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How to strip wallpaper with a smile on your face

Listed under Blog, preparation Posted Jul 08 2010

Faced with the prospect of stripping wallpaper, most people get despondent – unnecessarily. After 20 years in the painting and decorating trade, here are a few tips on how to strip wallpaper easily, efficiently and relatively mess free.

Stripping wallpaper – in a nutshell

Not wishing to state the obvious, but the secret to stripping wallpaper lies in the correct use of water, plenty of patience and a good scraper.

Kit: You probably know what water in a bucket looks like, and a spontex sponge. To the left is a picture of the only scraper in town. Dump the traditional inflexible short handled metal scraper, and replace it with a long-handled scraper with a 4 or 5″ razor blade. The leverage is much better, and the razor edge blades are replaceable. That’s all you need for kit.

If you soak the paper, scrape carefully, and keep cool, there is almost no wallcovering you can’t get off. But It’s all in the detail.

How to remove vinyl wallpapers cleanly and efficiently with a smile

Peel off the top protective layer to reveal the backing paper beneath. »

I would advise lifting the bottom corner and carefully peeling the paper up slowly until you have about 12″ completely flapping. Then you can pull a bit harder. For a bit of fun, see if you can get a whole sheet off in one piece! (You need some sort of game to get you through the day!)

And the part that most clean freaks forget – leave the dry wallpaper strippings scrumpled up on the floor at the base of the wall, ready to catch any splashes of water coming in stage 2).

Carefully apply water three or four times to a small area using a large decorator’s sponge or a big block brush. »

I load the sponge till it drips a little, then I lightly wipe over a foot square area, then keep wiping the same area till the sponge is dry. Repeat this on another small section, and another… until you notice the first square drying up. At this point return to the first square – rinse and repeat three or four times or until the paper is absolutely sodden. It is now ready to strip off.

Some say it is best to start soaking from the bottom and work up, but there seems to be no difference either way.

When the paper is ready to fall off with a little help, use a proper razor edged scraper. »

You need to exercise some more patience because in clumsy hands, it is a weapon that can seriously hurt a plaster surface. So with a steady hand, methodically remove the paper. It will come off very easily, and if it doesn’t, let more water do the work and keep on soaking it. This way, there is no reason (nor excuse) for gouging the plaster with your scraper.

Wallpaper stripping problems occur when you try to take short cuts.

Steam strippers – No!! »

I have childhood memories of my parents struggling with steam strippers, filling the house with condensation, scalding their hands..! Many times, I have seen the results of over zealous steam stripping, where, in extreme cases, someone has literally blown the plaster off the wall. More common, is where the steam forces the plaster to let go from the backing blocks, and you get that crazy paving effect, which is very difficult to disguise when it comes to redecorating.

In my professional opinion, there is no place for a steam stripper in my tool kit.

Slashing the top layer of paper with a knife – No!! »

Professionals also make mistakes, like slashing the top layer with a knife, supposedly to let the water penetrate the surface paper to get to the backing paper. In my experience, water does penetrate faster, but you also create hundreds of little pieces, and you end up picking off little scabs, rather than big sheets.

Using more than a sponge – Maybe!! »

Rollering water onto the walls is fast, but you need the floor covered (or ideally carpet-free) ready for a big soaking. Airless spray is the fastest way to blast wallpaper off, but not everyone has a big enough wallpaper job to make it worth working that way.

Additives to the water – possibly »

I add fairy liquid, because it seems to make water more sticky, but I am sure that is a perception, not a fact.

Zinsser DIF is highly recommended, especially for removing gloss painted wallpaper and other non absorbent paper. It contains an enzyme that attacks the glue. I would keep it in reserve, not as first line of attack. It does cost money, you know!

Fabric softener is supposed to be a good additive. Pro decorators on my favourite forum rave about it, and I am sure that one day I will get round to raiding the cleaning cupboard and try it out.

Ultimately, a pro scraper can remove wallpaper dry, but to strip wallpaper easily and with minimal damage to the walls or ceilings, let the water do the work. Taking it steady, I would be surprised if I couldn’t completely remove 8 rolls of wallpaper in a day, bag it all up and leave the room tidy and ready for the next day.


This sort of advice helped out a couple who sounded like they were experiencing potential marriage-breaking stress from vinyl paper that wouldn’t come off.

It is also part of a series on the whole process of stripping and preparing walls for re-papering.

If you have a wallpaper related issue, just ask

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2 comments to “How to strip wallpaper with a smile on your face”

  1. Jinny

    Hi there,
    Super post, Need to mark it on Digg

  2. andy

    Now you have the technique, all you need is the energy! cheers.

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