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Wallpaper Removal Techniques

by Matt Goering

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Few home improvement projects are more time consuming, messy, or frustrating, than stripping wallpaper. Stripping wallpaper is a process that requires the use of special tools, caustic chemical materials, and most of all, a lot of patience. It can be done by a do-it-yourselfer with the right amount of time and the proper temperament, but it isn't an easy process to undertake.

Wallpaper Removal Techniques 101
When it comes to stripping wallpaper, there are only a few proven techniques available to you to get the job the done right. Here are the most proven wallpaper removal techniques, and the tools and time required of you to get it done.

Perforating the Wallpaper
The key to wallpaper removal techniques is not damaging the drywall or plaster underneath. If you're undertaking a wallpaper stripping project, your best bet is to invest in a special tool that scores the wallpaper prior to stripping. These hand held tools poke numerous holes in the wallpaper (but not the drywall) that allow for chemicals to be applied that work their way in and break down the adhesive that holds the wallpaper to the wall. Older adhesives could easily be removed by applying moisture to them, and thus reducing their effectiveness. Newer wallpaper adhesive, however, is designed to resists moisture, and thus requires a chemical application to get it to release its hold on your walls. Once you've perforated the wallpaper and applied the chemical, you should be able to easily remove the wallpaper without too much hassle.

Steam Stripping Wallpaper
If you've got older wallpaper, applying a steam treatment to the surface might be all you need to do to remove the paper. Older adhesives will give way when moisture is applied, so a rented steam application tool should do the trick. The only problem you might run into is if newer wallpaper adhesives were used in the application. As already mentioned, newer adhesives have been designed to resist moisture problems, so you'll need to take more substantial measures (the perforating tool and chemicals mentioned above) in order to remove them without causing damage to the sub-wall.

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Preserve the Sub-wall at All Costs
Whether you go the perforation route, or use steaming when you're stripping wallpaper, you're primary concern should be the wall underneath. Removing a layer of wallpaper and applying paint, or another wallpaper design, is a relatively manageable task. Repairing a sub-wall that has been significantly damaged by scraping or other harsh wallpaper removal techniques, is a different project entirely. You'll need to start by repairing any obviously damaged areas by applying a drywall compound to larger blemishes. Then you'll need to follow that up by painting on a drywall shellac to prepare the surface for further wallpapering. As a rule, the best thing you can do is to take great care when it comes to stripping wallpaper in the first place, so you won't have any sub-wall problems to address.

Talk to a Professional
Wallpaper removal and application is a common do-it-yourself home improvement, but it is one of the most time consuming, and labor-intensive, jobs you can undertake. Talk to an interior designer to get the best advice about how to tackle the process yourself, and don't be shy about hiring the job out to a professional. A contractor experienced in wallpaper stripping can get the job done in less time, and with a fraction of the frustration that an average homeowner is sure to experience.

Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.