How to Remove Wallpaper Without Losing Your Mind

Because peeling it off can feel so satisfying

Caroline Gilbert
Written by Caroline Gilbert
Updated September 7, 2022
’70s living room with orange paisley chairs and orange and brown wallpaper
Photo: koldunova_anna / Adobe Stock
Difficulty

Easy

No experience? No problem.

Time to complete

12 hours

You can expect to spend about a day removing wallpaper in an average-sized room.

Cost

$50–$100

Put your money toward future projects.

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Wallpaper scoring tool
  • Scraper or putty knife
  • Towels
  • Rubber gloves
  • Spray bottle
  • Sponge

SUPPLIES

  • Fabric softener or chemical wallpaper stripper
  • Drop cloth
  • Painter’s tape

If you find yourself tired of outdated wall coverings in your home, removing wallpaper and either painting or adding new wallpaper can give your space a fresh, clean look. Even though there are various types of walls and wallpaper you may be working with, use this general guide to learn how to remove wallpaper in a few simple steps. 

Steps for Removing Wallpaper

Wallpaper removal is oftentimes a project that you tackle on your own following these seven steps:

  1. Prepare Your Workspace

    Before you hit the ground running, it’s important to prepare the area you are working in to protect it from water, wallpaper-remover solution, and wallpaper scraps.

    • Gather all of your tools and materials

    • Lay down a drop cloth

    • Cover your baseboards with painter's tape

    Important Note: Cover electrical outlets and outlet covers with painter’s tape to protect them from any liquid.

  2. Test a Small Sample Patch

    Man removing old wallpaper from wall
    Photo: koldunova_anna / Adobe Stock

    Start by testing a small patch to determine the type of wallpaper you are working with. Certain types of wallpaper will come off in strips (otherwise known as strippable wallpaper or removable wallpaper), while other types can be water resistant, making removal a bit more difficult. 

    First, locate a corner or seam in the covering and apply hot water with a towel, then wait for about 10 minutes. Try to remove the wallpaper. If it’s easy to remove without leaving behind remnants, you have strippable wallpaper and the job just got even easier. This means you can simply apply hot water and peel back the wallpaper in sections until you are finished and then skip to the final step. 

    However, if the wallpaper doesn’t move, if it comes off in layers, or if there are larger fragments of paper after soaking for 10 minutes, you probably have a more stubborn wallpaper that may be water-resistant. Likely, it has a vinyl coating or strong wallpaper adhesive keeping it in place. 

    But don’t worry. That doesn't mean that the job is impossible, just that it will require a bit more elbow grease. Follow the next steps to learn how to remove wallpaper that’s stuck on tight.

  3. Mix Your Solution

    To break down tough wallpaper adhesive, you’ll need a wallpaper-remover solution. You can either make your own at home or purchase a bottle of wallpaper stripper from the store.

    • DIY solution: Mix equal parts of vinegar or fabric softener with hot water and pour it in your spray bottle.

    • Store-bought solution: Refer to the manufacturer’s mixing directions.

  4. Apply Your Solution

    Use your sponge to apply the solution to a small section of the wall. This step requires a bit of patience as you may need to wait 10 to 15 minutes after applying to allow the solution to fully penetrate the paper and lift the wallpaper adhesive. If the wallpaper seems to be resisting the solution, you may need to skip to the next step before attempting to peel off any more wallpaper to avoid any damage to the walls.

  5. Score the Walls If Necessary

    If you apply your solution and the wallpaper comes off in layers, you may need to peel back the top layer first to expose the backing. You can then start poking or scraping tiny holes in its surface—a process known as scoring—to further help with the removal process. 

    There are different scoring methods depending on the type of wallpaper scoring tool you are using. The most important part of this step is to ensure that you have enough holes to allow the solution to get under the paper and soften the glue. Make sure not to apply too much pressure, as you don’t want to puncture and damage the wall behind the wallpaper. Once you have scored the wallpaper, you can reapply your solution and let it soak for another 10 to 15 minutes.

