When and How to Paint Over Wallpaper

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated October 13, 2021
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Here's how to hide the wallpaper of yesteryear without damaging your walls

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You love everything about your new home’s kitchen, except for one big thing: that printed yellow wallpaper that screams vintage (and not in a cute way). If the wallpaper is in good shape, you might be able to paint right over it. Learn when it's OK to paint wallpaper and how to do it so it doesn't look like you, well, painted over wallpaper.

When It’s OK to Paint Wallpaper

So, you’re pretty confident scouring and scraping is not how you want to spend your Saturday. Either way, you want that outdated print gone. Here are three signs that painting over your wallpaper could be the right move.

It’s Too Difficult to Remove

Older wallpaper could have many layers—sometimes two or three—making it extra difficult to peel off. If you’ve tried to remove the wallpaper but found it unyielding, you can paint over the wallpaper to avoid damaging the wall.

There’s No Textural Oddities

If you’re lucky enough to have wallpaper that’s still smooth and snug to the wall, painting over it is a viable option. However, no amount of paint will hide rippling or bubbling paper, textured patterns, or imprints. Minor rough spots can be patched, but if your wall damage is on the heavier side, you should remove the wallpaper before painting.

There’s Only a Few Problem Areas

A light, bright living room in an older home
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A few small peels or lifted seams is not a big deal; minor problem areas can be removed with a sheetrock knife. Trim any areas where the wallpaper is peeling or the seams are lifting up to give yourself a smooth, level painting surface (more on this below).

4 Tips for Painting Wallpaper the Right Way

You may be tempted to slap some paint on the wall, but there’s more to it. If you’ve determined that painting your wallpaper is better than removing it, here’s how to paint your paper properly.

Grab the Right Tools

You’ll need more than just paint to cover up wallpaper. Make sure you have these tools handy before getting to work:

  • Oil-based or shellac-based primer (see our next tip)

  • Paint

  • Paintbrush or roller

  • Paint tray or bucket

  • Plastic sheeting

  • Painter’s tape

  • Mineral spirits or denatured alcohol to clean your walls

  • Rubber gloves

Smooth Out the Blemishes

Paint will show every bump, ripple, and edge on the wall. Use a sheetrock knife to just trim any areas where the wallpaper is peeling or the seams are lifting up. Then, apply a primer over the area to seal what’s left and finish it off with a spackling compound. 

If the wallpaper is textured, you’ll need to sand the area using a palm or orbital sander and wipe away any dust before applying primer.

Clean the Walls (Gently)

Before painting, properly clean the walls so no dust particles get trapped in your fresh paint. Lightly moisten a cloth or sponge to get all the dust and dirt off the walls—but be careful not to spread too much water on the walls, as excess moisture can break down the adhesive and cause new bubbles to form on the wallpaper. 

If your wallpaper is uncoated, use a vacuum attachment to get as much dust and grime off as possible and then follow up with wallpaper dough (you can find this at paint centers and hardware stores). Simply pinch off some of the dough, roll it into a ball, and move the ball across the wallpaper to pick up any remaining grit.

Use the Proper Primer

It’s important to buy the right primer for this job. Typically, old wallpaper has been fixed to the wall over a chemical composite called “sizing,” which was used to protect the plaster. Painting right on top of sizing can stain your paint, so you should apply an oil-based or shellac-based primer first to ensure your paint stays the color it was when you bought it.

Reserve More Than One Day for the Job

Have patience. Not only will you need to allow time for the primer to dry, you’ll also need to move through two rounds of paint. A second coat is recommended, especially if the wallpaper you’re painting over is patterned, or if the paint you’re using is lighter than the wallpaper’s color.

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