Expert Answers: How to Remove Wallpaper

Your walls begging to have that old wallpaper removed? HANDY has the answer for making the task simpler.

Q: I am getting ready to remodel our kitchen and all three walls are covered with wallpaper. Is there an easy way to remove wallpaper and the remaining glue? - Eric Keyse, Wesley Chapel, Florida

A: When it comes to wallpaper removal, a lot depends on luck -- and on what type of wallcovering it is, how long it’s been there, how it was applied and whether the walls were primed. Nevertheless, a few tricks up your sleeve (and a lot of elbow grease) will help.

Start by peeling a corner or seam of the dry wallcovering and loosening what you can with a wide putty knife or a kitchen spatula. In some cases, the material will peel from the wall in full sheets (if you’re really lucky). Most likely, however, the top layer of the paper will come off in pieces – sometimes large, often small or not at all.

If the vinyl-coated layer does not peel off, you’ll need to pierce the surface so liquids can soak through to soften the adhesive. Use a scoring tool (lead photo) or drag the teeth of a saw along the surface. With either tool, be very careful not to press too hard and damage the substrate. Using a sponge and bucket or a clean garden sprayer, apply hot water or a stripping solution. (I’ve heard that warm water with a few drops of liquid fabric softener also works well.) Keep the paper wet for at least 15 minutes before you try to scrape the wallcovering from the wall. Alternatively, a small wallpaper steamer (photo, below) is effective, too. Just be careful not to burn your skin or steam the woodwork.

Once the outer layer has been removed, a paper backing usually remains (depending on the type of wallcovering). The good news is that this porous layer gives up its grip more willingly than the first layer. Just follow the spray-and-scrape step described above. In all cases, adhesive will remain on the wall and must be completely removed before you paint or apply new wallpaper.

To eliminate the paste residue, wet small sections of the wall with warm water or water combined with a stripping solution. Keep the surface wet for about 15 minutes, reapplying solution as needed. Once the adhesive has been softened, scrape and/or scrub it off; then wash away any remaining residue with clean solution or with water and trisodium phosphate (TSP). Rinse and allow the surface to dry thoroughly before applying paint or a new wallcovering. - HANDY