First off, I Google’d “How To Paint Over Wallpaper” to see what other people are saying and Oh My Gosh! All of the top 10 results and videos are terrible and full of bad / regurgitated advice! I’m going to address everything that is wrong with them below and tell you how to actually paint over wallpaper, so read on for real-world advice from someone who has painted over wallpaper many times in my career.
In the 20+ years I’ve been painting, I have removed a lot of wallpaper. I mean a LOT!
Often times the wallpaper has come off without any real issues. Sometimes it comes off amazingly well and I can pull whole sheets off at a time. But every now and then it’s like somebody super glued the wallpaper to walls!
Usually, this is when the wall was never primed before hanging the paper and it makes removal terrible. It takes forever to remove the wallpaper and the walls get seriously damaged in the process, thus requiring extensive mud work to clean up the wall.
This is a nightmare that nobody wants to get involved in!
These are the times where it may make a lot of sense to just paint over the wallpaper and save yourself the trouble.
But if paint over the wallpaper, will you be able to see the seams? Will it look terrible? Will the edges peel up?
Actually, if done right, you won’t see the seams, the edges won’t peel up, and it will look fantastic.
Why Would You Paint Over Wallpaper?
Many people consider painting over wallpaper a DIY sin, the main reason for this is often times it doesn’t look good. And if you decide to remove the wallpaper later on, it will be even more difficult since there is now an added layer of paint over the top of the wallpaper.
But even with experience, removing the wallpaper from a small kid’s bedroom can take 1-2 days if it is being stubborn.
Now imagine removing it from a large living room, dining room, and kitchen!
Ain’t nobody got time for that! (well I do, that IS my job!)
Painting over wallpaper can save you hours if not day (or even weeks) of hard work. And if done right, you really can’t tell the difference between a wall where you painted over wallpaper or a wall where you removed the wallpaper.
Sometimes, the wall where you removed the wallpaper looks even worse than if you had painted over the wallpaper. This happens when the wall gets severely damaged removing the wallpaper. While you can skim coat the wall and make it look great, skim coating is a skill that takes some practice and patience to master. Drywall isn’t easy.
So in the end, painting over wallpaper can oftentimes be faster and look better than removing the wallpaper and then painting the wall. Not to mention it can save your sanity!
Here’s How To Paint Over Wallpaper And Have It Look Amazing
Step One: Remove / cut away any loose edges of the wallpaper.
Often times, the seams and corners of your wallpaper may become loose over the years. If you go ahead and paint over the loose edges, obviously your finished project will look terrible.
Take a razor blade and cut off any loose wallpaper. Don’t worry if you rip the edges, go ahead and cut it back until you run into wallpaper that is firmly attached to the wall.
Skim Coat The Seams And Cut Spots With Plus 3 Drywall Mud Compound
In order to make it so you don’t see the seams and cut lines when you’re finished painting, you’re going to want to skim coat some Plus 3 Drywall compound over them.
Take a 6″ mud knife and run a nice coat of compound over the seam. The compound should run roughly 3″ beyond the seam on either side. Try to have the compound be roughly 1/16 – 1/8″ thick. If you press too hard with your mud knife, the compound will be thinner and won’t cover the seam very well, leaving it visible when the job is completed.
Wait for the compound to dry, usually 1-4 hours depending on humidity and compound thickness.
Sand The Drywall Compound Smooth
Once it is dry, sand the drywall compound using a 3M medium grit sanding sponge.
Medium grit sponges are perfect for painting. They are not too rough and yet still aggressive enough to make short work of drywall sanding.
Be careful though. Sanding is where a lot of people screw up. If you over-sand the compound, you’ll sand down to the seam and it will be visible when you go to paint.
When sanding, start by feathering all of the edges of the compound into the wall. Then go back and lightly sand the middle of the compound (the part that is directly over the wallpaper seam).
