While we might enjoy watching the various home improvement shows filling up cable programming, many of us can’t complete the most basic of home improvement projects. The How Do I Fix That? series will show you how to tackle a range of problems that have plagued homeowners for time immemorial. Each installment will provide a walkthrough for the problem at hand so you’ll know what to expect before you get started. Now, get into your old work jeans and roll up your sleeves – we’re going to get messy.
How to Remove and Install Wallpaper in Your Home
When I think of wallpaper, I think of all the Three Stooges things that can wrong. Piles of soggy old wallpaper gunk in the middle of the living room that the cat drags all over the house only to later reappear and fall into the paste bucket and spatter sticky goop everywhere.
Yet, when your attempt to remove and install wallpaper is carefully planned and done correctly, the effect transforms drab into stunning — which makes decorating with it well worth the potential for “cat-tastrophe.” Let’s discuss the principal steps in a major wallpaper project.
Stripping wallpaper used to required spraying a petroleum-based solvent onto the paper as you scraped it off. Often you had to have a window open to keep from getting dizzy and falling off your ladder. In the end, you’d end up with a sticky mass of foul smelling wet paper and a gouged wall with tufts of shredded paper still stuck to it.
Now, there’s a sprayable enzyme-based wallpaper paste dissolving liquid made by Zinnser called DIF. The trick to using it is to score the wall paper without damaging the wall. Fortunately, Zinnser also makes a handy tool called a “Paper Tiger”. The palm-sized scraper tool features a swivel head with a pair of sharp metal toothed disks that perforates the existing wallpaper surface without scratching up the wall.
- Score the existing wallpaper with the Paper Tiger.
- Next, liberally spray DIF onto the wall from the top down.
- Use a clean paint roller to spread the liquid evenly all over the wallpaper.
- When the wallpaper turns dark and bubbles begin to appear, then it’s time to scrape the paper from the wall.
- Start at the top of the wall and scrape downwards, spraying on more DIF to dissolve thick concentrations of paper paste as you go.
- When the paper is all removed, respray the wall again to dissolve any remaining adhesive.
- Wash the wall down with water and let dry.
Once the old wallpaper is gone, prepare the wall surface for the new coating —but that all depends what’s under the wallpaper you just removed AND what you plan to do to the wall.
Bare sheet rock or plaster
Scrape off any high points and give it a light sanding once it’s thoroughly dry (about 24 hours). Apply a sealant and primer to create a smooth, uniform surface and stop stains from bleeding through.
Painted sheet rock or plaster
Again, scrape off any high points and give it a light sanding once it’s thoroughly dry. You don’t really need to use a primer, however, if you are painting over with a lighter color or if there’s a staining problem, you’ll want to prime the wall before painting it.
If you plan to hang paper, the next thing you’ll need to do is size the walls. Sizing walls means applying a sealant to the wall that not only prevents the wallpaper adhesive from bonding to sheet rock paper but also gives a smooth enough finish to allow you to slide and adjust the wallpaper into position.
Hanging wallpaper is easy — IF you don’t care about seams or printed designs lining up properly. It takes some planning and a whole lot of technique but it’s important to remember these four basic wallpapering rules.
- Keep the pattern on the wallpaper consistent so only hang paper by moving in one direction.
- Always start at a corner near a door. Once you’ve gone all the way around, any mismatches in the paper pattern will show up above the door —often the least noticed part of the room. Not all jobs have the same geography so plan carefully.
- Always cut your paper at the same repeat place in the pattern so adjacent pieces will align easier.
- Cut your paper four inches longer than you need. This lets you handle the end of the paper without getting hand prints all over and it lets you align the pattern to its neighbor piece. Once the paper is in place, tuck the top and bottom ends into place with wallpaper smoothing knife (or a clean 6 inch dry wall knife) and trim with a razor.
Wallpaper does come pre-pasted, but it requires a short soak before you can hang it. For paper that requires pasting:
- Set the paper on a work table;
- Pour the glue into paint roller pan, and
- Apply carefully to the back of the paper with a paint roller.
This is the process of folding the wet sides of the paper over onto itself to let the paste soak into the paper.
- Gently fold the top edge to the midpoint and then the bottom edge to the midpoint (don’t overlap) without creasing the paper.
- Keep the edges lined up as closely as possible.
- Keep a damp sponge handy to wipe off any drips.
Not all wallpaper is the same. Paper manufacturers will specify the recommended length of time for the paper you’re working with.
While the paper is quietly booking and soaking:
- Measure the width of the paper onto the wall.
- Draw a plumb line on the wall where you plan to hand your first piece.
- If you start in a corner, allow 1/8” of the sheet folded into the corner for overlap.
- You can draw a plumb line easily with a chalkline hung from the wall as a plumb bob.
- Once lined up, just snap the string, as it leaves a straight chalk line on the wall.
- This will let you line up the edge of your first sheet to keep it straight.
You will need to make a new plumb line when you move to a new wall.
Once the paper is ready to hang:
- Unfold the top piece and position it on the wall, leaving about two inches at the top.
- When that’s lined up, start smoothing the paper from the center outward.
- Don’t push so hard that you force out the glue or (worse) tear the paper. You just want the paper to be smooth and even as you work your way down the sheet.
- Work out air bubbles by smoothing downward to the sides.
- When it’s in place, tuck and trim the top off with your razor blade and smoothing knife.
The important aspect of this step: TAKE YOUR TIME.
When you put on the next sheet:
- Align and close the seams as you go.
- Ensure the wallpaper edges only touch, never overlap.
- Be aware you may need to tuck and trim the wallpaper as you go if you have to deal with moldings or other decorations.
It helps to keep a damp sponge handy to prevent the paper from drying out as you go.
One Important Tip
Keep any leftover pieces of wallpaper bigger than 12”. They can come in handy for repairing damage to your walls as well as the occasional room accent project or even schoolbook cover.
Good luck with your efforts to remove and install wallpaper in your home! I hope this walkthrough helped!