Home Improvement Tips: Removing Wallpaper

Some tips on how to effectively strip different types of wallpaper, what solutions to use, the advantages of using a steam stripper.

Removing old wallpaper is one of those tedious and time-consuming things that most people will do at some point during their life. Unlike many other aspects of home improvement, technology doesn't usually help here, and the basic tools for most people are still going to be warm water, a scraper and plenty of elbow grease.

If you are lucky, you will only have one layer of old wallpaper to remove, although depending on the age of the house, you may find there are several layers of wallpaper on top of each other. At one time it was common practice to simply paste wallpaper over the existing layer, especially as most coverings were ordinary printed wall coverings. With the variety of textures, materials and backings that are available today, it is no longer a good idea to put paper over existing paper, and it is always advisable to remove the old paper as well as any backing paper.

Some very old wallpaper will simply peel straight off the wall. If this is the case, you can take a hold of it at the bottom and pull slowly up - the wallpaper comes off easily as the backing glue or paste has long ago dried. In all probability you won't be so lucky and the easiest way to strip the old wallpaper is to soak and perforate if necessary and then scrape it off.

There are several different types of sprays you can easily purchase in home improvement stores; these all work basically the same way - a spray gun or bottle is used to apply the chemical solution on the wall, which soaks the wallpaper, making it easier to scrape off. The chemical in the solution works by softening the glue or paste solution that originally held the paper to the wall. If you are using a spray bottle, be sure to spray the wall surface evenly, taking care to soak the entire surface, but not over soaking. You can spray warm water as well, this works almost as well as some of the chemical solutions. Another mixture that seems to be effective is to mix a quarter cup of fabric softener with a cup of white vinegar with a gallon of warm water. Whatever you are spraying on the wall, be sure to put newspapers or a drop cloth down to catch any liquid that may seep down the wall.

After spraying you will usually have to let the solution soak into the wallpaper - this can take anything from a few minutes to an hour or so. Depending on the type of paper you are stripping, you may have to perforate the wallpaper - make tiny holes in it - to allow the solution to penetrate more thoroughly. Home improvement stores sell rollers that will quickly perforate large areas of wall. You will generally have to perforate the wallpaper if you are removing wall coverings with a water resistant plastic or painted surface. You can tell easily if a paper is water absorbent by simply wetting a small corner of it - an ordinary printed paper will absorb the water immediately, other types will not. To tell if an existing wall covering is washable, or vinyl, pick a corner of the paper and try to strip the wall covering dry. The printed plastic layer of vinyl paper will come off dry, other types won't. Make sure to perforate thoroughly; you may have to wait a little bit longer for the solution to penetrate with this type of wall covering.

Once the solution has thoroughly soaked into the paper, you should be able to remove it fairly easily. Scrape it gently off with a plastic or metal wallpaper scraper, designed for this purpose. Never use a sharp or pointed blade as you may cut into the wall. You may have to apply more solution to stubborn spots, or scrape more vigorously. Remove light fittings, plug sockets etc, and scrape around them.

For a quicker and easier way to remove washable type wallpapers, you can buy or rent a steam stripper. This works rather like using an iron - you move the hot surface slowly over the paper and it should easily come away by hand or with a scraper. Steam strippers range from the simple to the advanced - some steam strippers have different settings to allow you to remove multiple layers more easily. Some come with extension attachments to allow you to easily reach high ceilings. Try to choose a steamer that emits a minimum amount of steam or fumes. If you have just a small area of wallpaper to remove, it may not be worth the extra expense.

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