What Is Contact Paper?

Kitchen with floating shelf and subway tile backsplash

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Perhaps when you think of contact paper you think of musty old kitchen shelves lined with a faded floral print paper, but contact paper has come a long way in recent years. It has seen a resurgence of popularity and is available in countless colors and designs, providing infinite possibilities for creativity. So, what exactly is contact paper and how can it be used? We're here to tell you all about it!

What Is Contact Paper?

Contact paper is an adhesive vinyl that is used for decorating, covering, protecting and lining drawers, shelves and other flat surfaces.

Uses For Contact Paper

There are countless creative and practical uses for contact paper; it's an inexpensive and non-permanent way to update your home, a good way to protect surfaces and a fun decorative touch that'll revive old furniture.

Get the Look For Less

You may have noticed the popularity of marble contact paper in recent years — it has been used to cover everything from coffee table and nightstand tops to old bathroom vanities and kitchen countertops. If you live in a rental or just want to give your kitchen a quick update while saving up for a major renovation, marble or granite contact paper is a great way to get the look for (much!) less. It's water resistant, easy to apply and removable, and it'll instantly transform a space. There is even a contact paper that looks like stainless steel and can be used on plastic-front appliances to give them a quick update!

Contact paper also comes in other forms, one such being a peel and stick backsplash. It usually comes in square foot sized sheets, and has the look and texture of backsplash tile (such as white subway tile), but instead of dealing with messy mortar and grouting, all you need to do is peel the backing and apply each sheet onto a clean wall! Minimum effort, maximum impact!

Protect a Surface

Traditionally, contact paper was used to line kitchen shelves and drawers. Big kitchen renovations and upgrades weren't as common and contact paper was (and still is) a great way to extend the life of kitchen cabinets. While the paper's main purpose in this case is to protect a surface from damage and minimize wear and tear, it's also a nice way to add a pop of color or pattern to complement your kitchen design and style.

Revive Old Furniture

Contact paper comes in many designs, from florals and stripes to wood grain and animal prints, presenting a world of possibilities when it comes to decorating with it. If you have an old dresser or chest that could use a little bit of a refresh but you don't want to get into sanding, staining or painting, contact paper is an excellent option. Use it to cover the drawer faces or for a more subtle look, cover drawer sides with it for a fun pop of pattern every time you pull out a drawer. Add some cute decorative pulls or knobs, and you have a brand new piece of furniture!

Add a Decorative Touch

If you're looking for a smaller project than updating a piece of furniture, adding a decorative touch to a small piece like a tray, a picture frame, a lamp shade or even a laptop is another creative way to use contact paper. If you have an old serving tray with a plastic or wood base, give it new life by covering the base with a fun, colorful pattern. Since the adhesive paper is water resistant, you don't need to worry about spills ruining your new tray when you're enjoying a leisurely breakfast in bed.

Is Contact Paper Removable?

Contact paper is removable which is one of its main benefits, but the ease with which it is removed depends on the type of paper and the surface that it was used on. Newer brands of contact paper are easily removable and most will peel right off when you start with one corner, but if you're having a hard time peeling off paper that's been stuck on a surface for years if not decades, applying heat from a hair dryer will help loosen it. If the paper leaves the surface sticky (which doesn't tend to happen with newer papers), simply clean it with a sponge and mild detergent or a commercial adhesive remover.

Contact Paper vs. Wallpaper

Contact Paper
  • Mostly used on horizontal surfaces such as countertops, shelves and drawers.

  • Less expensive.

  • Generally easily removable.

  • Sold in rolls or sheets.

  • Mostly used on vertical surfaces such as walls.

  • More expensive.

  • More difficult to remove if not a peel and stick wallpaper.

  • Only sold in rolls.

How to Use Contact Paper

Using contact paper is not difficult, but there are a couple steps that ensure quick and easy application every time:

  1. Make sure that the surface you will be covering is completely clean. Wipe it down with a damp cloth and remove any dust, dirt or stickiness, then give it another wipe down with a dry microfiber cloth. Once the surface is clean and dry, it's ready.
  2. Next, measure the surface you will be covering and cut the contact paper to the same size.
  3. Once you are ready to apply the contact paper, line it up where it's going and hold it in place with one hand, while peeling off the backing starting in one corner with the other hand. It's important not to take the entire backing off and just stick it down on your surface, as you run the risk of bubbles and creases forming. Peel the backing away one section at a time, gently but firmly pressing the adhesive paper onto the surface.
  4. Once you've covered the whole surface with your contact paper, run a ruler or other straight edge object over it to get rid of any lingering bubbles and you're all done!