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Wallpaper Removal Tips

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, if wallpaper stands between you and your dream room, you’re not alone. Wallpaper removal is a dreaded task.

    Wallpaper Removal TipsTOM: But the right steps not only make it quicker and easier, they insure the smoothest possible results and make the next coat of paint or sheet of wallpaper that much easier to apply. Here to tell us more is This Old House host Kevin O’Connor.

    Welcome, Kevin.

    KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be here.

    TOM: So, removing wallpaper is one of those jobs that just has to get done sometimes and it’s rarely easy. But what’s the most efficient and effective way to tackle this task and why is it so important to do it right?

    KEVIN: Well, you are right about the fact that it is no fun to do. I’ve done it in the past. I don’t like it. In fact, I find it so tedious that I’m reluctant to even use wallpaper.

    LESLIE: Oh. But it’s so beautiful.

    KEVIN: I know but I always think about the fact that someone’s going to have to take it off eventually.

    I guess here are a couple of ways to think about it. The most common wall surface in American homes these days is drywall, right? And so, as you guys know, that’s gypsum and it’s got paper on both sides. So the wall that’s up there that we are putting wallpaper on has a paper base. So when it comes time to taking it off, we’re trying to remove that paper surface from a paper surface.

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: So you actually have to do it right and make sure that you don’t damage the drywall in the process.

    And there are a couple tips that will help you do that. First of all, you want to think about scoring the wallpaper. You want to actually slice through it. They have scoring tools or a utility knife. Because you’re going to want to get some sort of a steam or some sort of a liquid behind the face of the wallpaper …

    TOM: Like a wallpaper remover, like …

    KEVIN: Like a wallpaper remover. Because it’s all put up there with glues, with adhesion, and you want to break that adhesion.

    So starting off by scoring it is a great way to go. Once it’s scored, you can apply steam to it so it will loosen up those glues. Start from the top, work your way down. Try to pull it off in the biggest sheets possible.

    TOM: Yeah. You don’t want to be picking off one little piece at a time.

    KEVIN: No, you don’t. And so the more you score, the more steam that’s going to get behind the wallpaper.

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: But it also means …

    LESLIE: And the smaller the pieces.

    KEVIN: The smaller the pieces. So you have to kind of find that balance.

    TOM: The steaming really makes it easier to get off and I guess you can rent a wallpaper steamer pretty easily.

    KEVIN: You can go to the home center, you can rent these things by the day. Oftentimes they’re probably worth their weight in gold.

    Now, they may not always work or they may not do the complete job, so there’s a couple other things to think about. There are solutions there, wallpaper-removing solutions. You can make your own where you can actually use fabric softener, believe or not. Mix it with hot water, sort of a 1:1 ratio. Spray that up onto the wall. The trick there is work quickly. When the water’s warm, it’s working for you, so try to get that wallpaper off while the water’s warm and apply liberally.

    TOM: And once you have it off and the wallpaper is gone, now you have to sort of prep the walls for your next project, which is probably not to put on more wallpaper after having gone through all of that pain of removing the old stuff. What should you do to get the surface ready, say, for paint?

    KEVIN: Well, whether it’s paint or for new wallpaper, you do want to make sure that the surface you have is smooth and clean. And so one way to actually clean a wall where you’ve just stripped the wallpaper is by using distilled white vinegar mixed with water. That’s going to help you remove any of the glue that may have been left behind. You want to make sure that if you do that, that the surface is completely dry before you apply any primer or paint to that surface or any new wallpaper.

    LESLIE: Now, I know a lot of people want to cut corners and they’ll say, “Well, why can’t I just paint over my wallpaper or put the new paper over the old paper?” And that generally is a no-no.

    KEVIN: That is always a no-no.

    TOM: A really bad idea.

    KEVIN: It’s a really bad idea. For a guy who had to strip wallpaper with – three or four coats of wallpaper with paint on each one, I will hunt you down and find you if you paint over your wallpaper.

    It’s not a great idea because, eventually, the wallpaper may fail. And now your freshly-painted surface, it’s not going to look that great to begin with. But if that wallpaper that you’ve painted over ever comes off, now you’ve got a wall surface that’s completely ruined. So, my recommendation is live with the wallpaper you have or if you decide to paint, make sure you get it off in its entirety, clean that surface and then apply the paint.

    TOM: We’re talking to Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, about tips for removing wallpaper.

    Kevin, you work on a lot of old houses and many of those wallpaper projects that were done years ago include backing paper: kind of a second layer of paper that was underneath the decorative layer. Can you leave that in place or do you have to take that off, as well?

    KEVIN: Well, I think that the answer is it depends, you know? And in fact, we still use that backing paper today. We were on a project just two years ago and Tommy basically told the guy, “You’ve got to put the backing paper up,” because we had horsehair plaster walls. And you could spend a lifetime trying to fix those and make them perfectly flat or you can put that backing paper over the walls to give you a nice, smooth surface and then (inaudible at 0:29:12).

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. It’s a little more forgiving.

    KEVIN: It’s a little more forgiving, absolutely. I guess the answer to your question, Tom, is once you get the wallpaper off, you really just have to inspect the backing paper. If it’s a clean surface that doesn’t have any imperfections, then you may be able to go over it with wallpaper. If it’s damaged in any way, unfortunately, I think you’re taking the backing paper off, as well, getting down to that bare wall surface.

    LESLIE: And that’s the same process as the first.

    KEVIN: That is the same process as the first.

    TOM: So it’s worth doing it once and doing it right so you don’t have to do it again.

    KEVIN: It’s always the case.

    TOM: Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, great advice as always. Thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    KEVIN: Thank you, guys.

    LESLIE: Alright. Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.

    TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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