So you just moved into a space with wallpaper more hideous and haunting than Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. Or maybe you're ready to sell your home and need to strip the walls before potential buyers start touring. Or, under less dramatic circumstances, perhaps you're simply ready to swap out your old wallpaper with a new pattern. Well, whatever your reason, we have some good news: Despite its bad reputation as stubborn, most wallpaper can actually be removed pretty easily. Read on to learn how to remove wallpaper in four simple steps, the installation tip that makes it easier to take down later (because beautiful wallpaper is definitely worth it), and why you should absolutely remove it before reselling your home.
How to Remove Wallpaper
Yes, wallpaper can stubbornly cling to the walls, but with the right tools, directions, and attitude, you will prevail. Here's what to do.
STEP ONE: Strip off the surface layer (the printed wallpaper side we see) using a paper scraper, peeling it back from the corners slowly.
STEP TWO: To loosen the backing, soak with a wet sponge and then scrape it off the wall. You can soak it by running a wet sponge over the surface and letting it sit for at least ten minutes (the longer, the better).
STEP THREE: Use wallpaper-removal spray to get tough spots (or even a few regular all-purpose cleaners will do, according to Flat Vernacular founder Payton Cosell Turner).
STEP FOUR: If you’re still not making headway, a scoring tool can help scratch the paper loose. Even then, you’ll still probably need to patch up and repaint parts of the wall.
For extra-stubborn wallpaper, one old trick is to use a steamer to loosen the paste before you scrape.
How to Ensure It's Easy to Remove Later
Proper installation = easier removal later, which has a lot to do with (1) skill-level of the paperhanger, and (2) the type of paste used. Today, there are a ton of paste options optimized for both adhesion and easier removal. When you put up a new print, use cold water paste—it’s water-soluble for easy removal. But cold water paste is also homemade, so while a professional may be able to mix the perfect starchy concoction, there's a lot of room for error if you're inexperienced. Luckily, there are many premixed pastes available now, which "take the guesswork out of what your grandparents would have done," says Greg Laux, marketing committee chair of the Wallcovering Installers Association.
Aside from paste, most wallpapers are now backed with a lining made from vinyl, paper, fabric, or natural textile so they aren’t straight against the wall. This intermediary makes it a lot easier to apply, remove, and replace, as it protects the wall from damage by preparing it for appropriate paste absorption.
Hiring a skilled paperhanger will also make removal so much easier. “You must match your particular skill level, wallpaper type, and complexity of application to give you a fair indication whether it’s time to call for help” or do it yourself, Laux advises. If you’ve already selected a beautiful, high-quality wallpaper, it’s best to have a skilled craftsman handle it so doesn't damage the walls later, as this can impact the value of your home.
How to Remove Peel-and-Stick Wallpaper
Compared to getting rid of the real stuff, removing peel-and-stick wallpaper is pretty straightforward (it's called "removable wallpaper" for a reason!) and can easily be done without the help of a professional. Check out the video below to see how Chasing Paper founder Elizabeth Rees does it and read on for step-by-step instructions.
STEP ONE: Remove any outlet covers.
STEP TWO: Starting from the upper corner, carefully peel off the panels one at a time.
STEP THREE: Some peel-and-stick wallpapers (including Chasing Paper's) are actually reusable. If you make sure to hold on to the original backing panels after installation, you can re-attach the panels after they've been removed and use them again in another space.
Can You Just Paint Over Wallpaper?
Well, it's complicated: While you can paint over some wallpapers, there are quite a few reasons you ay not want to. "It's definitely not best practice," says contractor Jessica Pleasants. Read more about her reasoning here.
Why You Should Remove Wallpaper for Resale
Though The Yellow Wallpaper may be a little bit of an extreme example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's words will likely ring true to some homebuyers: "the most hideous wallpaper... is stripped off in great patches... those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin." It's everyone's nightmare to fall in love with a dream home only to discover the walls are covered in layers of ancient, decrepit-looking wallpaper that can't be removed.
To separate fact from fiction about how wallpaper impacts the value of a home, we decided to consult Mindy Henderson, a luxury property specialist at Pacific Union, California’s leading brokerage. Henderson assures us that “wallpaper isn’t going to devalue your home” if it’s neutral. When in doubt, she recommends consulting a stager, who can help you decide whether removal is necessary.
But here's the thing: The beauty of wallpaper is that it can instantly inject character and movement to a space in ways that paint and blank walls just can’t, but it's also a personal preference. “And we find that de-personalizing a home and staging it has the most successful outcome for the seller,” because they can more easily envision themselves in the space, she explains.
When it comes time for a resale, you’ll want to consult a stager anyway, as “a well-staged home typically sells in half the amount of time, with twice as many offers, and in San Francisco, for $200,000 more,” Henderson tells us. All things considered, wallpaper removal will be a small price to pay, should your stager recommend doing so. Especially because you can do it yourself!
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