Removing wallpaper can be a complete pain for most people and it doesn’t have to be. Purchasing the right tools, employing the correct methods and a little bit of elbow grease is all you need to have. If this proves too much then employ the services of a professional painter and decorator
Tools and materials list
All the list below is available from your local DIY store.
- Double or single handled stripping knife
- Wide filling knife
- Paper Tiger or scoring tool
- Sheepskin roller sleeve and cage
- Wallpaper stripping solution
- Extension pole
Using the right tools
I can’t stress enough to use the right tools. Forget the cheap stripping knives, the cheap rollers and steamers. Wallpaper steamers especially can be dangerous and you run the risk of scalding yourself especially if you are stripping ceilings. I know lots of people will be telling me I’m wrong, but I have rarely used a steamer to remove wallpaper in all the years I have been decorating and I have always managed to remove wall coverings without much of an issue. Wallpaper steamers can also blow the plaster on solid walls and this will cost you more in time, involved preparation to put right and possibly plasterers costs. Stay away from steamers is my advice.
Most people who may have tried to remove wallpaper before in the past may have the small, cheap plastic handled 3 inch wide stripping knives. These are OK to use in hard to reach small areas, such as around door frames close to walls or around windows reveals. The best tools I have used for removing wallcoverings are the doubled handled stripping knives. These have 18 inches long handles with foam protection with a sharp 6 inch removable blade. These are superb across wide walls areas and will speed up wallcovering removal ten fold compared to the small 3 inch stripping knives most people are familiar with. I also use a wide 10 inch filling knife to remove the backing paper when the doubled handed stripping knife threatens to take too much of the wall surface.
Scoring tools (Zinsser Paper Tiger)
These are ideal for difficult to remove papers in perforating the wallpaper with small holes to allow the water to soak through to the backing paper. Removal of the top layer of paper is always advisable as much as possible first.
Scuttle and sheepskin roller sleeve
“Scuttle???” I hear you say, “what’s that?” A scuttle is basically a vessel which is square and not cylindrical like a bucket. This allows the roller to be loaded on the side with paint similar to a flat roller tray. The problem with roller trays is that they simply do not hold enough water or paint to be effective. Get a scuttle would be my advice.
Roller sleeves. Try to get a roller sleeve which holds plenty of water. For me, these are sheepskin roller sleeves. They are expensive compared to the cheaper versions but they will save you time and aggravation in the long run. Longer pile man made sleeves can also be used but just don’t hold enough water or paint compared to sheepskin roller sleeves.
Wallpaper stripping solution (or washing up liquid!)
Wallpaper stripping solution such as Zinnser DIF can be used to help to remove stubborn papers. It uses an enzyme to soften the paste and make the wall covering removal easier. Another trick is to use washing up liquid as the soap suds generated stick to the wall covering for much longer aiding the removal than just standard water.
Extension pole and steps
Extension poles (or sometimes referred to as ‘long arms’ in the trade) are invaluable to applying water to the surface by the roller. This will save oodles of time and save your back from constantly bending down to soak walls top and bottom. The pole makes this process much, much easier. Steps are needed for reaching those high areas, just make sure they’re safe, the right height and don’t over reach.
Method for wallpaper removal
Step 1 – Remove the top layer first.
All wall coverings usually come in two layers. With high relief or embossed papers, remove the top layer with your double handled stripping knife. Preferably do this dry without any water being applied to the wall. If this is a smooth paper like a vinyl, then dry to pick at the corner and pull off the top layer in sheets. Sometimes with standard smooth papers you may not be able to pull it off in sheets, then use the paper tiger and wet the wall.
Step 2 – Let the water do the work
Once the top layer is removed fill up the scuttle with hot water and the squeeze in the stripping solution or washing up liquid. Use the roller and extension pole to wet the walls. Thoroughly wet the walls at least twice and let the paper soak through. Test a small area and if its tough to get off, soak it again and again and again until the paper is easy to remove. I’ve always seen inexperienced people in removing wall coverings, soak the walls once and then try to remove the backing paper immediately, complain its too hard and then go and buy or rent a steamer. I have sometimes had to soak a wall 10 times, to get the paper off. With a roller and scuttle this takes no time at all. The trick here is to let the water do all the work.
Step 3 – Remove the backing paper
Once the walls are fully soaked in, the backing should be fairly easy to get off with using the doubled handed stripping knife. If this tries to take off too much of the wall surface then revert to using a wide filling blade instead. As the blade in a double handed stripping knife is sharp as a razor when new, this can sometimes happen. It just depends how hard you push down on the knife, then you could take gouges out of the wall. Try to minimise this with a wide filling knife instead. And when I mean wide I mean an 8 to 10 inch wide filling knife.
Step 4 – Clear up as you work
I always clear up the dry paper first first into large bin bags, and clear up the wet paper as I work as much as possible. The wet paper especially will dry and stick to the floor surface or dust sheet and can hard to remove once it’s dried. It also saves you lots of clearing up at the end which can be a real pain of the overall job.