How to Remove Old Wallpaper

You love your home, but you cringe every time you walk by that old wallpaper, printed in yesteryear's colors and pattern. Don't avoid the room or cover the wall with endless pictures, knickknacks and clutter in an attempt to cover it. Strip the wallpaper and start with a fresh wall to decorate instead. While stripping is a bit of a hassle and makes a mess as well, a simple household ingredient will make the job much easier.

Close up of a hand scraping away wallpaper
credit: Gary Houlder/Lifesize/Getty Images
Scraping dry wallpaper from the wall is tedious and easily damages the surface.

Step 1

Turn off the electricity supply to the room. Bare the walls, removing pictures, knickknacks and other hangings. Use a screwdriver to back screws out of electrical face plates and the claw end of a hammer to pry away any trim covering the wallpaper. Clear the work area along the wall, removing furniture from the room or piling it in the center.

Step 2

Spread plastic sheeting along the base of the wall, extending out 3 to 5 feet. Old tablecloths or cut-open garbage bags will work as well in a pinch. Throw additional protection against nearby furniture.

Step 3

Test the wallpaper to determine if it's a newer, "strippable," wallpaper. Find a seam near the bottom or side of the wall. A place that's already wanting to bubble or peel is ideal but not critical. Work a putty knife under the edge, taking care to avoid gouging the wall in the process. Use your fingers to grasp the free edge and pull it up and toward you. If it works, use two hands to remove the remainder. Break the wall into vertical sections, a foot or two wide, and score the wallpaper slightly to make the job easier. Take care to avoid cutting into the wall; hold a utility knife perpendicular to the wall to limit the blade depth or use a scoring tool. If only a layer of the wallpaper separates, it's "peelable" wallpaper instead. Discard the top layer and proceed to removing the bottom.

Step 4

Soak a rag and hold it against the wallpaper for a minute, or two or squirt the wall with a spray bottle. Look at the wallpaper afterward. If the water didn't soak into the material, it's "washable" wallpaper and will not absorb a removal solution unless the paper is sliced first. Score the surface in either a diamond or cross pattern, taking care to avoid slicing into the wall itself. Add additional score marks during removal as necessary to work the wallpaper free.

Step 5

Mix a stripping solution with your choice of vinegar or fabric softener. Fill a bucket or bowl with water that's as you can handle combined with either an equal amount of fabric softener or 3 to 4 cups vinegar per gallon of water. Heat helps the solution soak into the wallpaper and loosen the glue.

Step 6

Fill a spray bottle with the remover or use a paintbrush or roller as preferred. Apply to the wallpaper in small sections -- about as much as you can work in 15 to 20 minutes -- and wait about five minutes to allow it time to soak in. Don't go crazy with the water; you don't want to soak the wall underneath. An even spray or layer is ideal.

Step 7

Pull the wallpaper free with an up-and-out motion. As it comes free, encourage the remainder by spraying the wall underneath lightly or prying slightly with a putty knife or similar. Scrape clinging bits of adhesive as you work.

Step 8

Wash the stripped wall with a mixture of about 1/3 cup of trisodium phosphate and hot water. Apply with a clean cloth or plastic scouring pad and scrub slightly. Not only is TSP commonly used to prepare wall surfaces for painting, but it will help remove any adhesive film and the vinegar or fabric softener. Rinse with clean, warm water. Follow this with a rubdown using a dry towel to prevent a soggy wall.