Guide to Wallpaper Removal

The task of stripping wallpaper is a sure way to bring a groan to the lips of anyone who has ever struggled with the cantankerous décor. It's messy, painstakingly slow, and tedious work, and few can say that they enjoy stripping wallpaper from the walls of any room. Unfortunately, there are times when it is a necessity, and one has no choice but to tackle this task head on. Before you despair, however, try these easy steps for removing wallpaper - they're bound to say you time and money, as well as helping alleviate some of the stress.

Clean Up Before You Start

Before you even think about stripping wallpaper, you will want to ensure that you have cleaned up a large area, where you have plenty of room to work. There is nothing worse (or more dangerous) than attempting to peel away wallpaper while tripping over furniture and into people. Be sure that you have moved your furniture back far away from the walls and that drop cloths have been placed down to protect your floor. While it may seem an inane task, having the extra room will help to alleviate stress and keep things running more smoothly.

The Peel Method

Some papers are designed to simply peel away from the wall in one easy stroke. While these would be the ideal, many others require that the walls be properly sized prior to the wallpaper being put up. Failure to do so can result in messy situations, where the wallpaper refuses to disengage from the walls, and has to be scraped, steamed, scrubbed and sanded away. For this reason alone, remember to size any and all walls that suggest it in the wallpaper and glue instructions.

Picking a corner or a seam where you would like to begin (usually best tested in an out-of-the-way spot), take your putty knife or scraper and attempt to lift a corner of the wallpaper. This will allow you to inspect it, so that you may ensure it's not going to make an unsightly mess before you pull up a large area in the middle of your dining room. Performing this task out of the way will help to minimize the problem and speed the task along.


If the paper refuses to peel off or, in some cases, the pattern peels off but the paper backing remains, you will need to lightly score the paper with either your exacto knife or a scoring blade. This task needs to be done very carefully so that you don't damage the drywall or plaster beneath the paper. Lightly score the paper in many areas, to allow your solution to get in under and around the paper, once you apply it. This will help to loosen the wallpaper adhesive and make it easier to work with.

So What's the Solution?

Different people will tell you there are all different kinds of solutions to wallpaper removal, and all will work well, given certain circumstances. Using an inexpensive vinegar solution may prove a somewhat smelly alternative, but might do the job in some cases, whereas commercial solutions can quickly add up to an expensive project but may help in stubborn spots where nothing else seems to work.

Another suggestion is using an ordinary household foaming cleanser, such as Scrubbing Bubbles. These products contain a stronger detergent and, with the foam solution, don't run down the walls and make as big a mess. Be sure to apply the solution fairly generously and don't be afraid to saturate the paper several times to ensure it soaks in well. As the paper soaks up the water and solution, it should make it easier to peel away.

Clean with Steam

An alternative to the saturation method is to go and rent (or purchase) a steam wallpaper removal system. While these can be costly, they do come in handy for those who tend to pull up a great deal of wallpaper and either work at restoring or commonly redecorate their homes. While these work wonderfully, they can sometimes be a little messy to use and awkward to handle. Additionally, extreme caution should be used, as wallpaper steamers can get very hot and result in serious burns when not used with the utmost caution.

Scraping and Sanding

After you've left your solution to soak or you've steamed all that sandpaper away, you will want to ensure that you have scraped away as much of the glue as possible. You may also want to lightly take a metal scrubber to your walls to ensure they are clean, or you can wait until the glue has dried thoroughly and then carefully sand off any excess glue. If the glue is still resistant, try a coarser grade of sandpaper, stepping up to a 60 or 80 grit grade.

Removing old wallpaper is never a particularly pleasant project. Commercial products can have strong fumes and can be harmful if gotten on the skin, steamers pose a hazard because they become so hot, and no matter which method you try, they all seem to amount to needing a lot of elbow grease. Taking it all one step at a time will make the project easier, and before you know it, you'll be working with those beautiful bare walls, prepping them for your latest project!