Find out how to strip wallpaper. Get tips on using liquid fabric softener, a paper tiger tool, or, if those methods don't work, a wallpaper steamer.
Well, after years of living with it, maybe you’ve finally decided to tackle the large, floral-print wallpaper in your dining room that’s been driving you crazy. Well, now comes the hardest part: how to get it off that wall.
TOM: And unfortunately, there is no magic way. It’s just a lot of hard work but you can make it go a little easier with a few tips from the experts at This Old House. Joining us with that advice is This Old House  general contractor, Tom Silva.
TOM SILVA: Well, thanks. Nice to be here.
TOM: Now, this has to be one of the most frustrating decorating chores out there when redoing a room in your house, because the wallpaper was really never designed to come off, was it?
TOM SILVA: No. You put it on, it’s supposed to stay on.
TOM: Forever and ever and ever.
TOM SILVA: And ever and ever, right. Right.
TOM: So, any tips to simplify that process?
TOM SILVA: Well, there is no simple way. There’s a variety of different papers out there, so you’ve got to handle each one a little bit differently; you’ve got to attack it a little bit differently. Vinyl papers, for example, don’t come off well at all when you spray something on them, so you want to break the seal of that paper when you spray something on it, like a wallpaper remover .
LESLIE: Because you have to get underneath to the paste.
TOM SILVA: You want to get to the paste, that’s right. If you spray something on a vinyl paper, it’s just going to run off, yeah.
LESLIE: Uh-huh. Now, I’m always amazed at the fact that this even works: liquid fabric softener and water. Why does that work so wonderfully well when you’re dealing with a paper?
TOM SILVA: I don’t know why it works well but I’ve been using it for a long time and it does work excellent.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. So is it the fact that you just spray it on and sort of let it sit there and then it just peels away?
TOM SILVA: You spray it on. If it’s a paper, you spray it on and really let the paper get wet.
LESLIE: Like super get it wet.
TOM SILVA: It really has to get – yeah, yeah. And like I say, if it’s vinyl, you want to scratch the surface. They have these little tools out there that you can rub all over the wall.
LESLIE: And the fabric softener will also work on the vinyl as long as you score it?
TOM SILVA: As long as you score it and break the seal so that the fabric softener can get in back of the paper.
TOM: Now, what if you’ve got a wall that’s got, say, multiple layers of wallpaper that’s been on there for a lot of years and man, you’re going to be fabric-softening that wall for decades and not get it off? Is there any equipment that can help?
TOM SILVA: Yeah, you’ve got to bring out the big guys, the big …
TOM: The big guns?
TOM SILVA: Yeah, the big guns. Go to the rental store and get yourself a wallpaper stripper. It’s a steam-activated machine.
TOM SILVA: And you can really just take this big pad and drop it on the wall and just get – you’ll get a rhythm. And just work it right across the wall and you’ll take off multiple layers at a time.
TOM: So you basically hold it to the wall and it’s sort of enclosed and just shoots steam into that one area?
TOM SILVA: Yep. It shoots it right in there. It’s probably the size of a piece of paper.
TOM SILVA: You hold that on there. Just be careful, it’s hot. And then, you’ll actually feel it take it away and you’ll actually see it starting to go. And take a little knife and put it up underneath it and it’ll get real soft and just come right off.
LESLIE: I mean regardless of the method, it certainly does take a lot of work to tackle this project, right?
TOM SILVA: Well, it’s a lot of work not only to take the paper off and then you’ve got start repairing and patching the walls because of all the gouges you’ve made.
TOM: Now, let’s talk about that. Once you get the wallpaper off, you’ve got some gouges that you’ve repaired, you really need to start from scratch from that point. Is it a good idea to prime the wall?
TOM SILVA: Once you get all your patches done and you’ve puttied them up with spackle or joint compound – whatever needed to do – then you want to make sure you do prime the wall, especially if it’s a drywall wall. If you have new drywall, especially you want to prime it; don’t want to paper over that.
TOM: That’s going to give you sort of a neutral surface to put anything on top of that that you need to.
TOM SILVA: Exactly, exactly.
TOM: Now, do you ever have folks that just want to give up because it’s just too much work and then they end up skimming the wall, say, with another layer of drywall?
TOM SILVA: I’ve actually seen people paint over the wallpaper.
LESLIE: Oh, that’s the worst.
TOM SILVA: And then you’re really in trouble trying to take it off, yeah.
TOM: Oh, yeah. Yeah, you’re just passing that along to future generations.
TOM SILVA: Exactly.
TOM: It’s going to come off one way or the other.
TOM SILVA: It’s like putting a roof on a roof, you know?
LESLIE: Now, have you seen – is there any different approach when you’re trying to get the wallpaper off , if you know that there’s drywall underneath or if there’s plaster underneath?
TOM SILVA: Well, you’ll know if there’s drywall on it and they didn’t prep the drywall correctly because 9 times out of 10, you’re not going to get the paper off without destroying most of the drywall. So you really are in trouble there.
So that’s why it’s very important that if you do a new drywall work, you want to prime the wall first. The primer acts like a release when you want to remove that paper later on.
TOM: Great advice. Tom Silva from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
TOM SILVA: My pleasure.
TOM: And for a great video on how to strip wallpaper, you can visit ThisOldHouse.com. And I might mention that I’m pretty sure that that video is Kevin O’Connor’s first-ever This Old House project.
TOM SILVA: Ah, I think you got it right.
LESLIE: If he only knew then what he knows now, it’s all about elbow grease.
Alright, folks, you can watch Tommy and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and on Ask This Old House on your local PBS station.
TOM: And Ask This Old House is brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.