How To Survive Removing Old Wallpaper

Reader Intelligence Report

Pin it button big
Wonderful, easy to remove wallpaper from Chelsea & Sean's House Tour

Not all of the home projects we're writing about this month are necessarily a good time. In fact, one major task that many of us will take on at some point is famously awful. I don't think anyone who has ever removed unwanted wallpaper would disagree — it's a horrible job, one of the worst. Getting advice from friends who have successfully survived the ordeal is always helpful and heartening so I dug into the Apartment Therapy reader hivemind for some tips and tricks. I wasn't disappointed...

The reader advice seemed to naturally fall into two camps, one group who is all about the scoring and spraying method and the other who can't say enough good things about using a steamer. Read on and bookmark for future reference - you never know when you'll be the one with some ancient and awful papered walls to contend with!

METHOD ONE: SCORING AND SPRAYING:

Mix equal parts fabric softener and water in a spray bottle. Spray on a workable area. Let it soak in but don't let it dry. Test a small section to see if it's ready. Wall paper will peel off the wall in whole sheets. You can use a scraper or your hands. I removed a whole houseful of wallpaper this way. It's messy but I thought it was worth it. - execat21
Cornstarch and water in a spray bottle sprayed liberally on scored wallpaper and left for a few minutes to soften. I used this method and had no trouble removing the old layers of wall paper in my house. - L1bby
Paper scorer and HOT water and vinegar with a rag. Let the moisture sit for a bit to really get into the paper/paste. Did the whole house - and the vinegar smell dissipated far quicker than any chemical would have, plus I had no worries about pets or disposal. -frzndaqiri
Rent a professional steamer if you have rooms, plural, or layers, plural, of wallpaper. I have tried everything else and for a big job it makes life a lot easier, definitely worth the money in how much time and hassle it saves you. -juanknowsspanish
Last Christmas, I removed 30+ yr. old wallpaper from my parents' kitchen. First I tried moistening it with the fabric softener/water solution and didn't get anywhere. I looked into renting a professional steamer but in the end bought a little wallpaper steamer from Home Depot, under $50. It worked wonders! It does drip water and doesn't have little attachments for nooks and crannies, but it's a good investment if you're going to do more than 1 room or spend more than a day with a rental. And do get the rolling scoring thingie! It's so much easier to score and perforate the wallpaper with it than with a knife. -Vella
With paper covered in paint, etc., there's not much I can tell you. However, in removing just one layer of wallpaper, without all the complications, I've had good experiences with a wallpaper scorer like this one. It just makes a bunch of tiny slits in the wallpaper, which allows your remover solution to soak in really well underneath. According to this website, it's not supposed to put holes in your drywall, and it didn't for me, but in my experience, all bets are off when you're dealing with paper that's been painted. I've dealt with a project like that once, and my instinct is to tell you to remove it with a sledgehammer and just get some new drywall -EmilyW
My parent's house had HORRIBLE wallpaper and it was such a pain to get off the wall. The only thing that worked and the only thing I've used since is Vinegar and Water!!! Mix about half and half or 2 parts vinegar 1 part water in a spray bottle, spray on the wallpaper (scoring helps penetration) and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Come back and scrap it off. It's safe, no steaming no chemicals and most importantly it WORKS! -ekmcgee
Whether you use vinegar or fabric softener, if you're covering a large area, a pump garden sprayer is a lifesaver. (And it works for spraying the ceiling and removing the popcorn too.) -asinner
Having removed wall paper in three extensively covered homes, the best method I found was ripping as much of the top layer off as possible (no not score) and then fill a spray bottle with fabric softener and hot water and spray away. Let it soak and minute or two and then scrape away. It somes off easily ... better than the steamer which I pain too much money for. Wash the walls after with TSP and then rinse with water before you paint. -dewonangus
I did well with vinegar and hot water in a spray bottle, after pulling big sheets off first which left the paper backing. Then I sprayed, let it sit, scraped and sponged. -Miss Jess
Vinegar! I once helped a friend remove the 30-year-old foil wallpaper from her condo. We tried the scoring, the chemicals, and a steamer with no luck whatsoever, but once we tried the vinegar it just peeled right off. Now vinegar and hot water are my go-to wallpaper removal secret. It soaks through and releases the adhesive and then it peels away easily! -alittlelately

METHOD TWO: STEAMING:

My steamer should be named The Little Wallpaper Remover That Could. I've removed all kinds of papers by all kinds of methods, and my steamer has put ALL other methods to shame. Speedy and efficient, two of my favorite adjectives. None of this spray-and-wait-and-spray-and-wait-some-more. I get excited just thinking about it! -smellofsawdust
Yup, steamer is the way to go. I have a shark steamer, from Canadian Tire and it's awesome. Rip off the paper layer, you have the backing left, soak it with the steam and use a scraper, comes right off. This also mean no using chemical either to get it off. Though if you have a GIANT job and you're in the States, try looking for the wall wick, I think it's called. That now is pure wallpaper removal awesomness!!!!! -alyshak3902
When we bought our house every room was covered in some variation of old mustard colored wallpaper. We have since learned that there are at least 2 other layers under that one eventually arriving at old horse-hair plaster. I have become somewhat of an expert having completed the dining room, living room, bathroom and kitchen which are all now down to the plaster. Initially we tried a chemical remover which we sprayed on and then scraped but if you have multiple layers this ends up being more trouble than it is worth. Once it dries it makes the under layers doubley hard to get off. I have read of lots of different methods - vinegar, fabric softner, (neither of which I tried) etc. - but the best tool that I have found, knowing that there are more layers underneath, is the steamer - steam the section until it is saturated and then use a wide putty knife to scrape up and underneath the paper - start at the bottom (otherwise you end up kneeling in the soggy sticky paper that you have already scraped at the top) and clean up as you go - this makes a big difference. If I can i try to put the chunks of paper that I scrape off directly into the trash bag. It might make it go a little slower but it makes the end so much better because you have already taken care of most of it.
i cover the floor with a disposable plastic drop cloth (which I will reuse until all of the walls are done and then dispose of) and some old bath towels to catch any of the extra drips from the steamer - i just chuck them in the washer when i have finished a big section or a room and start again with them.

I could go on and on and have actually ended up with some pretty good short stories inspired by the wallpaper insanity that we have gone through over the past couple of years. -hillw

For those of you who have run this gauntlet before, we salute you. Please share your knowledge with us in the comments - the more advice the merrier!

Image: Landlord (and future tenant) friendly removable wallpaper from Chelsea & Sean's Eclectic Painted Home House Tour, photo by Sean Cook/