How to Strip Wallpaper

Lead Image
  • 1-4 hours
  • Beginner
  • 0-25
What You'll Need
Drop cloths
Putty knife
Warm water
Cleaning solution

The wallpaper that looked so stylish just a few years ago is now starting to scream "out of fashion," and you want to get it off your walls. In theory, stripping wallpaper is a pretty easy job. Just wet the walls to soften the glue, pick up a seam and strip off the wallpaper in large panels. However, if you ever find wallpaper that comes off that easily, it's your lucky day — so don't spend your time stripping wallpaper, and go buy a lottery ticket.

Step 1 - Get the Wallpaper Down

The way most of us strip wallpaper requires some preparation, a few specialized products and tools, and a fair amount of patience. Start by removing all the switch plates and outlet covers from the wall, and move the furniture out of the room or at least into the center so you have some room to work. It's also a good idea to spread drop cloths on the floor at the base of the walls where you're removing the wallpaper.

The problem with just spraying the wallpaper to soften the glue is new vinyl coated and multi layer wallpapers are designed to prevent water from getting in and softening the glue (that's what makes them washable). Instead, make some holes in the wallpaper surface to allow the water to penetrate.

The underside of a wallpaper scoring tool.

Lightly scoring the surface with a utility knife or the edge of a putty knife will work, but it's easy to cut too deep and actually cut the paper surface on the underlying drywall. A better option is a wallpaper-piercing tool available at your home store. This little tool fits into one hand and you roll it all over the wall. Inside the tool are a series of spiked wheels that pierce the wallpaper, making lots of little holes so moisture can get through the surface and down to the glue.

Once you've scored the wallpaper, wet the walls with a solution of warm water and vinegar using a spray bottle or bucket and sponge, and leave it for 30 minutes. You can also get wallpaper remover at your home or hardware store. This is a non-toxic chemical that you mix with water and put onto the wallpaper, and some people think it works better than vinegar.

After about 30 minutes, pick a corner or a seam and gently peel back on the wallpaper. If you're lucky it will peel off, but you are probably going to need to use a wallpaper scraper (or a wide blade putty knife) held at a low angle to scrape the paper off in sections. Keep a spray bottle of wallpaper remover handy to spray stubborn areas as you work your way across the first section. It will take time, but work your way around the entire wall spraying, peeling and scraping the wallpaper.

Step 2 - Clean Up and Repairing the Walls

Once the wallpaper is off, you've still got a couple of jobs to do. First you need to get rid of any glue that is left on the walls. Trisodium phosphate (TSP) mixed with warm water should wash the glue off the walls, leaving a smooth surface. Rinse the new cleaned walls with clear water to remove any traces of the TSP.

Finally you need to repair any holes that your scraper made in the drywall. If there are just small holes, fill them with drywall or spackling compound and smooth them out. Let them dry overnight, sand the repair, apply a primer and you're ready to paint.

However, if your scraper has made some large holes in the drywall, or removed sections of its paper surface, you need to do an extra step. Before patching the holes with drywall compound, paint the exposed Gyproc with white shellac. The shellac will stop the moisture in the drywall compound from soaking into the interior of the drywall itself and causing bulges. Any large holes should actually be sealed with the shellac before washing the wall to remove the glue. Once the shellac has dried, just patch the hole, then sand and prime it.

Stripping wallpaper isn't fun, but the good news is it's not hard, just time consuming and sometimes frustrating. Take your time and keep reminding yourself how nice that new wall is going to look once you get all that ugly wallpaper off.