Tips For Painting Over Wallpaper

Can You Paint Over Wallpaper?

It is possible to paint over wallpaper successfully, but only if the paper is tightly gripping the wall and appears to be in good condition. Even though removing wallpaper is a tedious and messy job, it is the best option if the wallcovering is overly defective. It doesn't make sense to spend time preparing wallpaper for a paint job if it's likely to peel off one year later and ruin the wall.

Sometimes removing wallpaper isn't an option. Older wallpaper is very difficult to remove, if not impossible, because the original paste and primer underneath dried out long ago and now sticks to the wall like concrete. I had to remove 1950s wallpaper from the walls and ceiling in a large bathroom once and the wallpaper wouldn't come off with a heavy duty commercial steamer, or stripper, so I ended up preparing and painting the paper instead and you couldn't tell there was ever wallpaper underneath.

Prime Before Painting Over Wallpaper

Wallpaper should always be primed before applying paint, especially if the wallcovering is really old. Painting wallpaper without priming it first can turn into a huge nightmare. Withouth the initial application of the proper primer sealer, the water in latex paint can penetrate the wallpaper, causing it to loosen, bubble and peel off the wall in the middle of a paint job.

The best primer to use is an oil-based primer sealer, such as Kilz or ProBlock from Sherwin Williams. Yes, it smells horrible, but it will totally seal the surface 100% and prevent stains or bubbles from ruining your new paint finish. Not only will a primer sealer seal the surface, but your new paint will bond exceptionally well to it. You can always apply latex paint over oil-based primer.

I like to prime the walls first and do all of the wall patching second, but either way is fine. It is a little easier to prime the walls first, because the primer is white, which makes it easier to see the defects and wallpaper seams that need to be patched. If you patch the walls after priming, it's a good idea to also prime the patches separately when you're finished with the repair work.

Wear a respirator, or at the very least, a dust mask. Open the windows to air out the fumes if you use an oil-based primer, which I do recommend for the best results. Use a 1/2" nap roller to apply the primer and a natural bristle paint brush to fill in the corners and spaces around outlets. Cover the entire wall surface with 1 coat of primer and let it completely dry. It usually takes at least 3 hours before you can apply the paint.

Prepare Wallpaper for Paint

Preparing wallpaper for paint is the most important part of the whole job. The new paint finish will only look nice if the preparation was done correctly. If you take the time to do it right in the beginning, you won't see the wallpaper seams, or any defects, after the walls are painted.

The only way to hide the wallpaper seams is to patch over them with joint compound. I don't recommend using basic wall spackle because it shrinks too much and it doesn't dry fast enough. The best material to use is SheetRock 45 minute joint compound in a bag. It dries in 45 minutes, but you can also buy the 20 minute version if you can patch the seams fast enough before the compound dries. This material is mixed in a mud pan with water.

Inspect the wallpaper seams before patching. A lot of times the edges of the paper within the seams are peeling back a little. Scrape across the peeling edges with a taping knife to remove loose ends. You can also lightly gouge the wall all the way down the seam to remove the loose paper edge. This way the paper will remain slighlty below the surface and you can easily level it out with the joint compound.

Pour a little water into the mud pan and carefully add the joint compound. Mix it up with a 6-inch taping knife. Fill in all the seams with a thin coat of joint compound. Do not leave thick edges on the patches. After the first coat of compound has dried, lightly sand it and apply a very light second top coat of compound. Sand it again.

Now check the rest of the wallpaper for bubbles, holes or peeling paper at the bottom of the walls where the paper meets the base board trim. For bubbles, scrape them off and patch over them with the patching compound. The same thing goes for any other wall defects. I like to caulk the base board trim. This way any loose edges of the paper gets sealed underneath and remain totally hidden.

Paint the Wallpaper

Before you starting painting, sand the walls. The primer can leave a slightly rough texture on the wall, but a light sanding will smooth everything out. Wipe the dust from the walls with a clean rag. Double check the walls before slapping on the first coat of paint. All drywall seams should be patched correctly. The baseboard should be caulked and everything primed from top to bottom.

Be sure to repair any neglected surface defects before applying the first coat paint. You can use just about any type of paint on the walls, but if you're worried about the quality of your repair work then use a flat paint to make the surface less noticeable. Cut-in the ceiling lines and apply 2 coats of paint to complete the job. If you patched the seams correctly, you won't see the seams and you won't be able to see any traces of wallpaper. It will look like a brand new wall.

This article was written by Matt Goetz, owner of the painting company Advantage Painting Services. Advantage Painting provides Crystal Lake, IL painting service, as well as service in Cary, Lake In The Hills, Fox River Grove, Huntley, Trout Valley and more.

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Comments 2 comments

moonlake profile image

moonlake 4 years ago from America

Good information. We have had to paint over old wallpaper and it worked. We did it pretty much the way you listed.


Matt G. profile image

Matt G. 4 years ago Author

Thanks. Glad to hear it worked for you. I've painted over wallpaper many times without any problems, but I do prefer to remove it if possible. As long as the material is tight to the wall and everything is patched and primed well, paint will do fine.

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