Wallpaper: To Remove or Not to Remove – Part 2

Wallpaper, to Remove or Not to Remove, blog

Wallpaper: To Remove or Not to Remove – Part 2

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We’re back for Part 2 of the gripping story that had you all on the edge of your seats at the end of Part 1: “I tried stripping this *f#&$@%!!^ paper, I’ve realized that removing wallpaper is no joyride but it still needs to come off, now what??”


Okay, so you took a razor knife and tried removing wallpaper yourself to evaluate the situation.


As we discussed in Part 1, one of 4 things happens:

  • The wallpaper comes right off.  Yippee!!  (Who said removing wallpaper is hard, anyway?!?)
  • It comes off only in tiny pieces.  (Curses.)
  • It comes off well in some places, but tears the wall up in others.  (What the…?!)
  • Only the vinyl front comes off, leaving a paper backing.  Hmm.

So what now? Let’s handle them one by one:


Scenario #1 – the best scenario when removing wallpaper – it comes right off.

Good for you, somebody properly sealed the walls before installation and used a strippable glue.

So now you have only the residual glue to deal with. The easiest method I’ve found is simply to give the whole area a light sanding, then apply an oil-based primer, such as Kilz Complete.  After that you can proceed to paint, texture or re-wallpaper, taking care to spackle out any wall inconsistencies (and priming over the spackled areas).

Scenario #2 – the wallpaper comes off only in tiny pieces.

It doesn’t want to come off, so stop trying to force it.  Give a good rough sanding to the seams, apply an oil-based primer, pull off any areas that bubble, then float or spackle out any seams that show and any areas that bubbled and were torn off.  If you need to, re-spackle and prime again.  Then it’ll be ready to paint, texture or cover with fresh new wallpaper.  I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it’s less than if you struggled to tear off every square inch, and then STILL had to sand-spackle-prime over all the damage you caused.  And if you just feel funny leaving the old wallpaper underneath, think of it this way:  the wallpaper is actually reinforcing your existing sheetrock.  Taking it off would only weaken the sheetrock, and cause more problems than it solves.  Your walls will thank you for leaving the reinforcement layer in place.

Scenario #3 – removing the wallpaper works well in some places, but it tears up the wall in others.

Of the four possibilities, this is the one that usually sucks people into the vortex of doom. It comes off so easily at first that you start to remove it all.  Then it begins to tear up the walls here and there. Next thing you know you’ve been at it for hours and the walls look like Kujo the wolf was locked up in there.

So when you first notice the walls starting to tear up, just stop and follow the directions for Scenario Number 2 above. Trust me, I have seen grown men reduced to tears . . .  either for the time and misery they’ve caused themselves, or for the price they’ll now have to pay me to correct this debacle.

Scenario #4 – only the vinyl front comes off.

And finally, if the backing stays on the wall when the front comes off, do as follows:

Get a sponge and really saturate a two-by-two-foot square in the middle of the wall. Wait a few minutes, then saturate it again. Wait a few more minutes, then pick a corner and peel. Often times the backing will peel off just as easily as the front did, sometimes better. If this is the case, then get to saturating the entire thing. The key here is getting the paper as wet as possible several times without making a complete sloppy mess all over the floor. Once the paper is off, then proceed to the directions for Scenario # 1 above.

If the backing doesn’t seem to want to come off, then treat it like # 2 above. The only caveat is that if you want to texture and/or paint over the primed backing, you might want to skim-float the entire area with a super thin coat of joint compound, thereby making sure that the little hairy bumps from the backing don’t show through.


I know that’s all a little technical, but if you ever find yourself in the midst of removing wallpaper and wondering how to proceed, the knowledge will be indispensable. Of course, most people people would happily rather pay a professional to avoid these situations. Or they go for removable peel and stick wallpaper, which has its own challenges.  But for those of you brave enough to enter in willingly and start removing wallpaper yourself, this advice is my homage to you!

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