How to Remove Wallpaper (Easy)

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There are few home renovation projects discussed with as much distaste as removing wallpaper.  If you have ever tackled this task or know someone who did, it appears that this may be one of the most hated jobs for the DIY home improver.  I had never had the need to remove wallpaper before making the great unknown a little intimidating.  Luckily, there was only one room in the new house with wallpaper so it couldn’t be too bad, right?

Perhaps I am in the minority, but for our house, this turned out to be one of the easier projects.  After several days of reading up on the subject, it is apparent that there are many factors that can make this project easier or harder (i.e. how long has the wallpaper been up, how many layers of wallpaper are there, etc.).  While I do not know how long the wallpaper was present in our current home, there was only one layer.

The process we used to remove the wallpaper was easy and only slightly messy (much less than taking down the popcorn ceilings), but it is time-consuming.  To remove one room’s worth of wallpaper, it probably took about a full day.  This is a very inexpensive method and you probably have some of the materials already in your possession.  If you are hesitant about taking on this project, don’t be.  This is a good project for a beginner and is an easy way to save money in your home by doing it yourself.
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Materials:
Plastic scraper
Spray bottle
Fabric softener
Plastic drop cloth (if you have wood floors or carpet)
Gloves (if your skin is sensitive)
Paper Towels

You will also want to have a trash can and/or trash bags on hand.  It took two full trash bags to contain all of the wallpaper remains.


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1. Prepare the floors with the plastic drop cloth.  If the room where you are removing the wallpaper has hardwood flooring or carpet, you will want to put down a plastic drop cloth to catch any of the wet wallpaper pieces or water drips.  I did not cover the entire floor with drop cloth, but rather moved the drop cloth with me as I worked in sections.

2. Pull the wallpaper from the wall and discard.  Depending on the type of wallpaper that you have will determine whether you can begin with Step 2 listed here or will have to skip this step and move on to Step 3.
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For the top portion of our wallpaper, it was made of a very thick paper.  This made it quite easy to grab it from a corner and pull it down in chunks, leaving behind a thin layer of paper and adhesive. If you are able to do this, then do.  Begin at a corner and gently pull back the wallpaper. If you are lucky, it will come off in large strips.  Once you have removed it, throw discard the wallpaper strips.

3. Fill the spray bottle with fabric softener and water mix.  Using a combination of 1/3 – 1/2 container full of fabric softener and the rest with hot water, fill the spray bottle to the top.  Let the excess bubbles flow out so you end up with a full bottle.  Wipe the bottle dry.

4. Saturate the wallpaper or wallpaper backing with fabric softener mix.  If the wallpaper did not pull off easily (like our lower portion unfortunately), spray a section of the wallpaper with the fabric softener mix.  It is ideal to fully saturate the wallpaper.  To eliminate excess water dripping, once you have sprayed the wallpaper or wallpaper backing, you can take a paper towel or rag and wipe off any present water drips.

As you can see in the picture below (right), the bubbling of the wallpaper backing is a good sign that the paper is ready to be removed.

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*STP Tip – It is best to work in sections since the wallpaper needs to be wet for removal.  If the water mixture dries, you will have to re-wet the area and start again.  It also makes cleanup less dreadful.

5. Scrape the wet layer of wallpaper.  Using the plastic scraper, begin in one corner and scrape the wallpaper.  Hopefully, if your situation is similar to ours, you should be able to scrape off sections of the remaining wallpaper.  If you are really lucky, you will have large sections come up at once.  Either way, this is the step that will determine if additional prep work is needed to remove the wallpaper in your home.

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If the wallpaper is not coming off, re-wet the area again.  Wait a few minutes and try to scrape again.  If that does not work, you might want to consider purchasing a scoring tool that is designed for wallpaper removal.

6. Remove the remaining wallpaper.  Assuming Step 5 was successful, continue to spray and scrape the remaining wallpaper until all of the wallpaper is removed.  To keep a relatively clean area, make sure to throw away all scrapings after you finish each section.  This made the final cleanup a breeze.

