Wallpaper is a home design trend that sticks around a lot longer than many homeowners want it to. Learn how to do DIY wallpaper removal, so that you can start with a new look in your home.
Wallpaper: the semi-trendy bane of any remodeler’s existence. Although wallpaper went out of style for a time in the early 2000s, it has been increasing in popularity again among designers and DIY-ers looking for a fun accent to a freshly updated room.
Unfortunately, with the increasing popularity of fixing up older homes, and with the return of wallpaper into our modern lives, comes the need to understand how to remove it once it no longer suits our taste or needs. This article will help you to become an expert wallpaper remover with ten simple tricks of the trade.
DIY Wallpaper Removal: What Is Your Wall Made Of?
The first major tip for DIY wallpaper removal is to determine what kind of wall the paper is attached to. Older homes (those built in the 1950s or before) may have plaster walls, later homes typically have drywall throughout. You will need to know which type you are working with to best prepare for removal.
Although drywall has a pleasing aesthetic, it is more challenging to remove wallpaper from because the paper often bonds with the surface of the drywall. Plaster walls make wallpaper removal relatively simpler, although you will have to be careful not to dig any scraping tools you’re using into the wall, which is soft and easily damaged.
If you aren’t sure what type of wall you have, remove a wall plate located around an electrical outlet or light switch. You will expose the wall where it was cut to leave space for the wiring. Plaster walls are generally thicker and less uniform than drywall. Plaster is also more likely to be pressed closely against the electrical box.
Determining your wall type will help you to understand how much pressure to use with your wallpaper scraping tools, and it will also help you to prepare for the work ahead. You will need to proceed carefully regardless of wall type, but you should note that you will have easier minor fixes with plaster walls than with drywall.
DIY Wallpaper Removal: Determine Your Wallpaper Type
That’s right, just like there are multiple types of walls, there are also multiple types of wallpaper. Depending on the type of wallpaper you are working with, you may need to use alternative methods to remove it from your walls, so it’s an important thing to know in advance to keep the process running smoothly.
Three Primary Types of Wallpaper
The three types of wallpaper that we see most often are strippable, traditional, and vinyl/laminated. All three types have their pros and cons for installation, but it is easy to determine which is going to give you the least amount of trouble upon your DIY wallpaper removal.
Strippable wallpaper is the simplest to remove, as it is designed to be removable without damaging your walls or wasting your time. Once loosened, it comes off in strips instead of in small pieces like many other types of wallpaper, making the process move much more quickly.
Traditional wallpaper is not designed for easy removal but is also not coated or treated in any way, so a simple water rinse can usually free it up. The benefit of this type of wallpaper is that it does not typically require chemicals or specialty tools to remove. This is the most common type of wallpaper found in older homes.
Vinyl/Laminated wallpaper is by far the most difficult to remove. It is washable, meaning water will have a difficult time penetrating its surface and getting to the adhesive portion on the back. This type of wallpaper generally requires chemical sprays or special tools to remove.
Do Prep Work Ahead of Time
The third step in the DIY wallpaper removal process is the prep work. You will want to ensure your safety and the cleanliness of your floors through a few simple preparatory duties. Doing this work the night before you plan to remove your wallpaper will save you time, and allow you to start fresh the next day.
First, you will want to remove everything from the walls in question and push furniture away to keep it from getting in your way or getting wet. Then, you will want to remove the wall plates from any electrical outlets or light switches since your wallpaper likely runs beneath the surface of these plates.
After you have removed your wall plates, cover any outlets with painters tape to prevent moisture from getting into them. Finally, you should place a drop cloth or other covering on your floor to avoid getting moisture, adhesive, or wallpaper pieces on your flooring.
Make sure you also tape over any wainscoting or floorboards to keep them safe from damage. Treat this prep as if you’re prepping to paint so that you can ensure you are doing no damage to your floors, walls, or furniture in the process.
Finally, you will likely need water regardless of your wallpaper type, so have a small bucket of plain water ready to go nearby with a rag. You will also need a putty knife, soap, and a few clean towels. You may need a scoring tool as well, such as a box cutter or pocketknife.
Create The Right Removal Solution
Now we’re at the fun part: making a solution to get the wallpaper off of the walls. If you have strippable wallpaper, you won’t need more than water to loosen it and get it down, so this section isn’t for you. The most common type of wallpaper is traditional, and there are all kinds of solutions out there for its removal.
