How to remove wallpaper

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Old 06-11-08, 09:29 PM
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How to remove wallpaper

When I first went into business the yellow pages put me under paper strippers instead of paper hangers so I ended up doing a lot of it. Since the guys over in tile are helping me out I'll take the time to write a how to on paper removal.

HINT! HINT! HINT! Read all of this and understand what you are getting into and what tools you will need in various situations. Not fun but this IS NOT the kind of job you can just drop and go to depot or pick up the next day. You will basically loose most if not all of the work you did for the day.

First thing you have to determine what kind of wallpaper in on the wall. Find a loose seem and give it a pull. Or if it’s tight get a knife and work at it. There are four basic kinds.

1 Solid Vinyl, The whole sheet peels off complete with backing. (And usually some of the drywall too! So stop and read the rest of this or you’ll beeeee sooooooory)

2 Old time paper/paper. That is the wallcovering is a solid sheet of pure paper with ink on the face.

3 Peelable Vinyl, Where the face comes off in big pieces or whole sheets leaving a sheet of paper backing glued tight to the wall.

4 Non Peelable Vinyl. Where the face comes off in ittsy, bittsy little pieces defying every attempt to get it off the wall. Basically the cheap stuff. A true nightmare in the making.

Most residentials will be 3 or 4. At this point it pays to dig a little with a knife of some kind to look for multiple coats, and/or painted over wallpaper. If you have painted over paper you are in the number 4 category.


Ok, if you have number 1, Solid Vinyl life is probably either going to be heaven or hell. Getting it off isn’t the problem. Getting it off without destroying the wall is the question. Cover the room with drop clothes and get a ladder. Starting at the top use a knife to get a corner started and slooooooooooooly peel. If it comes off easy thank God and do it. Then see the instruction further down on removing glue.

If drywall starts coming with it try these two tricks first. Getting a fresh corner peel it back dead to the wall. That is don’t yank it strait out at a ninety degree angle but strait down. Right hand pulling, Left hand pressing it to the wall to keep it flat. This way there is less pressure to pull the wall out and therefore releasing the drywall paper.

Second thing that will help is to take little strips instead of full sheets. Once you get four or five inches of the corner peeled back stop and rip (or give it a little starter cut if necessary) it at the top and peel it down the wall. Once started the stuff should rip easily. Doing little strips like this will put less pressure on the wall.

WARNING: Do not cut the wall with a knife to make little strips. You will invariably cut into the drywall and make it easier to pull away.

If you can’t get the stuff off without destroying the wall. You have three basic choices here.

A - If the paper is so tight it has basically become part of the wall you can go over it. This is not the preferred choice as it can cause aaaaaall kinds of problems later. You can do tons of work only to find out you have to go back and strip it any way. But sometimes there is just no other way. Cut away any loose seams, corners etc and get out the spackle. If the stuff has a texture you may have to skim the entire wall. Sand and prime with an OIL BASED primer and top coat or repaper as you wish.

B – You can use the method described below for number 4, Non peelable vinyl. It will work but how much work it will be is a depends thing.

C – You can say the hell with it and rip away. Not quite as insane as it sounds especially if it’s not doing major damage. Believe it or not this is often the best way. But your going to have to do a lot of spackling so if that’s not your cup of tea it might not be for you.
Remove the glue and spackle as necessary. HINT: Shredded drywall is a nightmare. You spackle, it bubbles, you cut out the bubbles, spackle again and it freaking bubbles again and on and on. Before you start spackling apply a coat of Gardz. It’s made by Zinzer and available at Duron, (Not sure where else.) It will lock down the drywall paper and make life a whole lot easier. Gardz is the only reason this method has become doable as far as I’m concerned.


Ok, Most of you are in 2, 3 or 4. The methods for each are basically the same with little quirks for each.

First off if you can take every freaking thing out of the room. Will make your life a lot easier. This is going to be meeeeeeeeesy.

Second go to depot and get a roll of 4 mil plastic large enough to cover the whole floor in one sheet. If the room is to big or plastic is to small you can tape it together but make sure you use duct tape as masking or blue tape will simply release due to the water.

HINT: Don’t get 1 mil cheap plastic. You are going to be walking on this and it will rip.

Run the plastic up to the middle of the base board and tape the entire length with masking tape so water won't get onto your floors. (Generally a little will but you don't want a flood here) Don't use any old kind. Get the "contractors" grade. Basically you want something that will stick when water hits it so don't use blue tape. But conversely you don't want it to stick to good or you can rip the paint off the moldings. So don't use the high grade masking tape and God forbid don't use duct tape LOL.

At this time plastic over delicate things you can't, or don't want to remove. IE, If you have one wall of floor to ceiling shelves filled with books and knickknacks it might be easier to plastic over than to clean it all off.

Also at this point take things off the wall that will get in your way, especially things like heating vents that may have wallpaper behind them. Will make life easier.

