How to Repair Torn Drywall Paper

A round hole in wall with drywall peeling.
  • 1-3 hours
  • Beginner
  • 10-100
What You'll Need
Utility knife
Sandpaper or power sander
Drywall primer
Drywall joint compound
Putty knife

It doesn’t take much to tear drywall paper. Instead of painting over the torn paper, which usually results in a bad paint job, repairing it will save you time and money. Fortunately, repairing torn drywall paper is a simple process that takes little time and skill. By following these simple steps, you can properly prepare your surface for whatever you have planned.

Step 1 - Remove the Loose Paper

The first thing you want to do is remove all the loose drywall paper surrounding the torn area. Use a utility knife to safely cut away jagged or loose paper. You want the edges of the tear to be as smooth as possible next to the wall. You also want to make sure to avoid any signs of peeling paper. To accomplish this, gently peel away any portions of the paper that are loose and then cut a smooth edge.

Step 2 - Sand the Area

A sander working on a wall.

With the edges smooth and neat, hit the area with a little sandpaper. You can do this by hand or with a power sander. Sanding at this step will help ensure the primer goes on smoothly without any interference. It’s recommended to use a fine grit sandpaper for this step.

WARNING: Put on gloves, safety glasses and a face mask before you start sanding.

Step 3 - Apply Primer

After the area is sanded, apply a little primer to the paper. Cover the edges completely and overlap the primer onto the damaged portions. The primer will help prevent the paper from sucking up the majority of the joint compound’s moisture. There are a lot of different kinds of primer on the market, including spray cans and white shellac. Just make sure that the primer isn’t water-based.

Step 4 - Cover With Joint Compound

A putty knife applying joint compound to a yellow wall.

Allow the primer to dry before applying joint compound. Using a putty knife, spread the joint compound in a thin layer across the area. You should extend the coverage to a few inches beyond the torn portion. You also want to apply the compound evenly.

TIP: Joint compound (also known as "drywall mud") generally takes 24 hours to dry, unless you use thinner coats or special kinds. Consider using a fast-setting joint compound to speed up the process. For example, you can use all-purpose joint compound which takes 2-3 hours to dry, or use a powdered compound you add water to known as "hot mud," which takes 1 hour to dry at the most. You can also speed up dry time buy by putting on less compound per coat.

Step 5 - Sand the Joint Compound

You can use a fine grit sandpaper to smooth out the area once the joint compound dries. Another option is to use wet sand. Wet sand will not produce fine dust and works by gently removing the high points and pushing the excess into the low points. Using wet sand will take longer to dry and you need to wait until the surface is hard before sanding.

Step 6 - Apply an Additional Layer of Joint Compound

After sanding the surface, it’s a good idea to apply another layer of joint compound, especially if the area is uneven. Applying another layer will also help smooth over the edges of the torn paper and will produce a better end product. If a second layer doesn’t do the trick, then repeat the process until the area is nice and smooth. Try and avoid applying too much compound, however, as this will create a slight bulge.

Step 7 - Apply Primer Again

A wall with a paint roller applying primer to it.

Once you are satisfied with the smoothness of the paper, it’s time to add a final primer coat. The primer will seal in everything and prepare the wall for a good layer of paint. If you skip this step, you run the risk of flashing. Flashing is when a portion of the wall produces a sheen that looks different from the rest of the wall.

Step 8 - Paint Over the Area

The final step in repairing torn wallpaper is painting. If you followed the steps, the paint should adhere nicely to the wall and that torn seam should disappear under the new layer of paint. Using the primer to seal in the previous step should make painting a lot easier.

In an ideal world, it’s best to try and avoid tearing drywall paper. To prevent unnecessary tears, score the surface with a utility knife before removing trim or baseboards. Not only will this save you the time it takes to repair the paper, but it will also save you from having to buy additional supplies.