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How To Remove Wallpaper

Removing wallpaper can be an absolute nightmare. It comes off slow, damages your walls, and creates an uneven painting surface for your painting project.

Nobody likes peeling off wallpaper, and most professionals dread this task.

How To Remove Wallpaper: The Right and Easy Way

Woman Removing Wallpaper: How To Remove Wallpaper
Woman removing old wallpaper from the wall, home renovation concept

But, removing wallpaper doesn’t have to be complicated. I have a method that I use on every wallpaper removal job of mine, and it always works.

I will show you a simple method for removing wallpaper that doesn’t involve any chemicals or any special tools or contraptions. I use the most basic tools that you likely already have lying around your house.

This method works so well, that when I get wallpaper removal jobs I am actually excited and know that I can quickly make a lot of money.

My experience: Why listen to me?

I’ve been a painter for just over 20 years. During this time, I’ve typically done 5-10 wallpaper removal jobs per year, so I’ve probably completed no less than 100 wallpaper removals over the years.

I have tried everything to remove wallpaper in my quest to get the paper off fast and with the least amount of damage to the walls.

I’ve tried the “Tiger Claw”, but this contraption damages the walls so much that it creates more work than it saves (I’d also argue it saves you zero time).

I’ve tried wallpaper steamers, which work, but they are so painfully slow I can’t stand them.

I’ve tried wallpaper removal sprays, goo, and other chemicals and decided that the manufacturers are laughing at how gullible we all are, and they can sell us anything.

My method that I’m going to show you is simple and works 98% of the time. All you need is a few basic tools and garbage bags to stuff your removed wallpaper into!

Why This Method Of Wallpaper Removal Works (and when it won’t)

Most wallpaper paste is starch-based and water-soluble, which means that it will dissolve in water or start breaking down when in contact with water.

My method is all about finding as easy of a way as possible to get water into contact with the wallpaper paste.

It is very rare when you find a non-water-soluble wallpaper paste. Typically you will find non-water-soluble wallpaper glue holding wallpaper borders up at the top of old rooms. This is because a special wallpaper glue was used called VOV paste, or Vinyl Over Vinyl. Wallpaper glue is different from wallpaper paste and thankfully, very rarely used.

I would venture to say that in my experience, I have only run into non-water-soluble wallpaper paste on borders in my 20+ years, almost nowhere else.

It amazes me how many websites give generic advice on removing wallpaper and don’t seem to know the difference between paste and glue. They often recommend scoring, detergent, sprays, and more. Please don’t listen to these ideas; my guess is most of the authors have never removed wallpaper before.

Tools Needed For Removing Wallpaper

There are only a few basic tools that you are going to need to remove your wallpaper:

Small Hand Pump Garden Sprayer

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I prefer this small hand pump garden sprayer over the larger sprayers since it is lighter, cheaper, and doesn’t spray too much water.

4″ Mud Knife

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I prefer a 4″ knife over a 6″ (my second choice) just because I can control it a little better and get even pressure across the 4″ of the knife.

Step Stool

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A small step stool should work for most rooms. If you have slightly higher ceilings, then I love this 6′ step ladder from Little Giant to get me a few feet higher.

Pre Taped Painter’s Plastic

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Pre-taped Painter’s Plastic will be used to protect your trim and floors from wallpaper paste (which is a mess) and to make cleanup super easy.

Garbage Bags

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For garbage!

How To Remove Wallpaper The Right Way:

No Gimmicks, Just Water + Time = Success

Prepping The Room For Wallpaper Removal

When you remove wallpaper, it gets messy. Before you you get started removing any wallpaper, you need to prep the room and get ready for the mess you are about to make.

Wallpaper Removal Mess
A HUGE mess I made removing wallpaper! Thankfully floors were being replaced!

Start by removing anything from the walls, including outlet covers, switch covers, photos, and furniture.

Next, wipe down all the trim in the area so that it is clean and your pre-taped plastic will stick to it properly.

Last, run your pre-taped plastic on the trim in the room and pull the plastic out. It will pull out 5′ from the wall, which should be plenty to catch any falling paper and paste from the wall while you are working.

Using the tape and plastic will serve to keep your trim and floors clean during the job as well as catching any excess water and keeping it from getting into your floor.

Removing The Top Layer of the Wallpaper

Getting the edge of wallpaper
In this photo, I am using my mud knife to pry up the bottom edge of the wallpaper.

Now that the room is prepped, It’s time to remove the top layer of the wallpaper.

When I say top layer, I mean that the wallpaper will split into a front and back section. The top will have the picture on it, and the back will be a sheet of fuzzy paper that is still pasted to the wall.

Pick a sheet of wallpaper and find the bottom corner of the paper. Use your 4″ mud knife and gently try to peel up the corner of the wallpaper until you can grab it with your fingers.

Pulling off the top layer of wallpaper.
Pulling off the top layer of wallpaper.

The wallpaper’s top layer should separate from the back layer leaving the paper backing still stuck to the wall. This is fine and what you should expect.

Sometimes you will get lucky, and the top layer of wallpaper will peel off in rather big sheets, sometimes even entire sheets from floor to ceiling. Most of the time though, we are not this lucky.

I like to go around the room peeling up as much of this top layer of wallpaper as will come up easily. Sometimes that means I can get all of the top layers off; other times, I can barely get a few chunks of the top layer off.

Spraying Water Onto The Wallpaper

Once you’ve removed as much of the top layer as possible, it’s time to go around the room and get everything wet.

I like to go around the room and spray all of the backing paper left on the walls once with water.