This will leave the compound slightly mounded up over the seam, thus making it invisible when painted over. Don’t leave the mound too high where it becomes an eyesore, but don’t over sand where you can feel the wallpaper seam beneath it. This will take a little bit of practice, so start in an inconspicuous area.
Spot Prime The Drywall Compound
Before you go and paint over your wallpaper, you’ll want to spot prime the drywall compound that you used over the wallpaper seams.
This is done to prevent flashing on the topcoat of paint. Flashing is when you get a different texture or different sheen in one area versus another, thus creating a slightly different looking spot on the wall vs the rest of the wall.
You Do Not need to go and buy a special primer for this step. Take whatever paint you plan on painting the room with and roll one extra coat (a spot prime) over the drywall compound before you start the rest of your painting.
This basically allows you to get three coats of paint over the drywall compound which will build layers of stipple (texture) and allows the porous compound to absorb the first coat of paint.
2 Coat Paint Your Walls Like You Normally Would
You are now ready to paint your walls. Go about it like you normally would for any other painting project.
Here are a few posts to help with different painting tasks:
- How To Paint High Walls
- How To Paint A Stairwell
- How To Tape Trim For Painting
- Best Interior Paint For Your Home
- The Best Paints For Bathrooms
- Paint and Primer in One: What Is It and When To Use It
Separating The Bad Internet Advice From The Good Advice
At the very beginning of this post I mentioned that I Google’s the term “How To Paint Over Wallpaper”. The advice I found in the top 10 results and videos was just plain bad.
I think most of it was written by people who’ve literally never painted over wallpaper. I even saw a video of a guy painting over a wallpapered board laying in his shop (and he did it all with a brush).
Here is the bad advice and why it’s bad:
Paint Over Everything With Shellac Or An Oil Based Primer
The claim is that the wallpaper will absorb a water-based paint or primer and peel up off of the wall.
This literally never happens. If you cut off the peeling edges, you won’t have an issue. The top layer of wallpaper will let very little if any moisture seeps through. If it does, the wallpaper won’t start peeling up automatically.
If for some reason your wallpaper does start coming up that easily, then remove the wallpaper! You’ve hit the jackpot! Insanely easy to remove wallpaper!
The reason for painting over wallpaper in the first place is that it won’t come off easily. You should test to see if your wallpaper comes off easily before painting over it. If it does, then take it off, that is always the best solution if possible.
Prime Then Apply Compound
Nope. Why would I do this? Just so I can apply another coat of primer over the compound once it is dry and sanded? No more explanation needed.
Apply Drywall Tape Over The Wallpaper Seams
This might be the dumbest tip I saw on the internet. Why on Earth would you tape the wallpaper seams with drywall tape? You’ve literally made painting over wallpaper harder than removing wallpaper.
Painting over wallpaper is supposed to be the easy solution compared to removing wallpaper. If you tape the seams, then you’ll need to 3 coat them with compound. Also, drywall has recessed edges that allow you tape the joints without getting a bulging mound of mud. This method will result in wavey walls that look terrible.
Glue Down The Peeling Edges Of Wallpaper
This can work, but it is harder than the writers who suggest it (but have never done it) make it sound. First, it’s an extra thing you have to buy (super glue), and you have to hold each edge firmly until it dries, and you have to be able to get the glue in behind the wallpaper. This is supposed to be the EASY solution!
You Must Use Oil Based Paint
No you don’t. Don’t bring that stuff into your home. Way too high VOC content and it accomplishes nothing.
Wash Your Walls With A Wet Rag
This actually isn’t bad advice, it’s just that every time I read it, it completely contradicted the authors other advice. Every time I read someone’s recommendation to wash the walls, they also made the comment that you should use an oil-based paint and primer and not water base to prevent the wallpaper from absorbing moisture and peeling. But washing the wall doesn’t cause the same thing?? Huh? (oh, and if it peels that easy, again, Peel It Off!).
Wrapping It Up
I hope my post has been helpful and I wish you the best of luck painting over your wallpaper. If you have any questions or you’ve tried my methods, please leave a comment below. I answer every comment!
