Removing wallpaper is a daunting job, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. It might get a little messy, and you’ll want to set aside a couple of days for the process. While there’s no quick fix, with the right tools, preparation, and some handy tips, you can achieve your DIY wallpaper removal at home. Saying goodbye to wallpaper is possible without damaging your walls — or your sanity.
There’s no getting around it — removing wallpaper is going to be a difficult, time-consuming job. It’s important to know what you’re getting into from the beginning and to come prepared. The first thing you’ll need is time; taking a whole weekend to do the job properly is going to lead to a lot less heartache down the road than if you try to rush the job in a single day. As long as you come armed with the right mindset to put in a little elbow grease and time, you’ve taken the first small step towards getting the job done.
Make sure you have all the necessary tools and materials handy before you begin. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to stop a project halfway through to make a trip to the store — or, worse, realizing you can’t get the tools you need to finish the job. Here’s a list of things you’ll need:
Before you get started, you’ll need to cover or remove everything in the room. Remove the furniture if you can, or cover it with plastic. Cover the floor and baseboard with plastic, allowing some overlap and pressing hard enough to create a seal. Remember that this is going to get messy — you want it to be waterproof. You can try to catch any runoff by creating a gutter shape with the plastic and covering it with towels. Take everything you can off the walls, including electrical outlet cover plates and vent grates, and tape more plastic over the openings. Completely shut off electricity to the room at the panelboard and use work lamps to light the area.
The first step is to peel off as much of the face as you can. Wallpaper tends to be looser in the corners, so start there. Lift the edges of the wallpaper using a putty knife if necessary, and carefully peel inward. The newer the wallpaper, the easier this step is going to be. If your wallpaper is fresh, you may be able to remove the entire sheet. Do be aware that some wallpaper, especially if it’s been up for a long time, may not come off at all using this technique, or only in small strips. If that happens, use a scoring tool to punch holes in the wallpaper before applying hot water in the next step.
After you’ve removed as much of the wallpaper as you can, it’s time to use hot water to deal with the rest. Use a sponge or mop to apply hot water to the remaining wallpaper, leaving it on for up to 15 minutes. If you have drywall, make sure not to leave it on any longer than that to avoid damaging the wall. Once the backing is soft enough to scrape off with a fingernail, it’s time to pick up a scraper and move on to the next step.
To scrape off the remaining wallpaper, you will need a putty knife with rounded corners to avoid accidentally gouging the wall. If you don’t have one, you can use a flexible metal spatula. While plastic tools may seem like a good idea, they’re generally too thick to get underneath the backing properly. The key here is not to use too much pressure in case you damage the wall, so be prepared to take your time.
Once you have manually removed everything you can from the wall, apply gel stripper to any paste and backing that remains on the wall. Leave it for 15 to 20 minutes, scrape it off, and then wash the wall with a sponge and water until it’s smooth. This is going to take a long time, but keep going until all the paste is gone. When finished, the wall should be completely smooth, without any dark or sticky patches. Any paste left on the wall will prevent future wallpaper from sticking properly, or cause paint to peel and flake off, so make sure you get every last bit.
If everything goes smoothly enough, you may find you don’t need scoring tools or gel strippers, but they are good to have on hand in case you run into trouble getting all the wallpaper and paste off the walls. Scoring tools work by punching holes in the wallpaper facing, allowing water to penetrate deeply enough to remove the backing, so be careful when you use them if you’re working with drywall. Likewise, you may not need a lot of gel stripper if most of the paste and backing comes off the wall cleanly, but have it on hand to remove the most difficult bits at the end. If you’re having trouble getting it all off, you may need to rent an electric steamer. Just remember that steam can damage drywall, so be mindful of the risks if you do need to use one.
Don’t try to tackle this step straight after removing the wallpaper, since you’ll need to make sure the wall is thoroughly dry. Start by patching up any holes in the wall using joint compound; if your walls are particularly damaged, you can use a thin layer of joint compound over the entire wall. Once that’s dry, sand the walls to smooth over any rough patches, and use a primer before painting or applying new wallpaper.
Now your hard work is over! It’s time to give your walls a new lease on life with a fresh coat of paint, or if you’re feeling brave, different wallpaper. If you do decide to go the wallpaper route, consider using self-adhesive wallpaper, which is relatively cheap and will simply peel off the wall if you decide to remove it — no need to put yourself through this process a second time.