When COVID-19 hit and lockdowns were starting to be put in place, I was down in North Carolina, where I ended up staying at my parent’s vacant condo for almost four months, since going back to my apartment in New York City was not a safe option. The condo is straight out of the ‘80s with laminate cabinets, floral valances, and wallpaper everywhere, even in the kitchen.
While many things haunted me about the decor and style in the condo, and others I embraced for their grandmillenial style that is making a comeback, one thing that had to go was the heinous wallpaper in the bathroom that was begging to be removed.
Every time I would step foot in the bathroom I would find another little corner ever so slightly peeling away from the wall that I would have to hold myself back from tearing down.
After a quick call with my parents, I found out that they despised the wallpaper, and it was time for me to get to work. I mean, we were in quarantine and I didn't have much to do other than bike miles around the retirement community we were living in, so why not dive into a project around the house?
I’m Not a DIYer, But I Can Do This, Right?
Background about me: I’ve never painted anything or done any type of DIY before, so I was truly a novice. But, I oddly love assembling IKEA furniture and have a love for interior design and decor, so I was confident between my patience and creativity that I would be able to remove the wallpaper and paint the walls to make it look a little more updated.
Where to start? Social media. I took to Instagram to poll my followers—which is composed of DIYers, renovators, stylists, and genuinely crafty friends—to see if they’ve ever tackled this kind of project and what their advice was. The most popular responses were:
- Using an industrial sized wallpaper steamer
- Spraying and soaking the walls with water and vinegar
- Soaking the walls with a wallpaper-removing solution that you can get from the hardware store
All these methods called for the use of a scoring tool, wallpaper stripper, and a whole lot of patience. I wanted to try all three methods as an experiment—again, I had the time—so I made my list and off to Home Depot I went.
For All Methods: The Pre-Work
First, protect your floors
With all of these methods, you’re soaking the wallpaper which will fall to the floor. To protect your floors and baseboards, lay down towels around your room or cardboard to catch the wet paper as it’s removed from the walls.
Second, score the wallpaper
Scoring helps poke tiny holes in the wallpaper so that your steam or solution can easily penetrate the paper for easy removal. Everyone told me this was imperative in making the process go smoothly, and I wish I listened more. I did a lot in the first round, only to learn from my contractor father-in-law via FaceTime I needed to do more. After my arms felt like they were going to fall off from the 1000s of circles around the bathroom, I was ready to try the different methods. It took about 45 minutes to finish scoring the 50 sq-ft bathroom.
Method 1: Get Steaming
Get a steamer
I heard from a few people that wallpaper from the 1980s was nearly impossible to get off and that the easiest way to remove it is with a steamer, so I got this Wagner 715 Wallpaper Steamer, but you can also rent one from your favorite home improvement store if this is a one-time project.
Get some air circulating
If you have a window in your bathroom or fan, I highly recommend getting some ventilation in the room. My bathroom sadly didn't, so not only was the wallpaper steaming, but so was I.
Always follow manufacturer’s instructions. With this model, the steamplate covers a significant surface and comes with multiple size plates to help you get into narrow spaces, so you can tackle a large or small room easily with this steamer.
It was amazing how quickly the paper would peel away after holding the steamer for about 15 to 30 seconds.
Be patient. If the paper isn't coming off, hold the steamer over the area a little longer. With your scraper, gently peel away at each section. If you rush the process you can potentially damage the walls with the scrapper, which I ended up doing a few times.
PROS: The steam and water that come out of the plate really helps to easily lift the wallpaper and glue. With this method, large sheets will easily peel off the wall, making this method good for large surface areas.
CONS: I had a hard time navigating holding the steam plate in one hand and the scraper in the other, without burning myself. This caused me slight frustration, so I moved onto the next method. Also, the bathroom had many small nooks and crannies that even the smaller plate couldn't get into, so I would probably try this method again in a larger room.
Method 2: Water & Vinegar in a Spray Bottle
This method is the most affordable and the one that I found easiest. Mix an even amount of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle, and get ready to soak the walls. Spray an area, generously, and watch the paper start to soak off and separate from the walls.
After a couple minutes, you can use your scrapper to help lift and remove the paper. Make sure to be gentle with the scraper and move slowly. If the paper seems to be stuck, spray it with more water. The main key with this method is soak, soak, soak! You want to be very generous spraying the wallpaper.
PRO: In a small room without ventilation, this was the easiest for me to navigate. Soaking the paper really helped it separate from the wall easily. The spray bottle also allowed me to get into small corners easily.
CON: Vinegar smells, so get ready for the strong odor to take over your room. After about 5 minutes I barely noticed anything, but my fiancé in the other room kept complaining. Also, since you really want to soak the walls, the floors and baseboard will get quite wet. As long as you have towels down, you’ll be good to go.
Method 3: Wallpaper Removing Solution
This method was probably the one I was most underwhelmed with. Similar to using the water and vinegar, you spray the solution onto the wallpaper and have to make sure that you really soak the walls. I almost went through an entire bottle trying to get part of one wall soaked. It worked well, but I think the water and vinegar method is more affordable and worked better than this solution.
PRO: If you don't want to create a mixture or buy a spray bottle, the solution is pre-mixed and comes in a spray bottle.
CON: You need to buy multiple bottles, depending on your room size, so this could turn into a pricey option.
Looking back, the steamer might have been the better solution if I was in a bigger room and had more surface area on the walls.
If you go the water and vinegar route, SOAK the walls. If you think you’ve soaked them enough, spray more of the solution and keep soaking. I got a little impatient at times and ended up scraping when the paper wasn't fully soaked, causing it to rip part of the sheetrock off causing damage to the walls. This caused way more work than anticipated and could have easily been avoided if I had applied more solution and really let the paper soak.
I would say that anyone could tackle this project, just make sure you take your time. My lovely fiancé was working while I was doing this so he had zero hands in making this come to life. He would check in on me periodically and was quite impressed with my work and dedication. Of course, he offered to help paint the bathroom once the wallpaper was stripped and the trim was taped. I quickly told him he was absolutely crazy and he wasn’t going to touch my project for the fun part.
In the end I was proud of myself for removing all of the paper and painting it a soft, neutral color for a fresh update.