Questions and Answers Concerning Applying Wallpaper

blue and gold wallpaper above waincotting on a wall

Installing wallpaper is not a difficult task, but like anything else, there is a bit of a learning curve involved. Before you try to rip out the wallpaper in your Victorian-era home or install wallpaper in your newly-build Tudor-style, read on to find answers to common questions regarding the removal, application, and tricks related to wallpaper.

Q: I noticed that most of the textured wallpapers used in bathrooms are usually not vinyl. If I wallpaper with one of the new textured wallpapers, should I apply clear polyurethane over it to protect from the moisture?

Scraping off old wallpaper

A: No, because it will be a beast to remove when you want to change it. Paper and oil-based poly will yellow with age. The best moisture prevention is ventilation. Some wallpaper is made of solid vinyl, and others are vinyl coated. Solid vinyl is best for bathrooms, kitchens and children's rooms. Wherever it's placed, you are going to be cleaning it. But you will hardly find wallpaper that does not have a coating already on it.

If you are papering a bathroom, you will be better off with solid vinyl. However, you will be just fine with vinyl coated. Either way, your main concern should be adhering to the wall. That means, even if it is pre-pasted paper, you need to use wallpaper paste and pay particular attention to the seams and edges. In a steamy bathroom, they tend to come up if not adhered well. If by textured paper you mean the kind that you hang and then paint, you do not need to seal it with anything. You should still use semi-gloss or satin paint. Do not use flat paint, which is harder to clean. Poly can be used over paper, but it will be tough to remove. Ventilation is the best bet for paper's longevity in a wet or humid environment if it is hung correctly. With the right primer and paste, it will stay up indefinitely.

Q: I have a sloping ceiling in my bedroom in one small area that used to be part of the back porch (small being 3' x 8'). It starts higher than the rest of the room, finishes lower than the rest of the room, and is made of painted plywood. Apart from two seams, it is a very smooth surface. What I want to know is, if I use joint compound to smooth and even those seams, then primer (already painted), can I then wallpaper over it? I have this great paper that will look like tile when it is all done but I don't want to mess it up.

A: Yes, it can be papered. Prep it as you said, and it will do fine. Tips for hanging wallpaper on a ceiling:

  1. Two people make the job a lot easier.
  2. If the paper is prepasted, don't rely on their cellulose adhesive to make it stick. Paste the papers with a heavy-duty clear adhesive. Also, apply a light coat of paste on the ceiling a couple of minutes before hanging it. I usually paste (glue-size) the strip of ceiling to be hung, and then paste the paper. By the time you get up there to hang, it is very tacky, and helps keep it from falling back on your head as you hang it.
  3. Some installers paste the paper, book it, and roll it up on a broomstick. This way they can unroll it as they hang it. Papering over acoustic tile is not recommended. The tiles are too porous to be a solid, stable surface, and don't allow very good adhesion. Don't forget to use the sizing as recommended. It will make for easier removal of wallpaper when you want to change your paper.

Q: Can I wallpaper over paneling or brick and other rough surfaces?

purple wallpaper

A: You can, but the installation requires a few additional steps over installing wallpaper to a flat surface.

First remove all nails or other protruding objects. For textured surfaces, "knock down" any high points. For paneling, now is the time to ensure that the paneling is secure by adding additional nails. For slick surfaces or paneling, wash with TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) or an equivalent grease-cutting cleaner so that the wallpaper will adhere better.

At this point you can hang bridging material. This is thick, blank wallpaper designed for irregular surfaces. Once hung, this will "bridge" the grooves in paneling or other unusual surfaces allowing for the ultimate application of wallpaper, or it can even be painted.

Alternate or additional advice: The application of joint compound to the grooves of paneling is an additional precaution when using bridging materials. Some wallpaper installers use the joint compound, then a primer technique instead of bridging material. For ceramic tile or other slick or glossy surface, sand the surface with 200 to 400 grit sandpaper followed by rinsing with TSP. Apply a prep coat and then hang your bridging material. You may obtain bridging material at most home improvement stores.