Wallpaper Removal Methods

Removing wallpaper is one of these activities that every painter has an opinion about. Some painters developed methods of doing it successfully and others wouldn’t touch it. Being a tedious and time consuming activity, hiring a wallpaper removal service is an option, but it can get expensive. If you are a DIYer with some free time, you can certainly attempt it yourself. You need some useful tools, some good instructions, patience and a lot of elbow grease. Removal tools and liquid solutions are inexpensive, in fact some are household supplies you use daily.

Caution: whatever method you or your contractors use, protecting the wall from damage is very important. Damaged drywall is difficult to repair and preparing the wall for paint can be more expensive that the cost of wallpaper removal itself.

There was this Toronto Home with a lot of Wallpaper to Remove

The homeowner just moved in and called Ecopainting to paint the home interior. This was a large home on Castle Frank, with a lot of wallpaper to remove. We removed it from ceilings, from bathrooms, from tall stairways. There was a wallpaper mural in the rec room, even grasscloth all over the main areas. We knew right from the start that a project this big would be a challenge for our crews. We even discussed the option of painting over the wallpaper in some rooms. Different types of wall coverings require several methods of removal and this was definitely the case here. Since we tried everything in this home, this is a perfect time to describe the most popular methods and tools.

Spray Pump with Solution

Spray pump for wallpaper removalThis is the tool that most  painters use and what we used in the aforementioned painting project in Rosedale. Paint stores sell this pump as a specialty tool for wallpaper removal and they have some good ones. Alternatively, you can find it cheaper in the garden section of your local hardware store. They are good enough for the job and they will last as long as you take care of it.

Most of them hold about a gallon. Read the instructions about how much water to mix with the chemical solution. A stronger solution will not work any better. Hot pressurized water works the best, so keep pumping it every few minutes. The hot mist works fast fore you start and penetrates most wallpapers. Keep the surface wet at all times and allow 10-15 minutes beremoving. Keep in mind:

  • The mist is not harmless, it is best to protect the floor and furniture.
  • Keep the mist away from your face and allow ventilation.
  • Wear goggles and gloves.
  • When removing commercial wallcoverings be aware of the proximity of the staff to the work area.
  • Keep the water away from the ceiling if you are not painting it.
  • Use a paintbrush or sponge to get to the ceiling edge.
  • Make gravity your friend start from the top first.
  • Don’t leave an area until most of the glue is removed.

Gel Removal Solution Applied with Roller or Sponge

Some manufacturers have gel versions of their products. They have the ability to “cling’ to the surface longer and allow for maximum penetration. Gels are perfect for applying on ceilings and can be applied with paint rollers or large sponges. This came handy at the Castle Frank home where we had to remove wallpaper from ceilings. Gels are not perfect for every job because they don’t penetrate certain papers. They are also expensive because they are premixed and not concentrated.

The Plastic Sheet Solution

There are time when nothing works and the paper layer seems impossible to penetrate. Use the following technique:

Pre-cut enough plastic sheet to cover the area you are working on. Score the top layer of the wallcovering with the specialty “paper tiger” tool, a wire-brush or coarse sandpaper. Apply some  gel stripping solution with a paint roller. Work it into the surface and use a generous amount of gel. Apply the plastic sheets to cover the wet surface. It will keep the solution active longer, and hopefully dissolve some of the glue. Allow about half hour for this method to work. Remove only the plastic from the area you are working on, while keeping the rest of it moist. Suggestion: Use the thinner plastic you can find and work it onto the surface with your hands.

Successful paper removal

Nothing works, now what?

There is the rare time when nothing works no matter what method you tried. The main reason for that is that the paperhanger did not prep the surface before the installation. We even found wallpaper installed directly on bare and unprimed drywall. You have two choices here.

  1. If it’s too late and the wall is damaged, prime it with an alkyd primer. If you don’t want to use an oil primer, there is a clear primer made by Zinsser, called Gardz. It works as well but two coats are better. Skim coat damaged wall with drywall compound, sand and reprime again. Keep fixing final imperfections, spot-prime and you are ready to paint.
  2. If you realize early enough that the wallpaper is not going to budge, stop right there, you don’t have to remove it. You can actually paint over the wallpaper by priming it first with an alkyd primer. After priming, patch the visible seams, cut out any loose pieces and patch. Reprime or spot-prime with the same primer. Note: if the wallpaper has a heavy texture you will see it through the paint. If you think that is the case after priming, skim coat the entire surface with drywall compound and prime again.

Homemade Removal Solutions

There are a few homemade solutions and we heard them all. Do they work? Sometimes they do and other times they don’t, depending on how difficult the job is. Even plain hot water can do the job, as long as you work hard at  it, scrape carefully and wash the glue. One well known solutions is fabric softeners mixed with water. Some had good luck with Dawn dishwashing liquid and water. Vinegar and water? Anything and water? The common ingredient seems to be water, hot water preferably.

Handy Tools to make the job easier

  • Hand held spray pumps
  • Patching knives in different sizes.
  • Coarse sandpaper or wire brush to score and scratch the top layer
  • Paper tiger by Zinsser to score tough wallpapers
  • Buckets and rugs for water and cleaning
  • Plastic sheeting to protect floors and furniture
  • Very large sponge to apply the solution and wash the glue
  • Small ladder with tray
  • Gloves and goggles

Ecopainting has been offering a wallpaper removal service in Toronto for years. We can just remove the wallpaper for you, or we can prep and paint the surfaces after. Call us at (416)733-7767 and speak to one of our representatives about all your options.

Everywhere you look there is wallpaper

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