WARNING!!!!!!! You are going to be spraying water on the wall. Water and electricity DO NOT mix! Safest thing is to turn off the juice. However then often times the light is on the recp line and you can’t see. I, being a dumb ass don’t turn it off. However what I do do, and if you do this it is strictly at your own risk is to leave all the switch and recp plates on. Tape them over with masking tape to keep water out of them. Cut around the plate, remove the paper, clean the wall and the very last thing take the plates off and then the wall paper behind them.

A note on phone jacks. I learned the hard way. Tape them over. They only have 13 volts, not enough to really harm you but enough to fry the connectors. Bye, Bye phone service.


If you have 2, paper/paper you’re good to go.

If you have 3, peelable vinyl, peel the face off and lay the pieces long ways against the wall or trash it.

If you have 4, non peelable vinyl or painted over paper, you need to get though it somehow so the water will soak though and release the glue. Generally the best method is a tool a company by the name of Zinzer makes called the Paper Tiger. There is a small version with one double wheel and a larger version that has three doubles, The thing looks like a red and black starfish. A good paint store has them in their wall paper section.

You run it up and down the wall and it cuts tiny little slits though the paper or paint. This can also be used on 1, Solid vinyl if you go this route. How well it works is a depends thing. Sometimes it goes good, sometimes not. A lot of experimentation will probably be in order here.

Other methods include taking a knife and cutting lots of slits in the paper. It will work but most often you do a lot more wall damage. I’ve even heard of guys taking pad sanders to the wall.

Even with the Zinzer tool a lot of times the wall gets damaged and more so when the water hits it. So a lot of times I’ll just wet the wall down as described below and let it peel at the seams, pull off what I can and wet again. This works ok on small jobs and easy to remove papers but otherwise takes freaking forever so it’s sort of pick your poison here. Like I said it’s a depends thing.

Anyway, Now you need to get water to the glue to loosen it up so the paper, and/or backing will release. There are three basic methods.

A – If it’s a small job, say one wall or a tiny power room get a five gallon bucket and a couple of sponges. Don’t use that tiny little kitchen sink sponge. It ain’t squat for this kind of job. Go to depot and get a couple decent grout sponges. You can find them in the ceramic tile section.

B – For medium sized jobs, a whole room or so get yourself a garden/pump sprayer. You can get them at depot. A two gallon jobber works best.

C – If you have multiple rooms or a whole house to do you may want to consider the “professional,” LOL system I have. Basically it’s the nozzle part from a pump sprayer with 50’ of tubing and connectors to hook it right up to the sink. You can get all the stuff at depot. Cut the nozzle off the pump sprayer at the tank leaving the hose attached. In the tubing section pick out the size closest to the sprayer tube. If you can, buy this by the box as it costs a hell of a lot less than by the foot. In the plumbing section they have male/male couplers to hook the hoses together. Use hose clamps to secure them. Generally the easiest connectors to get from the other end of the hose to water will be to the utility sink. (It’s the same threads as a garden hose.)You will need at least two. The first will be a nipple like thing with a male end to slip into the hose with the other side much bigger with threads. From there you should be able to find something that will take you from that to the sink faucet threads. If you can find someone helpful in the plumbing isle they should be able to pick the couplers right out.

Doesn’t have to be to the utility sink, it’s just the easiest setup to find. When I was doing it all the time I had a whole box full of couplers that would get be to just about anything. Bathroom sinks work well too. Unscrew the nozzle on the sink and you have a threads you can match up.

WARNING! If you use this setup two things to always remember.

1 – Never use hot water. The tubing will soften and blow up like a balloon until it bursts and you’ll have water gushing everywhere.

2 – Never, EVER leave the house or area without turning the water off. Hoses, clamps and connections can fail and sooner or later will! You may return to find the house literally flooded!

What ever method for getting the water on the way understand this. Pretty soon the water is going to be on the floor along with gooey backing and paste.


Don’t wear shoes with no thread. Get a pair of work or mountain boots with threads that look like a knobby tire.

Don’t let paste or backing build up on the ladder. You’re going to end up on your butt!

Same for the floor. Kick the stuff to the edges and out of the way.


Watch what you are doing. Don’t Skippy around the room. Use your head. Things are slippery!

Anyway, Pick the correct water temperature. The hotter it is the better it dissolves the glue. Buuuuuuuuut the hotter it is the faster it evaporates. Luke warn is the way to go.

Now start sponging or spraying. Start in one corner and spray all the way around the room. Over soaking is not good as much water will end up on the floor as the wall. Best method is to do horizontal runs back in forth from the top to the bottom. Water running down the wall will tend to soak in before it hits the floor. Verticals or little circles will give you more run off. Pay particular attention to the top by the ceiling. It tends to get less and it’s the last place you want to have to do hard scraping.

Now, Do it again Jack, A lot of times the first run around will not result in a lot of soak in. Weird but it seams like it needs to get a little wet before it will really soak. Anyway now do it a third time.

