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Tips for Removing Old Wallpaper

Updated on February 10, 2018
Matt G. profile image

Matt is a professional painter sharing house-painting tips, related product reviews, and his experience in the trade.

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What's the Easiest Way to Remove Wallpaper?

Removing old wallpaper can be difficult and time consuming if you've never done it before. A common method often recommended by home improvement stores is to use a Paper Tiger tool to perforate the surface, and soak the walls with hot water to loosen the backing underneath, but the problem with this method is the spikes on the bottom of the tool poke tiny holes all over the drywall.

Peel Off the Surface Layer

The easiest way to remove wallpaper is with hot water and a scraper. The first step is to cover the floors with drop cloths otherwise they'll be covered in glue and shreds of paper.

To take down wallpaper easier, the top layer of the paper itself should be peeled off of the backing first. Once the paper layer is removed, the backing layer left on the wall can be soaked with hot water. Most people attempt to soak both at the same time, but the reason this doesn't work well is because the paper on top prevents the water from penetrating the backing underneath.

Grab a loose corner of the paper and try tearing it off in one whole sheet to expose the paper backing underneath. Usually you can grab a loose corner at the bottom of the sheet near the base board, or use a putty knife to lift up a corner high enough to grab with your fingertips.

Very thin wallpaper tends to tear more when peeling, but vinyl material usually peels off a lot easier without tearing, sometimes in one piece.

Soak the Backing with Hot Water

After the top layer is peeled off, start soaking the paper backing on the wall with hot water. A fast way to apply the water is with a paint roller on an extension pole, or use a pump sprayer. Allow the water to soak into the backing for about ten minutes.

Once the backing is totally soaked, start scraping with a putty knife, or a taping knife. A large taping knife works best. Most wallpaper backing comes off easily, but if not, soak the wall again with hot water mixed with a little fabric softener. All of the glue and backing should be completely removed, and the walls should be wiped down with clean water at the end.

Wallpaper Steamer

Using a steamer is the second easiest way to remove wallpaper that won't come off using the first method in this article, but it's a slow process. Steaming involves working in small sections at a time, holding the machine against the wall. A steamer penetrates the surface with continuous heat to basically melt and weaken the glue underneath so the material comes loose.

This method usually involves a lot of messy scraping, but steaming works well for paper that won't budge, and they're easy to operate. Most major home improvement stores, or rental shops, rent them.

Painting Over Wallpaper

If you've tried everything and removal seems impossible, you might want to consider painting over the wallpaper instead. This should always be the last resort, but it can be done successfully without any problems if the material on your walls isn't loose or bubbled.


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