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How to Strip or Repair Wallpaper

April 30 2010

Wallpaper removal is not the onerous task it once was, since papers have been easily strippable for some time, but it’s still a big job. You have to do preparation work by removing as much furniture and art as possible and covering the floors with towels or tarps at the baseboards.   

Before you start, you need to know if you are removing paper from drywall or plaster.  Drywall has been used for over 50 years in homes, so chances are pretty good that mid-century homes up to current homes are drywalled. If your home is over 50 years old, you are likely to have plaster walls.  Drywall is more delicate than plaster and more care should be taken not to remove the cardboard facing.

Next, you need to find out just what kind of wallpaper you have as there are different ways to remove the various types.  You almost always want to remove the old wallpaper before installing a new one, especially in rooms that have new cracks, or if there are bubbles in the old paper, and especially if the surface texture of the old paper is quite different from what you plan to use. 

Try a test area to see how easy or difficult your job will be.  There is no need to rent a steamer, if a spray bottle of water, a scoring tool, and a scraper will do.

Washable wallpapers may be easy to clean, but they can also be more difficult to remove.  According to Lowe’s Home Improvement website, you must break through the film that covers the paper so that water can penetrate the paper.  Next, use a scoring tool to create holes in the paper.  Soak the paper with a spray bottle into the slits so it can work in behind the covering.  Wait about ten minutes, then scrape off the paper with a putty knife or scraper.
Peelable papers have their outer layer stripped away, but the backing is left and must be removed.  Again, the scoring tool and a spray bottle will usually work.

When the spray water bottle won’t get it, you may have to step up to a liquid stripper concentrate which is applied either with a sprayer or a broad brush a section at a time, after using a scoring tool.  Follow the manufacturer’s directions, and be sure to use goggles and gloves.

Steam removal is for the hardest-to-remove papers.  After scoring the paper, steam softens the glue and the paper can be peeled away.  Steamers can be rented or purchased, and some patient homeowners have luck using clothing steamers.  Again, use goggles and gloves.  

Sometimes, wallpaper removal can’t be done when it takes the cardboard backing off the drywall beneath.   Also, it may be more of a job when a wall has been papered over an existing paper.  Painting over a wallpaper can make it almost impossible to remove. 

After the paper has been removed, the last traces of glue can be removed by using trisodium phosphate mixed with warm water.  Simply wash down the walls with the mixture, then rinse with clear water.  Repair any nail holes or scraper damage with spackle or drywall compound.  If the damaged areas are larger or drywall has come off, paint those areas with shellac, allow to dry overnight, then patch and sand it. 

Repairing Instead of Removing Wallpaper

If you have leftover paper, you can repair a tear or problem area easily:  

• Using a utility knife, cut a larger piece than the area you are replacing, taking care to match the area with the same pattern design. 

• Tape the patch over the damaged section and trace the area to be removed with a sharp razor blade, cutting right through both pieces, following the pattern as best you can. 

• Score the damaged piece to be removed with light razor strokes or a scoring tool, then apply water to loosen the adhesive.

• Use a putty knife or scraper to remove what doesn’t easily lift off. 

• Clean or sand the exposed area until it’s smooth, taking care to seal the area, then spackle and prime, if needed. 

• Apply the cut wallpaper patch into the space as directed.  Wipe down with a sponge, then use a seam roller to press the edges of the patch.  

Removing or repairing wallpaper is a messy job, but worth it to do yourself when you can. It’s not hard to do, but it is time-consuming.  Fortunately, it’s not a job that you have to do often.