How to Remove Old Wallpaper

Stripping Old Wallpaper

How to Remove Old Wallpaper Because scraping off old wall-coverings is a necessary preliminary to practically all decorating schemes, it is included here as a project in its own right. Provided the room is not too big and there are no unexpected snags, it should not take you more than half a day to scrape off conventional wallpaper. Stripping specialized wall-coverings or painted wallpaper may take a little longer. Add an appropriate length of time to your decorating schedule.

Essential tools:

  • Large paintbrush
  • Scraper
  • Paper scorer
  • Steam stripper


Steam stripper – You can hire a large industrial model or buy a lightweight steam stripper with its own water reservoir. Hold the tool’s sole plate against the wall until the steam penetrates and softens the wallpaper, then remove it with a scraper. Wash the stripped wall to remove traces of paste.

Scraping Off the Paper

To soften the old wallpaper paste, soak the paper with warm water mixed with a little washing-up liquid, or use a proprietary stripping powder or liquid.

Conventional wallpaper

Apply the water with a sponge or houseplant sprayer. Repeat and leave the water to penetrate for 15 to 20 minutes.

Use a wide metal-bladed scraper to lift the softened paper, starting at the seams. Take care not to dig the points of the blade into the plaster. Resoak stubborn areas of paper and leave them for a few minutes before stripping.

Electricity and water are a lethal combination: where possible, dry-strip around switches and sockets. If the paper cannot be stripped dry, switch off the power at the consumer unit when you come to strip around electrical fittings, and unscrew the faceplates so that you can get at the paper trapped behind them. Do not use a sprayer near electrical accessories.

Collect all the stripped paper in plastic sacks, then wash the wall with warm water containing a little detergent.

Scoring a washable wallpaper

Washable wallpaper has an impervious surface film, which you must break through to allow the water to penetrate to the adhesive.

Use a wire brush or a serrated scraper to score the surface, then soak it with warm water and stripper. It may take several applications of the liquid before the paper begins to lift.

Stripping painted wall-coverings

Use a wire brush or home-made scorer (see DIY Tip below) to scratch the surface, then soak the paper with warm water plus a little paper stripper. Painted papers (and washables, too) can easily be stripped using a steam stripper (see opposite). Hold the stripper’s sole plate against the paper until the steam penetrates, then remove the soaked paper with a wide-bladed scraper.

Peeling vinyl wall-coverings

Vinyl wall-covering consists of a thin layer of vinyl fused with a paper backing. To remove the vinyl, lift both bottom corners of the top layer of the wall-covering, then pull firmly and steadily away from the wall. Either soak and scrape off the backing paper or, if you want to leave as a lining paper, smooth the seams with medium-grade abrasive paper, using very light pressure to avoid wearing a hole.

Painting over old wallpaper

For best results, it is always best to strip off an old wall-covering before you hang a new one. However, if the existing paper is perfectly sound, you can paint it with emulsion or oil paints (but be warned: it will be more difficult to remove in the future). Strong reds, greens or blues may show through the paint, as will a pattern printed with metallic inks; mask them by applying an aluminium spirit-based sealer. Do not paint vinyl wall-coverings, except for blown vinyl.


How to make a home-made wallpaper scorer

Drive some nails through a block of softwood measuring about 150 x 125 x 25mm (6 x 5 x 1in), so that the points just protrude. When using this wallpaper scorer, be careful not to press too hard or you can damage the walls beneath the paper.

Painted or Wallpapered Surfaces

Tips for treating different wall surfaces:



Gloss painted

If the wall is to be repainted and the existing paint is sound, wash well with sugar soap and water. If the wall is to be papered, rub it with the smooth side of a flexible sanding pad – damped with clean water – to remove the glaze. Papering over gloss is always risky because the wall is so well sealed, but you have more chance of success if you put up lining paper first. In steamy areas, like bathrooms, use a vinyl or water-resistant wall covering.

Emulsion painted

If emulsion is peeling, strip it back to ensure a sound base for future decoration. There may be distemper underneath. If the emulsion is sound and well anchored, clean and roughen the surface with sugar soap and water, then redecorate. Emulsinned surfaces can be papered, but use a heavy-duty paste with minimum water. In steamy conditions, use an impervious wall covering, so damp cannot reach the emulsion.


Distemper forms a chalky barrier which prevents paint or paper adhering to the wall. Scrub it off with a coarse cloth or a nylon pot scourer and water. If there is a thick coating, damp the whole area, then scrape away with a wide stripping knife. Never scrape bad cases of distemper without wetting it; it makes too much mess. Cover any remaining distemper with stabilising solution. Once dry, the surface can be decorated.

Standard wallpaper

Soften ordinary wallpaper with water, adding a little liquid detergent And add a handful of cellulose paste to each bucket of water – it helps to hold the water on the wall. Use a scraper to lift off the paper.

Painted wallpaper

If the wallpaper has been painted, roughen the surface with coarse abrasive paper before you try to strip it off the wall. If the paint is thick, you may have to score the surface with the serrated blade of a wallpaper scraper. Never use a wire brush or wire wool – if slivers of metal become embedded in the plaster, they can rust and cause tiny stains on wall coverings.

Vinyls, washables and wipe-clean papers Score washable and wipeable wallpapers with a serrated scraper so that water can penetrate. Consider hiring a steam wallpaper stripper to tackle materials that are difficult to remove, or if the wall is covered with layers of old paper.

Vinyls are usually easier to strip off a wall – the vinyl skin can be pulled from its backing, then the backing soaked away. With some modern papers and vinyls (called easy-strip), the backing can be left on the wall as the lining paper for the next wall covering. This is only satisfactory if the paper is well stuck. If there are any signs of loose areas, strip it off.

If the surface of a stripped wall is rough in places, rub it with coarse abrasive paper mounted on a block.

07. December 2010 by admin
Categories: Wallpapering | Tags: | Comments Off on How to Remove Old Wallpaper


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