Wall Paper Removal

Wall paper removal

The removal of wall paper can be a deal breaker, or even a marriage breaker!

Old fashion wallpaper has a tendency to remain applied to the wall, no matter how you might want to scrap, hammer, pull and even pray that the wallpaper will loosen up. In some instances it seems that no matter what solution, technique and clever DIY methodology is used, the wallpaper remains firmly fastened on the wall. In fact, I have witnessed frustrated homeowners destroy a wall in their attempts to remove wallpaper.

We just encountered a situation where the home had red flowered wallpaper in the stairwell and upstairs hallway. We labored on the wallpaper for longer than it took to apply new finishes to the walls after wallpaper removal. The homeowners watched the DIY networks which identified several different methods for miraculously removing wallpaper. To the frustration of us all, nothing seemed to work!

Don’t ever think, that your first attempt to remove stubborn wallpaper, will achieve the effect that several retakes on the DIY networks required!

What are some of the suggestions that we can make?

1.) Physically cover over the wallpaper / The effort required to remove stubborn wallpaper, as well as the repair of nicked walls and damaged sheetrock or plaster, must be balanced with the alternative of simply, covering over the wallpaper. There are several different methods that can be used to cover over existing wallpaper.

a.) Paint / If paint is being used to cover existing wallpaper, it is mandatory that the existing wallpaper be prepared for the new surface application. All loose or peeling wallpaper must be removed, prior to the application of a newly painted surface. The areas of old wallpaper that have been removed or peeled off, must be filled with standard gypsum board, taping compound, and either sanded or sponged, to blend the filler with the surrounding wallpaper. The use of sandpaper to blend in the gypsum filler will cause dust and will require cleaning of the remaining wallpaper surfaces. I recommend the use of a wet sponge to blend the compound into the surrounding existing wallpaper. If a damp sponge is used, care must be taken not to loosen the surrounding wallpaper, due to the moisture in the sponge.

The wall surfaces must be allowed to dry 100% prior to the application of a primer on the existing wallpaper. The proper primer should be researched with your local paint supplier. A sample of the existing wallpaper should be brought into your local paint supplier to assure that the proper primer is used. It is extremely important that a professional evaluate the existing wallpaper, to ensure that the primer used does not simply loosen the existing wallpaper from the walls.

Once the proper primer is applied, the application of a painted surface is possible. In most situations, if the preparation is proper, the new application of paint will cover extremely well. As with all construction operations, if the subsurface is firm and adhered, the application of a new finished top surface will be successful. If the existing surfaces are not properly prepared, the new finished surface, will only be as good as what is underneath.

b.) 1/4 inch or 3/8 inch sheetrock / Basically any thickness sheetrock can be used to cover existing wallpaper. Obviously the thicker the sheetrock the more room will be taken up within the room’s interior. In addition the thicker the covering sheetrock, the more difficult it will be to blend in the added layer of drywall with the surrounding trim pieces. Each trim situation will be different and must be evaluated to formulate the best method of blending the existing trim with the new application of sheetrock. In some instances, it may require a new trim piece or a special edge molding on the new sheetrock surfaces. This is the reason that, the thinnest surface layer is recommended.

The application of drywall over the top of wallpaper, will require that the drywall be properly applied, screwed and finished, to provide an adequate new surface. If drywall is laminated on an existing surface such as wallpaper, the new application of drywall should be both screwed and glued to ensure adhesion.

If drywall is used to cover the existing wall finishes, then the drywall will require the full treatment of 3 coats of taping compound, sanding, etc. There are clever methods of eliminating the normal drywall finishing, such as applying wood or vinyl trim pieces over the sheetrock joints.

c.) Wood or other material paneling / The application of a paneling over the existing wallpaper is an easy method of covering over the old wallpaper. Once again, like the application of drywall, the installation of paneling requires a blending of the perimeter with the surrounding trim pieces. However, paneling is normally thin enough to more easily blend at the edge, with the trim, than with the drywall application. The use of paneling eliminates the need to finish the wall if drywall is used as a laminate. Paneling is normally designed to either overlap of cleanly butt along the sides to eliminate the need for an additional process to finish the wall.

2.) Steam the wallpaper / There are steamers that are available, to assist in loosening the glue, that holds the wallpaper to the existing wall. It is important that the application of the steam does not damage other surrounding finishes such as fragile shades, curtains or floors. It is recommended that several towels be placed at the base of the walls being steamed, to prevent the accumulation of water that may drip down the surface of the steamed wall. The application of steam should loosen the glue, however the use of a scraper to immediately remove the paper is necessary. Steamed, existing wall paper, will quickly dry out and re-adhere to the wall surface, if allowed to remain in place too long after steaming.

