My Best Tips for Removing Wallpaper

For a faster, more profitable home sale

This ugly wallpaper will ruin a home sale!Outdated wallpaper is often the reason for a failed home sale because so many buyers just don't want to deal with it.

Removing wallpaper is not a fun job. In fact, it's right up there at the top of my "most dreaded chores" list. 

Wallpaper may come off in big lovely strips or in little pieces that need to be painfully scraped or steamed off, bit by bit.

If you're prepping your house for sale and every room is a papered calamity, be prepared to see home buyers walk away.

Very few buyers want to tackle a job like this-- most just want a move-in ready home. Not only will some people walk away, a wallpapered disaster may lower the value of your home.

A serious buyer will add the project to a list of other negatives to negotiate the price of your home down.

In my experience, wallpaper rarely comes off easy. In addition, if the walls were not primed before the  wallpaper went up, removing it will most likely be more difficult. 

If you do decide to tackle this job yourself, be sure you know how to properly remove the wallpaper so you don't damage the underlying walls.

The last wallpaper stripping job I did was in the bathroom of an older home I once owned. Previous homeowners HAD NOT PRIMED the walls before putting up the wallpaper. 

I spent many days scraping little bits off, inch by inch. When the top layer of the underlying sheetrock started to came off with the wallpaper, I gave up. In the end, it was just easier to install panels of bead board and paint it white. The end result was an attractive beach cottage look.

The moral here? Know when you're beaten and look for another solution.

If you have an older home with lath and plaster walls, removing any wallpaper will most likely take down much of the old plaster, causing a horrible mess and requiring re-plastering or replacing with drywall.

Most often you'll discover more than one layer of wallpaper in an older home and ancient wiring that needs replacing. I once peeled my way through 4 different wall papers in a 100 year-old house!

Should I paint over old wallpaper?

Some people recommend painting over wallpaper if it’s in good condition, but I think this is a big mistake. 

From a distance it may look okay, but close up it just looks like painted wallpaper. Plus, the paint will make it even harder to remove the wallpaper in the future. 

I don’t recommended papering over old wallpaper either, as often the glue won’t stick, especially if the underlying wallpaper is textured, foiled or vinyl.

Living room with a dated wallpaper border.This room is dated in so many ways, including the wallpaper border near the ceiling.

Wallpaper borders are another dated home decor feature that you may want to remove before selling your house. Follow the same procedure as for removing wallpaper.

Before you start

  • Remove everything from the walls, including electrical outlets and switch plate covers. 
  • Protect the floors by placing a drop cloth or large piece of plastic at the base of the walls that you'll be stripping. Things will get wet!
  • Before applying any wallpaper stripping solution, see if you can actually pull off the wallpaper first. Grab each corner of the wallpaper from the bottom and pull upward. You may have to pry a corner loose with a putty knife. The paper is less apt to tear if you pull with equal pressure using both hands. If you're lucky, the paper will pull of in one big strip! If not, go on to the next step.

Three methods to remove wallpaper

Stripping wallpaper.Using a putty knife to remove wallpaper.

There are at least three different methods for stripping wallpaper.

1. The most commonly-used method requires a stripping solution, a scoring tool and a paint scraper. You can purchase a commercial stripper or make your own from common household products.

2. Another method requires the use of a wallpaper steamer, a stripping product and a scraper. If you have a lot of wallpaper to remove, I highly recommend this method.

3. The third method requires a blow dryer to heat up the underlying wallpaper glue, until it can be pulled or scraped away from the wall. 

Method 1:  How to remove wallpaper with wallpaper stripper

Tools you will need:

  • spray bottle or large sponge
  • wallpaper scoring tool
  • fabric softener or a commercial wallpaper stripper
  • wide putty knife or paint scraper
  • drop cloth, protective plastic or old towels
  • ladder, or step stool

The Zinsser 2966 Papertiger Scoring Tool can be found at any home improvement store.

You can purchase commercial wallpaper removal solutions in the same aisle, but I have found that fabric softener and hot water will work, as well. 

Working with the zinsser scoring tool

Wallpaper scorer tool.Zinsser wallpaper scoring tool.
  • Using the Zinsser scoring tool, with gentle pressure, work in circular motions on the surface of the wallpaper. See the video below for the proper technique. Work in small manageable sections. Avoid using too much pressure, as you don’t want to damage the underlying wall surface. The scorer will put tiny holes in the paper, allowing the solution to permeate and dissolve the wallpaper glue beneath.
  • If using fabric softener, mix hot water with the fabric softener in equal proportions. Pour into a spray bottle or sponge on. Keep the water hot by mixing in small batches. Saturate the scored area with this solution and let it set for about 15 minutes, constantly applying solution to keep the paper moist.
  • Starting at the top, pry off a corner of the wallpaper, then pull down with both hands using equal pressure. 
  • After you have removed the wallpaper, you may have to scrape off the backing with a putty knife. Repeat this technique for each section of wallpaper.
  • Once you have successfully removed all the wallpaper and backing, wash walls with a sponge to remove any residual wallpaper glue. Use a solution of 1 tablespoon dish soap to a bucket of hot water. 
  • Last, rinse the walls with clean water and pat dry. Then get yourself a drink, because you earned it!

Watch the video demonstration below by Ron Hazelton on how to remove wallpaper quickly and easily.

In this video, the demonstrator uses a sprayer, which is handy if you have a lot of wallpaper to remove.

Method 2:  How to remove wallpaper using a steamer

You will Need:

  • Wallpaper steamer
  • Protective goggles and gloves
  • Scoring tool
  • Scraper (a wide putty knife)
  • Drop cloth
  • Step ladder

When all else fails, go out and rent a wallpaper steamer. You can rent one by the day from any home improvement store.

Depending on the size of the steamer, this can often be a two-person job, as you must steam and strip at the same time.

I've had to use the wallpaper steamer method twice. It was a lot of work, as they were oversized steamers, much too heavy for me. I recommend that you find a good friend to help.

If you have a houseful of wallpaper that needs to come down, it might be worth buying your own steamer. Look for affordable steamers at

  • Be sure to wear protective goggles and gloves while operating a wallpaper steamer. You can burn yourself! 
  • Score the wallpaper in circular motions with the Zinsser tool in manageable sections that you can do in 15 minutes.
  • Following the manufacturer’s instructions, pour warm water into the reservoir.
  • Turn on the machine; the water will need to come to a boil.
  • Hold the steamer’s steam pad firmly to the surface for about 30 seconds. Lift and remove loose paper with your putty knife. 
  • Wash the glue off with a sponge using a mixture of 1 tablespoon of dish soap in a bucket of hot water. Rinse with clean water and pat wall dry.
A too taste-specific bedroom.A bedroom like this may cause some home buyers to lose interest.

Method 3:  How to remove wallpaper using a blow dryer

You will need:

  • blow dryer
  • step ladder
  • putty knife or paint scraper

Apply some heat:

Starting in a corner at the bottom, apply heat to the wallpaper with the blow dryer. As the heat begins to melt the wallpaper glue, try peeling up one corner with your fingers. Place the scraper under the wallpaper to loosen as you go.

Continue this process of heating and peeling until the entire strip is removed. If you find wallpaper glue residue that has been left behind, you can remove the adhesive with some warm water and a gentle scrubbing pad or soft nylon brush.

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Last updated 12-3-2022