Upon moving into a new house, it’s natural to want to make it yours through decorating and remodeling. One of the easiest ways to really own your space is by customizing the walls. Maybe you want to repaint the living room or add some nice embossed wallpaper to your powder room. In either case, you’ll likely need to do some prep work—especially if there’s old wallpaper involved.
But just because one of the previous homeowners used wallpaper all over (in an old pattern clearly not your style), there’s no reason to be fearful. While removing wallpaper certainly isn’t fun, it doesn’t have to be a challenge.
Chances are you will need to strip the wallpaper before refinishing your walls. The only time you can really get away with not removing old wallpaper is if you’re papering over a single, smooth layer of paper. In this case, the existing wallpaper needs to be well-adhered and free from any bubbles, buckles, and wrinkles. The prep work for papering over existing wallpaper includes repasting loose paper, patching tears if necessary, cleaning walls, and applying a special primer.
However, in more cases than not, this isn’t the best way. The type and quality of the existing wallpaper are the main factors in determining if this method is practical. If you are planning to paint, you have to remove the wallpaper. Painting over wallpaper creates a seal that will make future wallpaper removal near impossible. It will also result in an unsmooth surface.
Some newer wallpapers can be stripped dry without the need for water or chemicals. You can check using a putty knife to pry the edge of the wallpaper at a corner or seam (preferably near the bottom of the wall). If it pulls up easily and continuously, congrats! You have strippable wallpaper.
This can be easily removed by pulling the paper away from the wall in strips. If the paper is stubborn, you can use a razor knife to help it along. Hold the knife perpendicular to the wall and make a series of horizontal strips about 10 inches apart. Loosen the paper and pull it free.
If you can’t strip your wallpaper dry, you will need to use a removal solution. For this type of job, you will need a liquid stripper concentrate. Mix this with hot water according to manufacturer directions. Apply the solution to your walls with a brush or sprayer. Let the paper soak for a few minutes. Work in small sections so the paper doesn’t dry before you’re able to remove it.
If the paper doesn’t seem to absorb the water, scuff the surface with coarse sandpaper to allow for better water absorption. When the paper is thoroughly soaked, apply the solution twice more and let it soak for 30 minutes. The paper is ready to remove when you can scrape off pieces with your fingernails. Try stripping the paper by hand. You can use a broad knife as a scraper, but be careful not to gouge the drywall.
Once the wallpaper and backing are removed, spray the wall again and scrape off spots you may have missed. Wipe down the wall with a moist sponge and let it dry for a few days before painting or repapering.
Sarah is a content writer and social media assistant with a BA in literature/creative writing from Wilkes University. When she’s not spending her days at work writing, reading, and drinking coffee, she’s usually at home reading, writing, and drinking coffee. She also devotes a fair amount of time to HGTV, drawing, and doting on her dog. As a creator, Sarah believes in emphasizing personality through design and DIY projects.