To ensure that your new wallpaper sticks to your walls properly and that it looks as fresh and flawless as it should, it’s important to remove any old wallpaper that’s currently on your walls. Depending on your situation, this could be quick and easy, or it might be a hassle – the good news is that it’s all been done before and solutions have been found. We’re here to share all that we know about how you can get that tough or super-stuck wallpaper off your walls!
What are you up against?
The basic process
Tough tools for tough situations
Worst case scenario alternatives
What are you up against?
In order to come up with a course of action, you first need to know what you’re up against in terms of the wall below, as well as, the wallpaper and how it was hung.
The Wall Below
Knock on your wall – if it feels real solid, it’s probably plaster, and if your knock produces an echo, it is probably dry wall. Plaster is much more common in Europe, while North America tends to build more with drywall.
If your walls are plaster, this is a good thing as it means you won’t have to worry about moisture damaging them. If the walls are not plaster, but rather, possibly dry wall, this means that you will have to be cautious with your use of water as it can ruin the wall below. As well, you should cross your fingers now and hope that the person who hung it used a primer because wallpaper sticks real good to bare drywall.
The Old Wallpaper
Go to a corner and gently, try to peel the wallpaper from the wall dry - what happens?
In the best case scenario, the wallpaper is dry strippable and you are able to remove the entire strip all in one piece, dry. If this is the case, you can remove your wallpaper in a matter of minutes and stop reading this! Of course, this is a newer wallpaper technology and if the wallpaper is sufficiently old, it most likely won’t be dry strippable. But do consider hanging dry strippable wallpaper to make life easier for future redesigns!
Still not bad but more work, is a wallpaper that has a peelable top layer, meaning that the surface patterning can easily be stripped while dry all in one piece, but it will leave behind its white backing. This backing is not unlike when you peel off a price sticker from and it leaves behind that gluey-papery mess. While it’s not quite as hassle-free as dry strippable wallpaper, this gunk is generally easy to remove with a little soap and water - you just need to put in the time.
In the worst case scenario you will have woodchip wallpaper, very old or layer wallpaper, or vinyl wallpaper. This is when you really can’t pull off much more than small shreds at a time and the adhesive beneath is borderline fossilized. Vinyl will put you in an especially difficult position because it’s also resistant to water.
The Basic Process
Don’t forget to protect your floors with a tarp as it will need to endure water being sprayed and gluey chunks of wallpaper. Then just using your hands, start by removing what wallpaper you can without any added water. As you know, some wallpapers allow you to rip off the surface layer without being moistened.
If the wallpaper is not dry removable, this means you that will need to moisten the wallpaper to fully remove it from the wall. If you are simply removing the backing and adhesive, water mixed with a bit of dish or laundry detergent should work fine, or alternatively, you can mix one part vinegar with 4 parts water. For traditional paper wallpaper, water mixed with some fabric softener is great.
Put your water mixture in a spray bottle and starting from the edges, spray relatively small sections of your water mixture onto the wallpaper and allow it to soak for at least 15 minutes. Especially if you don’t have plaster walls, don’t overdo the water as this can also risk turning your wall below to mush. Next, using a scraper with rounded corners, begin to gently scrap up the wallpaper, being conscious not to damage the wall below. Continue to spray a bit of wall with your water mixture 15 minutes ahead of time and scraping your way along to a wallpaper-free wall. In an ordinary, non-problem scenario, this is all you need to do until all of the wallpaper is gone. Then rinse any soap off of the walls with a damp cloth and allow the walls to fully dry before hanging your new wallpaper.
A wallpaper steamer utilizes hot steam to soften up that stubborn old wallpaper
Tough Tools for Tough Situations
If your reading this guide, the chances are that the basic process isn’t quite working. The first most common problem people have is that the water mixture just isn’t soaking into the wallpaper well enough. This might be because the wallpaper is just really old, or that it actually has a water-phobic surface like vinyl.
One option you have in this case is a pin roller. This is a roller covered in little spikes that you can gently roll over the old wallpaper to perforate it before spraying on your water mixture. It will allow the water to get in deeper and work on the stuff below the stubborn surface. Just be careful not to press too hard or you will end up with a wall covered in holes!
On top of a pin roller, you can also try adding some heat to the mix with a wallpaper steamer and retire the water mixture you’ve been using. These machines are usually not to expensive to rent and they can make a world of difference. Be aware that a steamer can also damage drywall so go easy and be patient!
However, another major problem some might run into is old rock-like adhesive that is impervious to any previously mentioned technique. This is when you should consider adding a chemical wallpaper stripper to the regimen. This is a strong chemical that should be able to soften the glue so that you can finally scrape it off.
Worst Case Scenario Alternatives
Some wallpaper can be nearly impossible to remove. For instance, if it was hung directly onto drywall with no primer, or maybe it’s just too old with too many layers, or maybe the surface is an impenetrable 80’s structured vinyl. Let’s talk about what your options are now if doing it the right way seems to no longer be an option.
If you are just completely determined to hang your new wallpaper on a fresh wall, you could consider going over the old stuff with an electric sander. This will get rid of the old wallpaper, but it also runs the risk of creating an uneven wall via uneven sanding.
Board it up
You can also take big smooth boards and attach them on top. This will create a smooth wallpapering surface at the cost of a bit of space in the room and the dissatisfaction of not getting rid of the wallpaper below. On top of the boards, you’ll definitely require a wallpaper liner to cover the cracks before hanging your new stylish wallpaper.
If you can get the wall surface to a state where wallpaper could actually stick to it (it’s not too slick), you could just wallpaper on that. Just make sure there’s no peeling wallpaper left, and to ensure that it’s not a nightmare to remove later, use a primer. To cover up any bumps or cracks, you can hang a thick wallpaper liner. Of course, this might not look perfect if the wall is too bumpy, so it’s important to temper your expectations!