GIMME SHELTER- Paper stripping: Go easy, take it slow

Iney Byfield

Q: I need to remove some old wallpaper. Is this a job I can tackle myself?

A: With a lot of patience, removing wallpaper is something people can do themselves. And since having it done can be expensive, it's definitely worth trying. But be forewarned: it can be grungy work. So, take off your high-heals, sweetie... you're not going to be wearing them today!

First you'll need to identify the type of wallpaper you're trying to remove. Generally, there are three types of wallpaper: linen-back vinyl, paper-back vinyl, and vinyl-coated paper.

You'll need a two- to three-inch flexible putty knife, and– depending on the paper type and how securely it's attached– a spray bottle of water, a steamer you can rent or buy, and/or some stripping solution. Begin with the paper dry to see how much you can get off, then try soaking it with water. If that doesn't work, you'll probably need a steamer or stripping solution. Oh, and remember to tape all your outlets if you plan to use water!

Linen-back vinyl is the easiest to remove, but be careful not to pull off the drywall with the paper. This kind of wallpaper is applied with a heavy paste, so if you plan to paint when you're finished, make sure you wash the bare wall thoroughly before priming. 

Paper-back vinyl has a top layer that pulls off easily, but you'll find the backing paper stays on the wall. Just use lots of water, and this should come off fairly easily. 

If you have vinyl-coated paper, you're in for a tougher job. Water doesn't penetrate this kind of paper, so you're going to need a steamer or stripping solution.

For the best results– no matter which kind of paper it is– go slow, change directions, soak the paper with plenty of water, steam, or stripping solution, and let the paper "tell you" what it wants to do.

If you're planning to paint, make sure you put down a good primer/sealer on the wall when you're finished; otherwise, the paste residue on the wall will cause the paint to "alligator" in a matter of months.  

Finally, if the wallpaper is just too securely attached, either because it's been heavily pasted or because it's been painted over several times, we recommend– but strictly as a last resort, of course– just painting or wallpapering over it. Simply cut the seams with a knife, fill them with joint compound, and sand smooth. 

Iney Byfield