How to remove wallpaper

Removing wallpaper is not normally a favoured job around the home, whether you’ve lived in your house for years and want to refresh a room with a bold feature wall, or you’ve just bought a new place and you are looking to update the existing decor . While there’s no doubt it can be messy and time consuming, there are reliable methods to make it easier and more effective, protecting your walls at the same time.

From using a powered steamer to soaking and stripping paper with hot water, we’ve put together an easy-to-understand guide on the easiest ways to remove wallpaper with the right tools, leaving your space ready for an exciting makeover. These methods should work for different types of wallpaper, like vinyl-coated, washable, embossed or pulp – although if you are trying to get rid of several layers steaming can be the best solution.

Wall types

It’s important to check what type of interior walls you have before stripping paper as they may be affected by removal techniques. Older houses usually have walls constructed with plaster, while drywall is a more common material used by builders today. If your walls are made of plaster, you will need to be careful not to scratch the surface when removing wallpaper using putty knives and other scraper tools. Drywall is made of boards of sheetrock or paper-covered gypsum, which can be as thin as half an inch. Therefore if you’re soaking or steaming old paper, you need to watch out for the surface of the drywall as it could start to come away if you apply too much heat or moisture. If this happens, you may need to re-fix the edges using nails.

Should I paper over old wallpaper?

If the job is too big to think about removal or it’s a utility room that you don’t use much, it is doable to cover over old wallpaper with new. Sand down any seams or rough edges and update glue any edges that have come unstuck before applying the new layer.

Generally, it’s advisable to remove entirely, as you may find that the original wallpaper becomes loose, causing the new paper to peel off, alternatively it might have a plastic or vinyl coating making it harder for wallpaper paste to stick. If you’re intending to paint over the top, it’s also very difficult to get a smooth surface with old wallpaper remaining.

Can I dry-strip wallpaper?

It might not be possible to simply peel away an old layer of wallpaper, but it’s always worth trying before you get stuck into the task of steaming or soaking the entire wall. Recently-hung wallpaper is also more likely to be strippable. Start with a putty knife and test the corner of a loose strip near the base of the wall. If it comes off fairly easily, you can begin to slowly pull it away. If not, you may need to use one of the following stripping methods.

Removing wallpaper by soaking

You may be able take off all of the wallpaper using a water-based method. It’s likely to be a messy job, so make sure you clear the walls and rooms of furnishings first, lay down some towels around the edge of your carpets, wood or laminate floors and place a few polythene dust sheets on top to catch the scraps of paper as they fall off. Make sure you isolate the electrics to the room, in case any water gets into sockets or light fixtures. Unscrew outlet covers and anything else that’s fixed to the wall, as this will make it easier to remove every scrap of the existing paper.

It’s usually a good idea to lightly perforate the surface of the wallpaper with a craft knife or scoring tool to make tiny holes or slits, especially if it has a washable, plastic coating. This will ensure that the water soaks through to the adhesive underneath – just be careful that you don’t mark the wall.

There are a few options for water-based solutions, depending on how many layers of old wallpaper you are tackling and your personal preference. You can use equal parts dishwashing detergent or fabric softener with hot water, though there are chemical wallpaper removers available to buy (wear a protective mask when using these). Otherwise, you might find that a large spray bottle and the hottest water you can get do the trick – it’s worth testing a few methods to see what delivers the best results.

Once you’ve mixed your solution, wet a section of the wall with sponges or paint rollers and leave to soak while applying solution to the next strip. After this is complete return to the first section and start scraping away the sodden strips with a putty knife. If the paper is stubborn, you may need to wait for up to ten minutes before it comes off the wall.

Removing wallpaper by steaming

If all other methods are proving difficult, you should consider using a powered steamer, which you can buy or rent – for example the Black & Decker Wallpaper Stripper. These tools use a hot plate connected to a hot water pipe, so you will need to wear thick protective gloves and clothing, and ventilate the room well. Prepare the walls and floors, and switch off the electrics as before.

Let the water inside the machine boil before beginning the process. Place the steamer at the top of the wall and work downwards, giving the tool enough time to soften the glue on every section before scraping with a putty knife and moving on. You can tell when it’s saturated if the old wallpaper starts to discolour around the edges. Never use your hands to take paper off once it’s been steamed – the tool uses boiling water so the paper will remain very hot for a while.

Though steamers have the advantage of adding more heat and power than other methods, it can still be a long and laborious process, with an entire wall of around 10m x 12m taking up to two hours to complete. However, it’s worth being thorough so you don’t have to go over areas twice. If you have a lot of fiddly parts – such as behind radiators – you may require different sizes of hot plate to access them.

Once all traces of wallpaper and glue are removed, leave the surface to dry and wipe down with a clean cloth before hanging your new wallpaper.