Why does Wallpaper stick so well?

Happy Anniversary to The Renovator and I! Today is our wedding anniversary and we celebrated with a lovely dinner out.  🙂

Not that it’s a favorite anniversary topic, but it’s happening right now in our house – wallpaper removal. The Renovator doesn’t do wallpaper. That’s my job.

Wallpaper, by its very nature, is stuck to the wall. When it goes up, it’s supposed to stay up, not peel off in the middle of a family dinner. So a decade later, when someone comes along and says “ewww! Who picked that?!” it’s generally stuck very well to the wall and has no intention of moving. You need the ability to remove it.

Like most things with renovating, there are choices. Your first options don’t involve removal at all, but covering up. Neither The Renovator nor I care for wallpaper, but obviously lots of people do or it wouldn’t be a thriving business! If you like wallpaper, but don’t like the style you’re stuck with, option 1 is to wallpaper over top of the old paper. Yes, the person who removes it in another 10 years will hate you, but it’s a quick and easy solution.

Prep the surface by removing (or sticking down) any loose bits. Wash with TSP and a bit of bleach, let dry thoroughly, then apply new wallpaper overtop. Voila! A similar option, if you don’t care for wallpaper, but like texture, is to prepare the surface as noted, then cover with a textured, paintable wallpaper and paint. This creates a designer deco effect that looks good with chair rail around the room.

If you want a smooth painted wall in place of the 1980s paper, removal is the only option. Sometimes this is quite easy while other times it is quite a challenge.

Home renovation stores sell special scoring tools that look like a plastic half-orb with sharp pins. I can’t comment on the usefulness of these tools as I’ve never used one, but the idea is that they score the paper making it easier to remove. If you’ve used one, let me know how they work!

What I do is a two-step approach. You’ll need a spray bottle of water, a bucket (or nearby sink) to soak an old hand towel, a small (1″) putty knife and a larger (4″ – 7″) putty knife.

Start with your fingernails and the small knife. Find seams and edges in the paper and pull to remove as large of chunks as possible. Chances are, unless you’re very lucky, you’ll get just the top layer of the wallpaper. Once you’ve removed a good sized section of the top layer, spray the remaining underlayer with water and wet thoroughly with a soaked towel. While the water soaks in, continue pulling off the upper layer, spraying the edges as you go to make peeling both upper and lower layers easier.

Using your fingernails and the small knife, catch the edge of the lower layer and peel it off. This is where removal can turn unpleasant since the paper is still trying to stick to the wall! Use the large putty knife and your wet towel to scrape and wipe the underlayer and remaining glue off.

Continue in patches, removing the upper layer, soaking the underlayer, then removing the underlayer. It’s time-consuming but will leave a relatively clean finish. Be sure to wash the wall with TSP and a drop of bleach before painting to make sure all the glue residue is gone.

If, by some horrible twist of fate, the person who papered the wall did so overtop of unpainted drywall, you will not be able to remove the paper without damaging the drywall surface. There is no other option in this case but to wallpaper over top, drywall over top, or remove the drywall and install new drywall.

Wallpaper is a little thing, but as is often the case in life, it’s the little things that count, and that’s why I love being The Renovator’s wife.


Ronda Payne

A writer since she first held a pen, Ronda Payne – aka: the Girl with a Pen, is passionate about words. In 2007, she kissed ‘real jobs’ goodbye and began her true career as a copywriter, non-fiction freelance writer (magazines and other periodicals) and creative writer.

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