets
Cover electrical outlets and wall switches with painter's tape to prevent the moisture of the cleaning solution from causing electrical problems. If practical, it's also a good idea to turn off the electricity to the work area.
Protect the Floor
Since removing the glue involves a wet cleaning solution and scraping, you should protect the carpet or flooring from drips and stains. Cover the floor with plastic tarps that are taped securely in place with painter's tape.
Mix the Cleaning Solution
In a large bucket, mix a solution of 1 gallon of hot water, 1 teaspoon of dishwashing liquid, and 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. Stir well to mix. Depending on the size of the room, you will need to mix this solution several times so it can be applied to the walls while the water is hot.
Fill a second bucket with clean warm water that you will use for rinsing the wall after scrubbing.
Wearing dishwashing gloves will protect your hands from the hot water and catch drips that might run down your arms.
Apply the Cleaning Solution
Standing on a sturdy stepladder, begin applying the cleaning solution at the top of the wall. Always work from the top down. Dip a cellulose sponge into the solution and wring until it is not dripping but still quite wet. Rub the sponge over a section of the glue-covered wall. Rewet the sponge frequently as you move down the wall. The goal here is to thoroughly moisten the glue, not to scrub it off.
Scrub the Wet Wall
After two or three minutes, wipe the wet wall with a microfiber cloth that you have dampened with the cleaning solution. The glue will have softened so you may to able to simply wipe it away with the cloth. Rinse the cloth frequently, especially if it is picking up remnants of wallpaper backing material.
Focus on Stubborn Spots
If the glue isn't budging with the cloth, try saturating it again with the cleaning solution and waiting a few more minutes. If that doesn't work, dip the damp microfiber cloth in a bit of dry baking soda and gently rub the glue-covered area. If it still won't budge, make sure the glue is damp and softened, then use a putty knife to scrape it off the walls. Work slowly with gentle pressure to prevent gouge marks on the wall.
On walls built with drywall, be careful about saturating it with too much water, as the paper facing on the wallboard can soften enough to be damaged by scrubbing. You can scrub more freely on plaster walls.
Rinse and Dry the Wall
Once the adhesive is removed. Dip a clean microfiber cloth in the fresh water and wring until only slightly damp. Wipe down the walls to get rid of all of the adhesive. Allow the area to air-dry at least overnight before attempting to paint or repaper the room.
Tips for Cleaning Glue from Wallpaper
When hanging wallpaper, excess glue or adhesive may seep through the seams, or you may accidentally get glue drips on the front of the paper. Removing unsightly glue streaks can be easy if handled properly.
Because there are so many different finishes and wallpaper materials, test these cleaning methods on a scrap of wallpaper or in a hidden area first to test for damage.
- Use a damp microfiber cloth. If the glue is still damp, try wiping it off with a microfiber cloth that has been dipped in warm, clean water and wrung until only slightly damp. Start at the top of the glue area and wipe down in gentle strokes. Always use a clean area of the cloth as the glue is transferred from the paper to the cloth.
- Use a plastic paint scraper. If the adhesive has dried in a distinct streak or droplet, try using a plastic paint scraper to chip away the glue. As you get closer to the wallpaper's surface, soften the glue with a warm, damp microfiber towel so it can then be wiped away.
- Use rubbing alcohol. If water doesn't work, dip cotton swabs in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and carefully saturate the glue with alcohol. Do not allow the alcohol to run down the wallpaper because it may cause discoloration. Wait about 10 minutes, then use the paint scraper to chip away at the glue and finish the removal with a damp microfiber cloth.