Ok, Now the hard part, as far as explaining it goes. You’ve got your wall wet. Time to do a little testing. Get yourself a 4 inch spackle knife. 4 works best. A six is to wide and will bind up and a putty knife (2inch) will result in more wall damage. Anyway do some testing. If it’s paper/paper or peelable vinyl with the face gone by now it should have started loosing up real nice but some more soaking is probably in order.

How many more runs is a depends thing. Generally the mantra here is to LET THE WATER DO THE WORK! It’s soooooooooo tempting to spray a little and start scraping, peeling and picking. You end up with little pieces and a lot more wall damage. If you can soak it until whole sheets peel off the wall life is good!

If you have facing or paint still on the wall things can get dicey here as far as picking the right way to go. A lot of times now that a little water is on the wall it has soaked though at the seams. Now you can get decent sized chunks off. Do it and then spray again kinda ignoring the backing for now. You need to get down to the backing. Once you get all the facing or paint off you can do your thing.

So basically it’s wet and scrap until you get the garbage off. You just have to play with it to determine the best way that will result in the fastest removal and least amount of wall damage. Like I said it’s generally best to let the water do the work. However you can most certainly over wet and soften up the wall to much or cause water damage to the floors and other things.

This is particularly true if the walls were not prepped correctly in the first place. It’s hard to explain how to tell but basically if your wetting, and wetting, and wetting this stuff till it’s soaked and it still won’t release and when your scrape it takes big ass chunks of the sheetrock off then it’s probably a poor prep job. They didn’t prime it and the glue has soaked though the cheap paint and become one with it.

Sorry but your kind of screwed here. The more your soak the softer the wall will get. You’ll just have to scrape it off and do a lot of spackling later, SIGH!

Ok, You’ve got all the paper off and your sick and tired of doing this. Sorry but it’s not over. You have to get the glue off. Spay around the room to get it nice and soft and get a five gallon bucket and some grout sponges. Start sponging. If it wipes off easy do it. If not spray again. Just like with the paper.

If it’s really tough I’ll use a scrub brush. Get a medium one. To soft and it will skip. To hard and it will screed the wall. Scrub it to loosen it up and then spray and sponge.

Now that everything is wiped down and clean take off the switch plates. Enough water has probably soaked under to loosen the paper up. Leave them off to let things dry. If you have kids or dope heads in the house lock the room. They just love sticking fingers in holes like this.

Now you will truly thank me. Because by now you are wet, filthy and tired. Instead of having a nightmare of a clean up job all you have to do it to pull the plastic up by the corners, roll it into a ball and stuff it into a contractors rash bag. If it looks like it’s going to be to much for one bag cut the plastic into two or more pieces and do multiple bags.
NOTE: Despite being sick and tired of this whole mess take the time to sop up any standing water on the floor. Hardwood floor finish can lift and so can vinyl tile, especially if soaked to long.

Now, get a shower, Get as stiff drink, collapse in front of the TV and make your mate swear on their very soul they will never, ever hang wallpaper in the house!

I will keep an eye on this thread for while for questions or clarifications.

An extra:

I would like to say a little about products like DIF and such that promise to easily dissolve wallpaper glue and such. A lot of people love and swear by them but I don’t. Reason being that before I went into business for myself I worked for a man we called the gadget king. That is when the salesmen got in a new tool or product they knew just who to go to first. Bill would buy anything new, so we tried them all, LOL.

Anyway we were using DIF and one day ran out of the stuff half way though a job. The remainder of the job went just as easy as the first half and ever since then I won’t spend my money on it. I just don’t see where it helps. Like I said others swear by it. You can use it if you wish as it certainly won’t hurt and any little advantage in a miserable job, even a placebo helps the head.

The other type of product he had us try was the gel types. Basically you apply them to the wall like paint with a brush and a roller. These actually worked in certain, limited situations. Basically if it’s a very easy removal it will work and be a hell of a lot cleaner. But 98% of the time it didn’t so you were back to the ole water and mess.

Last edited by Shadeladie; 06-12-08 at 01:48 PM. Reason: Email address not allowed.
Old 06-12-08, 08:39 PM
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DIF concentrate is a God sent. I NEVER GO TO A STRIPPING JOB WITHOUT IT! Right now I am on a job were four guys took 2 1/2 days to strip this house and I know from experience that this would have been longer not shorter otherwise. Some jobs will be just as easy with water. But after 25 years of stripping I know better then to go to a job without this miracle juice. It can really help to cut your effort up to half time.

DIF is formulated with enzymes to help break down starch based wallpaper paste. Most wallpaper glue is starch based.
Old 06-26-08, 12:17 PM
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Originally Posted by nagra4s View Post
DIF concentrate is a God sent.
It's going to be the most disagreed point. Half the guys I know swear by it, Half like me swear at it LOLOL
Old 06-26-08, 03:39 PM
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Good write-up paperhanger, thank you! I will actually close this thread so it doesn't get a zillion posts, as not to detract from the point. Good job!

If someone feels a need to have this reopened, please send me a Private Message.

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