Removing Wallpaper

How to sell your home and make a faster, more profitable sale

Removing wallpaperRemoving wallpaper

Removing wallpaper is not for the faint of heart! Wallpaper may come off in big lovely strips, or in little pieces that need to be painfully scraped or steamed off, bit by bit.

In my experience, it rarely comes off easily. In addition, if the walls weren’t painted with primer paint before wallpapering, you are in for a big job. 

If you are prepping your house for sale and every room is a dated wallpaper nightmare, know that removing the wallpaper will increase the value of your home by keeping buyers from negotiating the price down. If they want the house bad enough, that is. Most people walk quickly away from a heavily papered house.

The last wallpaper stripping job I did was in my own bathroom. The previous homeowners had not primed the walls with paint before putting up the wallpaper. This caused the top layer of the underlying sheetrock to come off as well.

I spent many days scraping little pieces off, one at a time. In the end, I had bead board put up because the sheetrock was so damaged. The end result was an attractive beach cottage look.

If you have an older home with lath and plaster walls, removing wallpaper will probably take down much of the old plaster, making a horrible mess and requiring re-plastering or replacing with drywall. Most often you will discover more than one layer of wallpaper. I once peeled my way through 4 eras in a 100 year-old house!

Some people approve of 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 over wallpaper. Plus, the paint will make it even harder to remove the wallpaper in the future. 

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

Wallpaper borders are also dated and should be removed before putting your house on the market. They usually aren't difficult to remove, but if you run into a problem, follow the same instructions as for removing wallpaper.

Tools for removing wallpaper

Zinsser wallpaper scoring tool

What you will need:

  • spray bottle
  • wallpaper scoring tool
  • fabric softener or commercial wallpaper stripper
  • wide putty knife
  • large sponge 
  • drop cloths or old towels
  • ladder 

The Zinsser 2966 Papertiger Scoring Tool is a helpful tool that you can buy at any home improvement store. You can purchase commercial wallpaper removal solutions there as well, but I have found that fabric softener and hot water works just as well. 

How to remove wallpaper

  • Take everything off the walls, including outlets and switch plate covers. Protect your floors by placing a drop cloth at the base of the walls that you'll be stripping.

  • First, try removing wallpaper without using any solution.
  • Grab a corner from the bottom and pull upward. You may have to pry a corner loose with the putty knife. The paper is less apt to tear if you pull with equal pressure using both hands. If you are lucky, the paper will pull of in one big strip! If not, go on to the next step.

Outdated wallpaper and home designOutdated wallpaper is often the reason for a failed home sale.

If you find another layer of wallpaper underneath, you will have to remove it by the same method, one layer at a time. Otherwise, you may damage the underlying wall.

Working with the zinsser scoring tool

  • Work in small manageable sections of the wall. With the Zinsser scoring tool, work in gentle circular motions right over the wallpaper. See the video below for the proper technique. Don’t apply too much pressure, as you don’t want to damage the underlying wall surface. The scorer creates tiny holes in the paper, allowing the solution to permeate through to dissolve the wallpaper glue.

  • If using the fabric softener solution, mix hot water with the fabric softener, in equal proportions. Keep water hot by mixing in small batches. Saturate the scored area with this solution and let it set for about 15 minutes, keep applying solution to keep the paper moist.
  • Starting at the top, work 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 the 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. Wash walls with a mixture 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. You can also use a large sponge to apply the stripper as well.

Wallpaper steamers

When all else fails, try using a wallpaper steamer. I've used a wallpaper steamer only once, and it was a lot of work, but it was an oversized steamer, much too heavy for me.

This is a two-person job, as you must steam and strip at the same time. You can rent a steamer from your local home supply or hardware store, but if you have wallpaper in every room that needs to come down, it might be worth buying your own steamer. You can buy affordable steamers at

  • Wear 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.

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