The simplest home-remedy style solution is water mixed with dish soap or vinegar. A bucket of warm water should be mixed with a quarter cup of dish soap or a cup of white vinegar, or both if you’re feeling crazy. Most people recommend Dawn dish soap, but many find that the brand makes no difference, so use what you have.
If you prefer to avoid soapy walls or hate the smell of vinegar, there are a few more options available to you as well. Most home improvement stores sell small bottles of concentrated wallpaper remover. Typically these removers contain chemicals that help to break down the adhesive behind wallpaper and make it easier to remove.
The instructions for each brand are different, but they are on the bottle. Simply mix the proper amount with water, and you are ready to go! These solutions are almost always necessary for vinyl or laminate wallpaper, and you will find that there are solutions made specifically for these wallpaper types when you hit the store.
If you would prefer the ease of the chemical solutions without the toxicity, there is one more option to consider: the steamer. Handheld steamers used to be the way wallpaper was removed back when almost every home had one, but since their decline in popularity, steamers have been used less and less for this task.
Steamers help to aid any of the above methods of wallpaper removal and provide a great alternative as well, if none of the solutions noted above appeal to you.
Earlier we told you that you might want a scoring device to help you in the DIY wallpaper removal process. These devices are a fantastic help when it comes to getting your solution behind the paper, especially with laminate or vinyl wallpapers where the treatment on their surface makes them difficult to penetrate.
Scoring a few areas before you apply your solution to the walls is the best way to make your solution work for you, so don’t be afraid to score liberally as you go. Generally, you will be working on one section of wall at a time, but you can score ahead while you wait for your solution to soak in, which saves you time.
Go With The Grain
Although we typically picture wallpaper application in tall strips from the top of a wall to the bottom, that’s not always how it was applied. When you do your initial test on a corner to determine your wallpaper type, it’s also important to note the direction that your wallpaper is hung.
If you are trying to strip wallpaper horizontally when it was applied vertically, you will have a much more difficult time than if you were to work with the grain or remove it the same way it was applied.
For Difficult Jobs, Soak and Set
When you are working with wallpaper that wants to hold strong and doesn’t seem to be budging despite your best tricks, you will want to soak your walls in solution for a longer period. This is where you may also want to involve a steamer, but that’s not always easy to do if you weren’t planning on it.
Soaking your walls liberally with your solution, and then letting that solution set will help to loosen your paper, and the longer it sits, the more it will loosen up. Generally, manufacturers instructions tell you to soak walls with water or a simple solution for 10 minutes or so, but with tough paper you will want to let it go for at least 20.
When we say soak, we mean it. Don’t spray a gentle amount of solution on the walls. Pretend you’re soaking your car pre-wash and get those walls as wet as you dare. It really does help, especially when you’ve already scored your wallpaper as well.
Step-By-Step DIY Wallpaper Removal Process
Materials & tools needed:
- Dishwashing soap
- Wallpaper scraping tool
- Wallpaper removal solvent
- Drop cloth
- Wallpaper scorer
- Spray bottle
- Putty knife
- Step ladder
- Fabric softener
- Place drop cloths at wall base to be stripped. Remove switch plates and outlet covers from wall. Cut power to the room.
- Use wallpaper scorer to create small holes in the wallpaper.
- Combine water and fabric softener in a large spray bottle in a ratio of 1:1.
- Saturate a section of the wallpaper with the spray bottle. Spray as much as you can strip in 15 minutes. Allow it to soak the wallpaper for a few minutes before stripping.
- Grab wallpaper at bottom corner and slowly pull upward. Use putty knife to help with the DIY wallpaper removal. Repeat above steps until all wallpaper is gone.
- In a bucket, mix a tablespoon of dishwashing soap with hot water. Get this on to a damp sponge and wipe down the walls, carefully scrubbing to remove the wallpaper adhesive. Rinse down the walls with clean water and towel dry.
DIY wallpaper removal isn’t the most exciting job, but if you follow our simple tips, it doesn’t have to be too painful. Determining what type of wallpaper you have is the most important thing when it comes to making your wallpaper removal stress free, and using our other tricks after the fact will help you to get the job done right.
Make sure you prep well, use the right solution and tools, know what you’re working with, and always prepare for a difficult job. If you do all of those things, you will be sure to have your wallpaper removed in no time, and be on your way to the much more exciting parts of your remodel!