Wednesday 26th of January 2022
I have read several articles about painting over wallpaper and yours certainly makes the most sense. My question is if a lot if the wallpaper comes off easily, do I need to do anything to those parts of the wall before painting them? I plan to start in a small room before tackling my bedroom.
Wednesday 26th of January 2022
Hi Jo! Thanks for the compliment!
What you need to do to the wall really depends on the condition of the wall after the paper comes off. Often times if the paper comes off really good and doesn't leave behind a lot of glue, not much is needed. A bit of patching, quick sand and you're ready to go. If the wall is in poor condition, full skim coating could be required. If a lot of glue residue is left behind, priming the wall with a coat of Kilz 2 Primer is a great idea (and Kilz 2 is cheap).
Monday 19th of July 2021
I keep trying to explain to my spouse that he can't just sand the wallpaper down with a power sander. He asked me why and I told him it is just too messy. Well, the 5-7 layers of wallpaper were painted before we bought the house and we are moving painfully slow and still have wallpaper we can't remove. (Layer 1&2 won't come off well, 3&4 come off easily when we get through layer 5. We already removed the lead paint from the archways and sealed in the rest.) I won't lie, it has been a year now, and we have not even finished the downstairs yet. Is their any reason why I shouldn't just let him have his way on this? The wallpaper isn't painted with lead itself.
Saturday 24th of July 2021
Hi Teresa, Your project sounds like a unique pain in the butt! Honestly, I might be tempted myself to throw some 60 grit discs on a random orbital sander and really shred the wall up, then work my way through 80 grit, 100, and 120. Then look everything over and be very generous with drywall repair. Prime everything, check drywall again, and finally move onto paint. Good Luck!
Saturday 3rd of July 2021
Hey Ryan, I grew up in painting business myself and you are right internet gives lots of bad advice. I have taking my my share of paper down as well. My question is that plus 3 drywall compound is that a special kind cause I have not seen that around where I live, unless I just overlooked it? The other one is even if you are using a eggshell sheen you will spot prime over the wallpaper not a flat? I mean of course on the walls whatever paint you're using its fine, I'm just asking?
Monday 5th of July 2021
Plus 3 is a general purpose joint compound that is lighter and cheaper than other types. It is made by USG. Great stuff.
Second question (sorry if I am not understanding the question 100%). I always spot prime any drywall compound on my walls. You could prime the entire wall, couldn't hurt! Does that answer your question?
Wednesday 28th of April 2021
Thanks so much, this is really helpful. We just bought an old farmhouse which we plan to remodel in time and we will likely have to replace most of the plaster walls as plumbing and electrical are upgraded. Until the Reno happens we want to make some cosmetic improvements and every single wall in every room in this 1900 era home is wallpapered. The wallpaper is all very old and some of the wallpapers seem better attached than others. We aren’t looking for perfection, just a less dated aesthetic for a year or two. The surface beneath the wallpaper is rough so it seems like it will be an enormous project to remove it all and resurface the walls which will later either be cut into or removed. Would you recommend painting walls covered in very old wallpaper? Should we test some inconspicuous areas to see how it looks? Should we wash the walls or vacuum? I was wondering about the same thing you point out above in several online tutorials - how is washing a wall different than priming with water based primer? Glad to hear you don’t think oil based is necessary. Any other advice you have is greatly appreciated.
Monday 3rd of May 2021
IF you plan on putting in new drywall in a couple of years, I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to paint over the existing wallpaper. If you plan on removing the wallpaper in a couple of years and keeping the existing walls (I'd go with new drywall personally), paint will only make the wallpaper removal harder.
I would dab a little glue under any bad peeling corners, prime everything with Kilz 2 latex, and then go ahead and paint. This option will make the walls look "good enough" for the next couple of years until you are ready for the bigger project of installing new drywall. I would vacuum the corners and any major dirt areas, then wash everything with a rag before beginning as well. Good Luck!