The Easiest Way to Remove Wallpaper From Older Walls

Posted by Pekin Insurance on Feb 27, 2017

When you buy an old home, it's easy to paint the walls, change the light fixtures, and decorate it to make it your own. But what's the easiest way to remove wallpaper that's seen decades of action?


Now that you've lived in your home for a couple years, it's time to tackle those DIY projects you needed a free weekend to take care of. The kitchen is a hub of activity, and you love the gas range and the island and the self-cleaning dishwasher (talk about luxury). But those walls ... ugh. It's time to paint. You just need to do one thing first: figure out the easiest way to remove wallpaper.

To be fair, that off-yellow and pink striped wallpaper was probably all the rage 40 years ago. Then again, 8-track players were also popular. In any case, before you do anything with your kitchen walls, that wallpaper has to go.


The easiest way to remove wallpaper: Getting started

First things first. Whenever you start a project like this, it's important to prepare yourself. Make sure you have the tools and supplies you need so you don't have to stop midway for a run to the hardware store. The list for removing wallpaper is relatively small:

  • Putty knife or wallpaper scraping tool
  • Spray bottle
  • Sponge
  • Drop cloth
  • Trash bag
  • Wallpaper stripper or fabric softener (optional - see below)

Wallpaper is applied with an adhesive. Removing wallpaper is simply a matter of dissolving the adhesive and peeling away the paper. You can buy a wallpaper stripper from your local hardware store, but a one-to-one mix of hot water and fabric softener works well. Plain hot water or hot water and vinegar are also useful for removing wallpaper. When you're ready to start, it's important to keep the water as hot as possible so it works more effectively. This may mean mixing it in small batches.

Move everything away from the walls, put down your drop cloth to catch any dust and debris, put on your favorite dance music, and get to work.

An important word of caution: Turn off the power to the room you're working in. You don't want any of that water to drip into a live outlet.


The easiest way to remove wallpaper: The elbow grease

If you're lucky, the wallpaper adhesive has degraded, and you can dry strip the wallpaper. Find a seam and peel it back gently with a putty knife. Grab it with one hand and continue to pull the paper off the wall while gently prying it up with the putty knife.

Now clean up and reward yourself with an iced tea and a nap in the hammock. For the rest of us, it's time to move on to the second easiest way to remove wallpaper.

Use your sponge or spray bottle to soak a small portion of the wallpaper, and allow it to penetrate the paper for five or ten minutes. Again starting at a seam, peel the old wallpaper away with a putty knife. Try not to "dig" too deeply or you will damage the wall underneath.

Continue the process in small sections until you've removed all the wallpaper. For areas that still have adhesive, Oliver Harriet writes on that "hot water, liquid dish soap, and a heaping tablespoon of baking soda" will do the job nicely. And if you need a little extra oomph, pour one cup of white or cider vinegar into each gallon of your mix.

While this is, in many ways, and easy DIY project, you'll still need to bring elbow grease and patience with you. Don't let stubborn wallpaper get you down! This isn't a quick project, but you'll feel great when your walls look the way you want them to. Once you finish, give the wall a few days to dry, then it's ready to paint. 


The easiest way to remove wallpaper: Troubleshooting

Waterproof wallpaper

Some newer wallpapers are waterproof, which means your hot water won't be able to get to the adhesive to break it down. In this case, score sections of the paper to allow the water to get through the paper. On This Old House, Merle Henkenius recommends a scoring tool to cut "tiny perforations into the wallcovering but not the wall."

Cracks and holes

Whether you have old horse-hair plaster or newer drywall, you'll need to repair any cracks and holes before you paint your newly wallpaperless walls. A small jar of spackle, a putty knife, and sandpaper will do the trick for small holes. Fill the hole with spackle and smooth it out with the putty knife. Once it's dry, sand it smooth.

For cracks, cover the length of the crack with drywall joint tape. Spackle the length and width of the tape, and sand it smooth when the spackle is dry. For holes, use a self-adhesive aluminum patch (it looks like a small screen) and follow the same procedure as you would for the tape.

For especially large holes, you may need to replace the drywall altogether, but that's a conversation for another time.

No matter how careful you are, accidents happen. Before you start that DIY home repair project, check with your local Pekin Insurance agent to make sure you're getting the best homeowners insurance.

Do you have any tips for removing wallpaper? Share your experiences in the comments.


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