3.) Soak the wallpaper / Purchase an inexpensive spray bottle that is large enough to hold at least a quart of water. Heat water on the stove and fill the spray bottle with 1/3 vinegar and the remainder hot water. Liberally spray the existing wallpaper with the vinegar and water. Allow the saturated paper to sit for approximately 2 minutes, to allow the hot water and vinegar to penetrate the paper, and soften the underlying wallpaper paste. Once it is obvious that the paper has loosened from the wall, immediately use a scraper to remove the existing paper. When this technique is used, be careful that the existing walls are not gouged or scrapped damaging the subsurface. Hold the scraper flat and even along the wall and evenly push the scraper between the existing wallpaper and the existing wall. A firm, evenly applied pressure is recommended. Due to the quantity of water used, it is recommended that towels be used along the perimeter of the room to soak up the extra water. Be careful that the accumulated water does not puddle at the base of the walls and damage the existing flooring.

4.) Etch the existing wallpaper / There are times when the wallpaper simply does not come off the walls. The steaming, soaking and scrapping is producing small, almost splinters of wallpaper. If this is occurring, and there is simply no way that the wall can be laminated with another material, there is a round cutter, or etching tool that can be used. This tool has rotating discs that are lightly toothed, to allow the rolling of its surface on the wall. This rolling is intended to distress the surface of the existing wallpaper enough to allow water to penetrate and soften the underlying glue. The technique is not meant to remove the wallpaper, but to distress the surface enough to allow any application intended to soften the adhesive, to reach this surface where the old adhesive is.

The removal of existing wallpaper is a labor intensive chore. Patience and common sense will allow the eventual removal of the wallpaper.

A few more basic observations;

1.) The use of a 6 inch taping knife, as a wall paper scraper, is useful due to its width as well as sharp edge.

2.) Careful, even and firm pressure on the blade of the taping knife, as you push the blade between the back of the wallpaper and the surface of the wallboard or plaster, is recommended. Short ragged jabs at the paper will not result in a professional removal. They may achieve frustration relief, but will cause additional repair of the subsurface, once the wallpaper is removed.

3.) Do not try to gouge or use the side, or tip of the blade to remove stubborn pieces of wallpaper. This will end up gouging the walls and create a surface that will require extensive repair.

4.) Use absorbent towels around the perimeter of the room to catch the water and moisture that will drip down the walls surface if any of the wet methods of removal are being used.

5.) Do not allow the water, that drips down the surface of the walls, to accumulate in puddles on the finished floor.

6.) Keep a plastic bag tied to your belt or attached to your belt loop, to place the pieces of removed wallpaper into. Do not allow the wallpaper to simply collect on the floor, it will dry out and make a mess that will require further cleaning.

7.) Try not to use some of the more greasy solvents that are available to remove wallpaper. This material will cause a slippery mess underfoot, and in most cases, will not enhance the removal of the wallpaper.

8.) Do not have the tendency to skip around the room, only removing the easiest pieces of wallpaper. Use a circuitous route around the room, and try to remove the paper from the ceiling to the baseboard as you move around.

9.) The use of a short 4 foot plank spanning the top of two 5 gallon plastic pails, will make a handy and portable scaffold for use around the room. It is much easier to remove the wallpaper at the top of the walls if your reach is easy and comfortable.

10.) Wash down the perimeter walls thoroughly, immediately after the removal of the wallpaper, to ensure that all the original paste and glue is removed, while it is still wet and soft.

11.) Use a large, flat sponge to apply water to the walls to soften the wallpaper glue, as well as wash down the walls. Do not use rags or paper towels for this purpose. Repeated changing of the wash water, will enhance the cleaning effect and more easily remove the left over glue on the walls. Do not simply reapply the paste with the use of the same dirty water, over and over.

12.) Use clean warm water with a little vinegar dissolved in the water to wash down the walls.   The vinegar will help dissolve the glue and will make the application of a new finish much easier.

Wallpaper removal is a difficult process, especially if the wallpaper was not originally applied with what is called a primer or a sizing. Sizing is an application of a glue like product to the walls, prior to the installation of the wallpaper. The sizing is designed to enhance the adhesive ability of the glue as well as make the future removal of the wallpaper easier. The type of wallpaper is also a principal factor in the future removal of the product. If the wallpaper is a heavy vinyl paper, it will probably be easily removed in large, intact sheets of vinyl. If the wallpaper is a more delicate and sensitive, actual paper product, the application of the wallpaper has almost been absorbed into the subsurface material. This makes the removal especially difficult and frustrating.

Patience and methodical cleanup as the wallpaper is being removed is the best method for difficult wallpaper removal.

Good luck, and remember, if you decide to apply new wallpaper, size and prime the walls, prior to the installation of the new wallpaper. The proper wall preparation, will reduce the frustration and the labor required to remove the wallpaper in the future.



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