Monday, September 28, 2015

The Secrets of Wallpaper Removal

Let's talk about one of the most universally hated things home renovators face. Sure there is the lead paint, stinky carpet, a little asbestos, painted trim (who paints heart pine trim?), but the bane of my personal existence is wall paper.

Our dining room when we first moved in!

I can understand some cool wall paper on accent wall:

Tourbillon by Farrow & Ball
But an entire house? How about adding another 2 layers of wall paper and then paint on top?

That is what we had to deal with - 3 layers of wallpaper over horsehair plaster walls with a nice thick coat of latex paint on top. We've removed over 1500 square feet of this mess and we've tried every possible method from the dark corners of the internet to get rid of the stuff. I think we've probably earned an advanced degree in wallpaper removal and can pass on some of the lessons we learned along the way.

Our Living Room in the Middle of our Wall Paper War

The key to removing wall paper is getting the glue backing to release from the wall.

If you are working with old plaster you're in luck. The old style plaster of paris is a lot harder than the drywall they use today. It has a slick, tough finish and can stand a lot of abuse to get the paper off.

If you are dealing with modern drywall (1970's+) ... let's hope the previous owner painted prior to wall papering. Drywall is actually pressed gypsum held together by thick grey paper. If you have a paper on paper bond without paint in between - it's not going to come off without destroying your walls.

Assuming you aren't cursing right now because you realize you have wallpaper on raw drywall, let's talk about how to get rid of it.

Tools of the trade:

Garden sprayer, scraper, TSP, and perforator
The tools are pretty straight forward. Your first order of business is to remove all the wallpaper you can with a very sharp scraper. We used the 4-inch scraper pictured from amazon. It has a long handle so you can get some leverage behind it and the razor blade on the end makes short work of the majority of wall paper. The best part is there is no watery mess and the scraper will indiscriminately remove one, two, or three layers of wall paper and even paint in one go. It takes a little practice not to damage the wall below, but start slow and you will get the hang of it in no time.

The 4-inch scraper makes quick work of multiple layers of wall paper and paint!
You are bound to find a section or room that just won't scrape. To take care of the problem areas, we used an adult sized perforator (Warner 250) like the one pictured above. Avoid the toy sized ones from Lowes and HD! They won't effectively puncture the wallpaper and your water won't be able to penetrate. Using the perforator, lightly perforate the wallpaper then use the garden sprayer to wet the paper. We filled our sprayer with Piranha wallpaper remover, but I ran out and water seemed to do the trick as well. Let the paper soak and the water penetrate for a few minutes. Then, get after it again with the scraper. The glue should be dissolved and the paper should come off easily.

Soon, you are going to have a room that looks pretty good but may still have a lot of wallpaper backing (brown paper) left on the walls.

This left over paper will come off really easily if you spray it again with the garden sprayer until it is wet. Wait a few minutes then use a drywall taping knife to gently scrape and lift it away. I use a 6 inch taping knife and scoop if off the wall and into a mudding pan.

Now you will notice the walls still look dirty. This is because there is glue residue from the wallpaper backing left on the wall. Do not just paint over it! It will look terrible. The glue residue comes off with warm water and TSP. Just mix the TSP solution in a bucket and wipe the walls with a sponge or rag.

After you wash with TSP, patch any cracks, scrapes, or holes with some drywall mud. After some light sanding, you'll be ready for paint!

We tried a lot of methods before we figured out what works. Here's what DOESN'T work:

  • Steamers
  • Dinky perforators sold from big box stores
  • Plastic scrapers
  • Chemical sprays (removing solutions that come in windex-type bottles)

Here are some pictures of our progress in the dining room:

The Dining Room When We First Bought the House

The First Layer Came off in Big Sheets. We Thought we had it Easy.

After removing the First Layer

In the thick of it!

Patching Damage from 100 Year of Neglect
Our Dining Room! Yes we made that table - coming to you soon!

The end point being - wallpaper removal is some HARD WORK. But it's worth it.  Just be sure to do your research and get the real tools to get the job done!

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