Once I have made it around the room, I respray everything. This allows the first spray time to soak into the paper before spraying it again.

The second time spraying continues saturating the paper and allowing the water to penetrate the paper and reach the wallpaper paste behind the paper.

Usually, a third time spraying the walls is necessary. There is a happy place where the wall is thoroughly saturated and where water is running down the wall excessively, pay attention because this is where you want to be.

Scraping Off The Paper Backing

Scraping off the wallpaper backing and paste.
Using a mud knife to scrape off the paper backing after it has been thoroughly saturated with water.

At this point, you should be able to take out your 4″ mud knife and start scraping off the paper backing.

If the paper is thoroughly saturated and the water has been able to access and dissolve the paste, it should scrape off quite easily.

Take your time to keep the mess on top of your plastic covering the floor.

What About The Top Layer’s That Haven’t Come Off Yet?? (Trouble Areas)

Like I said earlier, sometimes that top layer of wallpaper doesn’t want to peel off very easily.

When I run into this, I try to at least get a small area of the top layer off; even a few square inches will do.

Then spray that area with water multiple times and let the water penetrate to the paste beneath the paper.

What will happen is the water will penetrate the edges of the paper even where the top layer hasn’t yet come off; this will allow you to peel more of the top layer and start working your way out from the small area of the top layer that has been peeled off so far.

This will cause a significant delay when removing wallpaper, but be patient and try to find as many areas as possible where you can apply water and start saturating the paper to dissolve the paste.

Cleaning Remaining Wallpaper Paste Off The Walls

Once you have removed all of the wallpaper from the walls (top and back layers), there will likely still be a fair amount of wallpaper paste left on your walls.

To remove this, wet the walls one more time with your garden sprayer, give it a few minutes to dissolve the paste, and scrape it off with your mud knife. This is where a 6″ mud knife will come in handy if you happen to have one.

Getting The Walls Ready For Paint

Before painting any walls that previously had wallpaper, you will need to do a little bit of work.

Skim Coating The Walls

Oftentimes, walls that previously had wallpaper can be in pretty rough shape. This can be from a bit of wallpaper paste left behind, damage from scraping or anything else.

Patched and sanded walls
Patched and sanded walls after wallpaper has been removed.

In this case, you will want to skim coat your walls.

Skim coating is a bit of a skill, and there are some great tips to make this process go quickly and look great. I am planning an in-depth post on this in the next few weeks, so make sure to check back soon, and I will link it here.

Sanding The Walls

Whether or not I skim coat my walls, I always make sure to sand them before applying any paint or primer.

I sand my walls to knock off any remaining wallpaper paste and to smooth out the walls.

I like to grab a 3M angled medium grit sanding sponge for this. They are aggressive and slightly bigger than other sanding sponges.

Priming The Walls

I always prime any walls that previously had wallpaper on them before I paint them to get a primer coat over the wallpaper paste.

Wallpaper paste is made from starch and can cause your top coat of paint to flash (look uneven and blotchy).

A coat of primer will seal in any remaining starches and allow your top coat to go on smooth and have an even look.

I recommend using Kilz 2 since it is cheap, does the job, and is available almost everywhere. Read my review of Kilz 2 here.

Removing Wallpaper Borders or VOV Wallpaper Glue

I’m not going to lie to you; removing wallpaper glue (not paste) is awful. .

Wallpaper glue (VOV glue) is not water-soluble, so getting it to release the wallpaper can be tricky.

Since this type of glue is typically used to add a wallpaper border on top of existing wallpaper, I usually try to remove the wallpaper under the border.

If you can get the top layer of the wallpaper under the border to peel up, then you don’t have to worry about actually removing the border. This is your first and best option.

If that idea doesn’t work for you, another option is to use a hairdryer.

Since the glue can’t be dissolved with water, heat can often cause the glue to soften and allow you to pull the wallpaper off the wall once it has warmed. This method is slow, but it does work.

One method that does not work is almost all wallpaper stripping sprays. Most don’t do anything special and are designed for removing wallpaper paste, not glue, which can be done with plain water. So don’t waste your money on these!

Removing Layers Of Wallpaper

I wish I had a special trick for you here, but removing layers of wallpaper oftentimes means putting in more work of everything I stated above.

If you get lucky and can get to the bottom-most layer, try to see if you can peel it up while taking the layers on top of it with you. If you can, consider yourself luck and smile!

Some Notes On Scoring Tools and Steamers

If you’ve read any other posts about removing wallpaper, you’ve probably read over and over that you should score the wall, steam the wall, use fabric softener (or other sprays).

The only piece of that that I totally disagree with is the fabric softener/sprays.

There is something to be said for scoring tools and steamers, but I still don’t use them.

Scoring Tools:

Scoring tools work by putting a bunch of tiny holes into the top layer of the wallpaper and allowing the water that you spray onto the top layer of wallpaper to penetrate through the top layer and get to the paste that is holding on the wallpaper.

In theory, this works. In reality, these scoring holes go into your wall, cause a lot of damage, and in my opinion, don’t help nearly enough to compensate for the damage they cause to your wall.

Steamers

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Using a wallpaper steamer to remove your wallpaper works just fine. However, I think it is a slow method. You can only steam one small area at a time, roughly 12″ x 12″ and you have to wait for each spot to saturate and loosen.

However, I did just order the steamer above and am planning on doing a full review and test to see if it can remove wallpaper any faster, so stay tuned!

In Conclusion

I hope that this post helps you with your wallpaper removal project. If you have any questions or comments, make sure to leave them below, I answer every question left here on DIY Painting Tips.

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