How to Paint over Wallpaper

An old wallpapered room with the words Paint Me on one wall
What You'll Need
Primer, either oil-based or shellac
Masking tape
Drywall compound
Drywall knife
Drop cloth
Utility knife
Eye protection

Removing wallpaper is a time consuming and messy job. So, the next time you resurface your walls, why not paint over the wallpaper that’s already there? While it’s not as simple as just applying a coat or two of paint on top of your old wallpaper, when properly prepared, your wall will look as if you never had wallpaper on it at all.

Step 1 - Prep the Wall

Start by checking how well the wallpaper is affixed to the walls. If there are loose areas, remove them using a utility knife. Remove all nails and any switch plates from the wall, and use masking tape to protect the baseboard. Put a drop cloth at the bottom of the wall to catch the paint.

Finally, make sure that the room is well ventilated for what’s to come, and put on any and all protective clothing, masks, and safety glasses to protect your eyes. Fumes from the primers and paints can be harmful if inhaled or over long periods of exposure.

Step 2 - Apply Primer

Paint roller and white paint in a tray

Paint the wall with primer. Be sure to use a primer that is either shellac or oil-based. If you use a water-based primer, it can lift off the wallpaper or cause it to bubble. The shellac and oil-based primers bond hard and dry quickly. They also tend to be more opaque to cover stains and old patterns more effectively.

Step 3 - Repair Wall

Once dry, the layer of primer will still show all the deficiencies in the wall. Fix these with drywall compound, which will also cover the seams between wallpaper.

Put a thin coat over the seams and any holes or defects on the wall. Let it dry, then sand it down. To achieve proper coverage, you might need two coats of drywall compound. Once you’re satisfied with the way it looks, apply primer over the areas of drywall compound, then caulk around the trim and the ceiling line.

Once this latest application of primer and caulk has dried, apply masking tape at the ceiling line. To get rid of all the dust from the drywall, you can use a shop vac with the crevice tool attached.

Step 4 - Apply Texture (Optional)

blue textured wall surface

If you want to use texture on the wall when you paint, apply it once the primer is on the wall. Once you’re happy with it, allow it to dry, and then paint over the top of it. You’ll need more paint to properly cover a textured wall. You can also add another coat that contrasts or complements the paint.

Step 5 - Paint

Use an eggshell paint or washable flat paint when painting over wallpaper. These varieties give a much lower sheen than other types of paint and can help hide any remaining irregularities in your wall. Start by using your brush around the edges and the trim on the walls, painting in long vertical strokes, moving in horizontal patterns only where necessary. You need to cut-in by a distance of at least six inches from the edges.

For the rest of the wall, you can use a brush with long, even strokes or a roller. Apply a single coat then allow it to dry. For better coverage, apply a second coat edge first, then cover the entire wall.