Here is a photo of the dining room, about a quarter way complete.  Hooray for white drywall underneath!

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Have you removed wallpaper before?  Do you have any tips that might help the first-timer?  What was your experience?

We would love to hear about it in the comments section!

17 comments

  1. Alan says:

    Has anyone removed wallpaper from a textured wall? I haven’t started yet but I’m concerned that using a scraper or a scorer won’t work because of the texture. Either way thanks to all of you for the sage advice!

  2. Carrie says:

    Be careful pulling the paper off the wall dry first. I did this a couple years ago and ended up pulling chunks of old paint and plaster out of the wall. It was a nightmare to fix. We ended up having to plaster over the walls to fix the damage. In a similar project a few years later, I scored the walls first, wet them with the fabric softener solution and removed the paper. I had to go over it twice to get all the adhesive off the walls, but way less time and hassle than the first project. Definitely worth the price of a $7 scoring tool.

  3. Susan Ramdhava says:

    I too am a pro painter & wall paper hanger. In my experience, I also remove all of the paper dry that is possible – to reveal the pasted paper backing underneath/ I then use a mixture of TSP in hot water & a rag or heavy sponge to apply it. Doing a section at a time, then waiting until the paper starts bubbling all over, then using a metal taping knife or putty knife of the correct size will take the rest of the paper & paste off. Good idea to clean up as you go. Also a good practice to do one wall at a time, clean up, then wash the wall again with clean mixture of TSP & hot water – until all of the paste is off. When all of the walls are done, go back & rinse the walls well with warm water & let dry before priming & painting preferably overnight.. Ditto for the type of paper – vinyl is the easiest to pull off dry – before going after the backing. You can buy TSP in the paint stores – it’s for paint prep only. It has never taken me too long to strip any paper, but if you try to \rush\ it, it will try to ‘resist’ you. Let the soap & water do the hard work for you!

  4. Shelly Wilkins says:

    I am a pro paperhanger. Congratulations on your successful removal project. You were one of the lucky ones. 90% of removal jobs are not as easy. The single most important factor in determining ease of removal is what was on the wall prior to papering – NOT the removal technique. If paper was installed over cheap flat paint – you will have problems. I have a few suggestions. NEVER use a scorer. If you need to break the surface of a vinyl paper so the stripping solution penetrates, invest in a 50 cent piece of sandpaper – low grit like 50 or 60. It works better than a paper tiger. Also why not invest in a wallpaper stripper such as DIF. It costs no more than fabric softener and works better. Sometimes, regardless of technique, the drywall will tear. There is a primer called Gardz that will lock down the loose nubs of paper so they can then be spackled. Also not mentioned was that the paste needs to be washed off the wall prior to PRIMING then painting. If you paint without removing paste and priming, the paint can “alligator” later and look bad.
    When wallpapering, to make removal easy, please prime the wall with a WALLCOVERING primer first. If you want paper that removes in one piece without wetting, use a nonwoven wallpaper such as York’s Sure Strip.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I am a professional wallpaper installer and remover. I would not suggest using a scorer or paper tiger as they are called. If you press too hard they bite into your wall leaving tons of small holes you have to go back and fill.

  6. Beverly says:

    If you have no success with the fabric softener, try vinegar. Try mixing 1/4 cup cleaning vinegar (less expensive than cooking vinegar) and a small amount of dishwashing liquid in your spray bottle.
    The vinegar seemed to dissolve the adhesive in the wallpaper much easier for me.
    (Also works on shelf-paper!)

  7. Dee Moehle says:

    warm/ hot water helps as does a scorer. Scorer is an inexpensive tool that makes minute cuts for the water to penetrate. Also, I keep the spray bottle in a bucket or sink of water so it doesn’t cool off.

    • SweetTeaProper says:

      Thanks for the advice Dee! We luckily didn’t need any additional tools for taking down our wallpaper, but I have heard of several people who had great success with the scorer. Great tip about the spray bottle!

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