  6. Scrape Off the Wallpaper

    Putty knife scraping wallpaper off the wall
    Photo: gogiya / Adobe Stock

    After the solution has soaked through, you can start peeling and scraping off the wallpaper with a putty knife or wallpaper scraping tool. Start from a corner or seam at the ceiling, and use your tool to pry back the wallpaper. 

    You will then want to gently pull the wallpaper in sections in a downward, diagonal motion. If there are portions that are sticking to the wall, you may need to re-apply your solution and try scraping again after it has been absorbed. 

    There may be small sections of wallpaper that are still resistant to this method of wallpaper removal. In this scenario, you may need to use a razor or utility knife to target more stubborn areas.

  7. Clean the Walls and Remaining Adhesive

    After you have all of the wallpaper off, check for remaining adhesive. Re-apply the solution to the walls, and repeat the removal process with your scraper. Be sure to allow enough time for the solution to soak into the adhesive for an easier removal process. Whether you plan on painting or hanging new wallpaper, you will want to start this new project with a clean slate.

Tips and Tricks

There isn’t a one-size-fits all approach to removing wallpaper, and each situation is unique. But here are a few wallpaper removal hacks to make the job a bit more seamless. 

  • Keep a sprayer with you, and spray behind the covering as you’re pulling off more stubborn wallpaper.

  • Reheat your homemade solution a few times to ensure that the mixture remains hot.

  • Keep a large garbage can next to you to throw away wallpaper strips and scraps to make cleanup easier.

  • Remember that there may be wallpaper under electrical outlets and light switches. After you have removed the outlet covers and light switch covers, be sure to turn off the electric before removing the wallpaper with solution.

  • Sometimes it can be helpful to apply heat to targeted areas like a wallpaper border by using a hair dryer, clothing steamer, or even a wallpaper steamer.

  • Once the walls are dry, check for small holes from scoring and apply joint compound or spackling compound to make any necessary repairs.

  • Wait a day or two for the walls to fully dry before painting or adding new wallpaper.

Types of Walls

Certain wall types can add a layer of complexity to the job, so it can be helpful to understand the specific challenges you may face depending on the material your wall is made from. Here’s how to remove wallpaper from these different types of walls. 

1. Plaster

Plaster walls are commonly found in older homes and require a more extensive installation process. Plaster is usually applied in three separate coats, and for that reason, it is thicker and stronger than other types of wall materials. If your home was built using plaster, you may have a more difficult wallpaper removal process depending on how (and why) it was installed. 

You may find that the previous homeowners installed multiple layers of old wallpaper or that the wallpaper was used to cover up cracking in the plaster. While it may not be your first choice, it is possible to paint over existing wallpaper to give your space a new look if you find removing the wallpaper is difficult. However, if you still want to remove the wallpaper, it may be beneficial to hire a professional to tackle this project.

2. Drywall

Drywall, also referred to as sheetrock or gypsum board, is found in most newer homes. It was used to replace plaster because it is easier and less expensive to install. By the 1950s and ’60s, drywall started to completely replace plaster in new-construction homes, so it’s not surprising that most wallpaper-removal jobs involve drywall.

So how do you remove wallpaper from drywall, specifically? The key is to not to oversaturate the covering to avoid damage to the wall surface.

3. Paneling or Wood

Paneling or wood coverings can be found in many styles of homes and are often used for decorative purposes. Paneling is installed over existing walls using faux wood or composite, and natural wood can be installed over walls in interlocking sections. Wood paneling, shiplap, wainscoting, or beadboard are different types of decorative coverings that can be installed over some or all of an existing wall. 

If you are removing wallpaper from paneling or wood, be prepared to remove all of the covering underneath, as it’s hard to avoid damaging it during the removal process. However, if you find that the paneling or wood is in good condition after removal, you can either leave it as is, refinish it, or paint over the covering.

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