What Is the Best Way to Remove Old Wallpaper?

While the wallpaper in your master bathroom made somebody happy 50 years ago, it’s not you. Before you start shredding it off in strips, learn the best way to remove old wallpaper without damaging the walls.

The Tools You Need to Remove Old Wallpaper

  • Fabric softener
  • Garbage can or bag
  • Hot water
  • Painter’s tape
  • Painter’s tarp
  • Putty knife (a 5” rigid one works best)
  • Rags
  • Safety glasses
  • Screwdriver
  • Spray bottle
  • Utility knife
  • Vinegar
  • Wallpaper scoring tool

Prep to Protect You and Your Room

You’re going to be spraying water on the walls, so the first step is to protect you and the room.

  1. Lay down a painter’s tarp.
  2. Tape it to the floor to hold it in place.
  3. Tape over the outlets, then gently trim off the extra with a utility knife.
  4. Even the most stubborn wallpaper comes off easily with these tips and tricks.

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Start Scraping

For most traditional wallpapers, there’s a decorative outer layer and an inner adhesive layer. Find a seam or tear in the wallpaper and gently run the putty knife or scraping tool under it to pry it up. Peel the wallpaper – if you’re lucky, it’ll come off in sheets. If not, move on to the next step.

Score What’s Left

If your wallpaper didn’t peel off easily in sheets, you’ll have to use a hot-water solution to remove it completely. Use your scoring tool to perforate the outer layer of paper. This will let the solution penetrate. (Don’t use too much pressure; you don’t want to puncture the sheetrock or plaster.)

Spray on Solution

The wallpaper removal solution to remove old wallpaper is made of hot water and either vinegar or fabric softener. (You may have to mix both to see which works best on your wallpaper.) Hot water is the most important ingredient.

The first solution is 1/3 household vinegar and 2/3 hot water. The second is 1/4 fabric softener and 3/4 hot water.

Mix hot water from your tap or a tea kettle with either product in a spray bottle. Put on safety goggles and get out your garbage can or bag to throw the wallpaper in (this will save you cleanup later).

Apply Solution and Scrape Again

  1. Use your sprayer to apply the solution to a four-foot-wide section of the wall.
  2. Wait 2-3 minutes to let the solution work.
  3. Pry up an edge or corner with your scraper.
  4. Pull the wallpaper off in sheets, dropping it into the can or bag as you go.
  5. Work the entire surface while it’s wet (ignore the dried pieces for now).
  6. When you’re done, spray the remaining pieces and scrape again.
  7. Turn off the power to the room.
  8. Remove the tape over the outlets.
  9. Clean up any remaining wallpaper around the outlets.

Remove the Adhesive

Even after you’ve removed the wallpaper, there may still be some adhesive. Here’s how to remove it.

  1. Cover the outlets and switches with painter’s tape again to keep them dry.
  2. Spray the walls with the hot water solution, going in four-foot sections.
  3. Scrape and peel, just like you did with the paint until the adhesive is gone.
  4. Use a clean, wet rag to wipe the walls.
  5. Let the walls dry, and they’ll be ready to patch, prime, and paint.

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