The Day The Wallpaper (Almost) Won: 5 Wallpaper Stripping Tips to Make Your Experience Better Than Ours

5 Wallpaper Stripping Tips

Friends, family, countrymen (and women!) lend me your ears…wallpaper is evil.  If you are thinking about putting some lovely mod, deco, floral, striped, psychedelic, horses, anchors, arrows, birch trees (or whatever print you love) on your walls.  Stop now, walk away from the paste, and for goodness sake get a stencil or something!  The Cape is COVERED in wallpaper.  The previous owner seems to have had a love affair with wallpaper and left some serious, old-school, Laura Ashley/Waverly-type florals and stripes and ribbon wallpaper all over the house.  They are nice in a “last updated in the 1980s, now enjoyed by women of a certain age” kind of way…but not really our style.  Let me give you a quick tour and then I will share our 5 Wallpaper Stripping Tips.

WALLPAPER TOUR

There is a saccharine cheerful yellow floral in the front entry, stairs, and upstairs hall.  It is kind of e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e!

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A rose and ribbon-themed pink bedroom.

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A blue and white floral second bedroom.

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Green and white stripes in the powder room.

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Gold and cream print in the music room

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And, one of the least attractive florals I have ever seen in the upstairs bathroom (complimented by yellow and blue tile:-)

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all photos from the real estate listing

OUR PLAN

Our initial plan was to remove every last scrap of the wallpaper (except for the music room wallpaper, I kind of like that one), and we went up last week to tackle the two bedrooms and the unending expanse of yellow floral.  Um…yeah…

This is some quality installation!!!  Most of the online tutorials I found for hot water wallpaper removal recommended allowing 1 person working for 1 day per room for wallpaper removal. Not for this wallpaper.  No ma’am!

It took Adrian and me (with a little help from the boys:-) working together more than 3 full days of spraying, scraping, peeling, scrabbling with our finger nails and scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing to get the wallpaper and glue off of just the two bedrooms.   So, two people working for 3 days, plus a little extra.

5 Wallpaper Stripping Tips

The pink room took me and the boys about a day and a half.  The blue room…OMG!  It was a different paper, and a different adhesive.  Adrian gave up for a while and it almost broke me.  There was definitely a point towards the end of day 2 that I really thought we weren’t going to be able to get it off the wall. I thought the wallpaper had won. But, then our whole family came together and triumphed:-)  I can no longer feel my fingertips, my knuckles are still visibly swollen (I couldn’t wear my wedding ring for 3 days), and my triceps are looking way more built now, but we have two lovely, wallpaper-free bedrooms.

In the course of stripping wallpaper from the blue room, we found “signatures” of the plasterer from 1946 and the wallpaperer from 1987 on two different sections of wall.  Pretty neat, and very cool that our walls have never been painted, but sheesh, I spent a lot of time cursing Harry Schultz Decor!

signatures
BTDT tip-Getting the paper off is about 10% of the job.  Scrubbing the infernal glue/sizing/paper fragments off the wall is the bulk of the work.

OUR PROCESS

This is the general process that worked for us. Please note that these were all non-strippable wallpaper, and our walls are unpainted plaster:

