When we moved into our house, one of the things that attracted us was that it seemed in move-in condition. Part of that was the bright, clean wallpaper in the first two rooms. Well 20+ years later, it’s not so bright, not at all clean, and thoroughly out-of-date.
It served its purpose, but it’s got to go.
In total we have two big rooms, a small hallway, and a small bath to deal with. Reading up here and there, a lot of people said chemicals didn’t work but steaming did. So I bought an inexpensive Wagner steamer from Lowe’s and gave it a try in the small hallway for a start.
Over the course of a day I learned to manipulate the steam and the scraping so that I could bring down an entire strip in one sheet. A state of zen-like tranquility came over me as the paper gracefully rolled off the walls.
Then I went into the main room and tried the same thing. Um, this is different. The hallway was self-adhesive, but the main room was real paper with real paste put on by a pro. The steamer was so ineffective I could have done just as well giving the wall angry looks. If I managed to retain my zen state for as long as this was going to take, I’d be ready to start my own branch of Buddhism.
Nope, not enough. The wallpaper was pretty well-sized and the solution just wasn’t soaking through. Then like magic my old music colleague Phil Rinaldi, whose family also owns a very successful painting business, dropped me a line about a new project. I mentioned my project, and asked for a little advice. He said drop the steamer, score the wallpaper thoroughly and use lots of water. Lots of water.
It’s got six sets of jagged teeth on gimbals underneath. As you roll it across the wall it puts large number of perforations into the paper, which then lets water get through. Or in my case, water mixed with glue remover.
Time To Get To Work
The day before, I’d done the first two walls, and then earlier on Sunday the exterior wall that’s mostly windows. This is the home stretch.
Step one was to take down everything and pull the furniture away from the wall.
The scraping is leaving something behind; a mixture of glue and backing, it’s really hard to scrape off. The solution? More solution. Wet this part down thoroughly with your sponge, and after five or ten minutes…
It peels right off like tissue paper, with the slightest effort. Since this was done by pros, the edges and corners have extra glue. I used some spray-on gel, let it sit for a while, and scraped it off.
Now I’m down to the acrylic primer that the original hanger put up. Later, we’ll need to wash the walls with a scrubbie to get all the residue off, but we’re almost there.
Halfway done, I’ve settled into a rhythm.
- Soak a strip several feet wide;
- go back and soak an area about 2′ wide by 4′ high;
- after it sits, wet it again and start scraping the top half;
- wet the whole area plus another 2′ below. Think of three sections: top, middle, bottom. The top later you’ll be scraping off the glue. The middle layer you’ll be scraping off the paper. The bottom layer will be soaking.
- work through methodically keeping three sections in play so that when you’re done with one you can move immediately on to the next;
- use extra solution on corners and the top and bottom edges.
You can roll up the newspapers with all the shredded wallpaper, and easily toss it. A little sweeping, a little vacuuming, and you’re ready to do a final wash.
Jim from Star Painting has some good advice for the next steps. Put oil base primer down on everything, including the spots that need repair. I’ve got an LP-sized crater in one wall where the smooth top layer of plaster detached, showing the coarser stuff underneath. Prime this first, otherwise the water-base compound you use to fill it will attack the plaster, and weaken it all over again.
Plus, all that visual noise will go away when it’s a single color; it will be easier to see those areas that need repair.
And don’t use spackle; use joint compound. It’s easier to sand, and you can smooth it out with a damp sponge.
This room took two full days; there’s still one room to go, with less wall space. I estimate a full day on that one. While it took a lot of time, being patient and using a lot of water made it much less strenuous.