How To Remove Wallpaper Like a Pro

A Main Line Painting Contractor Gives Away His Secret Tips on Wallpaper Removal

As a general contractor based in Wayne, Pennsylvania, we specialize in interior painting and wallpaper removal. Needless to say, wallpaper removal can be very costly, as the labor time for removing wallpaper can add up quickly. And though it may look easy, removing wallpaper is anything but easy if it is done right.  

The other part of the equation in removing wallpaper is patience. Aside from being knowledgeable when removing wallpaper, being patient is paramount. A lack of patience when removing wallpaper is sure to lead you to throwing all of the tools right back into the garage, walking over to your laptop, and searching on Google for “best painters in my area.”

In many painting quote appointments, I am asked about tips on how to remove wallpaper. And though wallpaper removal is an art as much as a process, there are a few helpful hints that will help even the most novice of DIY homeowners.

Most homeowners who inquire about how to DIY their own wallpaper removal want to save some money. Though some do-it-yourselfers ask simply because they want to be a part of the project. There is a lot of satisfaction in a job well done knowing you did some of the work. It’s a way of “putting a little of yourself” into your home.

There are several tips that I have learned along the way, after many years and many hours of frustratingly slow wallpaper removal jobs. Trust me, if there is a way to remove wallpaper, I have tried them all.

For the sake of this blog, I will not involve the different types of wallpaper finishes or coatings, and will stick to general professional painter strategies that work in most wallpaper removal jobs.

Let’s start with (2) common tips on what not to do, that are typical wallpaper removing techniques used by most Do-It-Yourselfers and even by most professional painters.

Wallpaper Removal Secret Tip #1: Do not use the tiger tools.

Using the tiger tools, or tools that perforate the surface of the wallpaper, usually cause more work in the long run. How so? By gouging the drywall paper below the wallpaper, these tools essentially damage the drywall. 

The result is a ton of prep work must be done to restore the drywall surface, after the wallpaper has been removed.

The restoration process involves skim-coating the entire wall with 2-3 coats of joint compound, then sanding the walls smooth. This of course leads to a considerable mess which also takes a lot of time to clean.

Wallpaper Removal Secret Tip #2: Do not use solutions or chemicals.

The solutions or chemical additives for removing wallpaper are simply not necessary. They deter what really works best, which is hot water. By taking the time to add solutions to the hot water, you are allowing lag time for the water to cool off. The cooler the water the less effective it is.

Using the wallpaper removal solutions is as good as giving your money away. Of course, most paint store managers will tell you otherwise. There is one good reason why paint store managers will rebut this secret tip, it’s called “commission.”

Wallpaper Removal Secret Tip #3: Use hot water. 

This is the key. Out of all the tips a Main Line painter would offer for removing wallpaper like a pro, nothing is more important than using hot water. 

How hot? As hot as you can stand it. When I remove wallpaper, I use two pairs of thick rubber gloves – the first pair I put on is a size too small. Then the next pair is a size too large. This double layer of rubber allows my hands to be protected against burning from the hot water. 

Sometimes, we even turn-up the hot water heater on the homeowners’ water tank.

Why is hot water so vitally important? It’s simple. Heat – better yet “wet heat” – reactivates the resin in the paper. If the resin is reactivated, it essentially softens and lifts the paper. 

Plus, it is a much faster process to remove the resin by hot water than by dry-scraping or dry-sanding. Both of the last two steps work, but they are slower and unhealthy. When sanding dry resin, the resin becomes airborne and can be breathed in. 

Wallpaper Removal Secret Tip #4: Soak at the seams and work by starting at the top and at the seams.

Of course the seams are cracks in the existing wallpaper layer that allow water to get under the paper. And by starting at the top, the water will run down the wall and soak in advance of your work flow.

So, always start at the seams and near the tops of seams. 

Wallpaper Removal Secret Tip #5: Use the right tools.

The only tools to use, in assisting in the removal process, are hard scraping blades. A combination of sizes work best, depending on how the paper is coming off. 

It is quite typical to start with a 1” or 1 ½” scraping too, and then progress to a 3” or 4” tool after the hot water takes effect and the wallpaper starts coming off in bigger sections or even in partial sheets.

Wallpaper Removal Secret Tip #6: Use a fan.

By using a room fan, such a box fan or a fan on a stand, you can dry out the drywall paper faster. This is important to make sure the drywall finish paper doesn’t get too soggy for too long, resulting in damaged drywall paper. 

The balance in using the fan though, is making sure not to use it too soon. Otherwise, you will cool off the hot water too soon. This is one of those steps where the experienced professional painter knows when to use, and when not to use, a fan.

Wallpaper Removal Secret Tip #7:  Be patient.

Patience is indeed a virtue, particularly when soaking, soaking, soaking the wallpaper. And herein lies another important insight regarding the process – some wallpapers take more patience than others. 

In other words, depending on the type of surface paper and how the paper was installed prior – as well as other factors, the hot water wallpaper removal process works faster or slower accordingly.  The bottom line though is that eventually hot water will reactivate the resin layer, and the paper will begin to come off. 

Sometimes, it just takes patience as well as that other all too important “p” word of virtue – “persistence.”

Well, given these wallpaper removal tips – and your ever virtuous DIY self – you are well on your way to removing wallpaper like a professional painter! 

From one Main Line painter to another, I wish you all the best with your home’s painting efforts. Enjoy!