  1. Remove outlet covers, vents, and switches
  2. Cover all outlets, air returns, and switch boxes with plastic and cut off the electricity to the room at the circuit breaker
  3. Score the wallpaper with a scoring tool
  4. Spray 2-4 ft section of wall with lots of hot water constantly over the course of 15-30 min (or 45+ min! in the blue room)
  5. Peel the paper off the wall.  Using the edge of the wallpaper scraper or a taping or putty knife to help ease the paper off the wall can help.  most of the pink paper came off in decent sized chunks of sheets.  Until Adrian’s patient work with the last few sheets, the blue room paper would not come off in large pieces and, when it came off, there was a often a layer of some kind of backer paper on the wall still that had to be removed  When all else fails, start frantically scraping it off the wall strand by strand with your fingernail
  6. Scrape as much glue as possible off the wall with your taping knife
  7. Scrub with a large scouring sponge (we used the pirahna sponge but a large scotchbrite would work well too)…until the wall is clean.  At first the glue will look like crusty yellow boogers on the wall. Scrub through that and you will think the wall is clean, but…you may see that there is a clear, viscous film left on the wall…keep scrubbing...you may see bubbles…keep scrubbing…you may feel a “slip” when you run your fingers or sponge over the wall…keep scrubbing…you may see yellow splotches on the wall…keep scrubbing. If you truly think the wall is clean, try changing your water, rinsing your sponge, and then going over the wall again.  When it is clean there will be no slippery feeling, no bubbles, no viscosity, and only occasional faint yellow stains that you have triple checked are not a stubborn glue spot.  It is a crazy amount of scrubbing, I scrubbed clear through my first sponge!  My little helpers got to help spray, scrub, and peel wallpaper too.

5 Wallpaper Stripping Tips

5 WALLPAPER STRIPPING TIPS

Here are my hard earned 5 wallpaper stripping tips to help make your wallpaper removal process a better experience than ours (we went with the hot water method as there are mixed reviews on chemical stripper, we weren’t sure what was under the wallpaper, and we had two little helpers so needed the process to be as non-toxic as possible):

  1. Keep it wet and hot and let it do it’s thing (that sounds totally inappropriate, but really, time is an essential part of the equation). Don’t let the paper dry out once you get it wet and keep it hot.  Day two was chilly and we had the windows open because we were mixing fabric softener with the hot water in an effort to speed things along (inconclusive results on that, heat seemed to have the most impact).  The cold air made the paste super tacky and gummy and made it almost impossible to get the paper off and the glue would not scrub off the walls.  Once I closed the windows things got marginally better (maybe just because we were high on fabric softener fumes, but whatever, we got it done:-)
  2. Wear gloves, the thicker kind that you use for dishwashing. We did not do this, and I wish we had, I think my hands would be in much better shape!  The hot water took a serious toll.
  3. Use more and hotter water than you ever thought you would need. I would typically need to use 4-5 spray bottles of water on just one 18-24 inch wide piece of wallpaper.  We used the hottest water that came out of the tap and I don’t think our hot water heater has a regulator on it.  The water was literally steaming, and scalded our hands, but the hotter it was, the better it worked.
  4. Use any tools that might help–namely, a taping knife, spray bottle, wallpaper removal tool, and large scrubber sponge were our best friends
  5. Protect your floors!  We took our carpets out first (a whole other post, stay tuned for that adventure!) I think I wish we would have left them in and taken them out after we got the walls done, but honestly, the carpets were NASTY and the thought of all that dirt/dust/decomposing carpet pad oozing everywhere as we took the carpets out…well, it’s a toss up.  But, either way, protect your floors.  Between the hot water bucket heat, blobs of paste-water that dripped off our sponges, and the unending spraying, our floors don’t look so great now even though we were constantly wiping up. We were planning on sanding and refinishing them anyway, so it’s a not a big deal for us, but if that weren’t the case, we would likely have a refinishing job in our future after the abuse the floors took.

Stay tuned later this week for the gory details of carpet removal, and come back next week for highlights of Adrian’s upcoming trip when he is going to tackle sanding and refinishing the floors solo (we realized floor refinishing would best be accomplished without our pint-sized entourage!)

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3 Comments

  1. Anne

    A steamer might help when you get to yellow walls but then again, if they are well attached paint over them….or at least maybe paint the yellow tile in the upstairs bath and leave the blue trim and floor…..can it be lived with?

    Reply
    1. MamaBee Author

      I don’t think the steamer would have helped on the glue part, but we may try it when we tackle the yellow paper next year. We learned that painting over wallpaper is a big no-no b/c once you do that it is virtually impossible to remove in the future. We would rather do this right the first time, as hard as it may be:-)

      Reply

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